Shopping list

The Definitive College Dorm Shopping List

While I admit I’ve become a bit obsessed with helping my son buy his first bedroom this year, I joined a Facebook group of parents, sent him YouTube tours of his school’s dorms and reached out to friends with college-aged kids for advice – experts say a well-appointed bedroom helps get off to a good start in college .

“If you want your child to do well in school, the dorm room is super important,” says Barbara Reich, a New York-based professional organizer with college-age twins and author of “Secrets of an Organized Mom.” After all, she notes, this is where a student will sleep, study, and escape the stress of tests and homework.

Of course, these activities will take place in cramped quarters. “You often look at 100 square feet,” notes Lauren Saltman, a professional organizer in Newfields, NH, so she advises finding out what’s provided by the college. Will your student have an office? A shared closet? This information may be available on the school website or by calling the housing department.

The real goal is to set up a functional and pleasant home base to frequent, underlines Jamie Vacca, a junior rising at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Optimize your space and fill it with cheerful colors,” she says. “Adjusting to school can be stressful, and your bedroom should be a comfortable and pleasant space.”

Be fully prepared with these easy-to-carry dorm essentials recommended by students, parents, and experts.

A quality mattress topper

Of all the things I’ve bought my son, this one memory foam and graphite mattress topper was the winner. He added 3 inches of plush support to his 5-inch-thick college-provided mattress. Parents can also rest easier, knowing that a student is ready for a good night’s sleep. (Looking for a cheaper option? The Lucid line offers a 4-inch memory foam version.)

Ultra thin hangers

A compact closet requires compact hangers. These Slimline hangers, a Saltman staple, are covered in grippy velor, so clothes are less likely to slip and collect dust on the floor. At 50 hangers for under $30, this is the easiest purchase on the list. They are available in black, gray or ivory velvet with a gold or silver hook.

Amazon Basics

Slim, Velvet, Non-Slip Hangers (100 Pack)

A compact fan

Whether the campus is in Florida or Alaska, a good oscillating fan makes a stuffy room more comfortable. The three speed Vornado has a tilting head, and although it’s less than a foot tall and wide, it moves air up to 75 feet. Bonus: it comes with a remote control and timer to fine-tune the temperature from a student’s (read: bed) control center.


Vornado Vortex 5303DC Air Circulator with Remote

closet expanders

Maximize every inch of a cramped closet by investing in a closet expander. This one adds an extra hanging rod and even shelves to a simple one-rod closet. But even a very basic extender that turns a single rod into a double will dramatically increase the hanging space available, Reich says.


Closet Maximizer Starter Kit

A Covid-19 and flu kit

In the age of Covid, it’s good to be prepared. I packed a bunch of over-the-counter medical supplies in a travel makeup organizer, and it came in handy when my son caught Covid. Vacca’s parents sent her to school with a similar setup, and when she finally caught Covid – twice – she was grateful to be “stocked with supplies, including a pulse oximeter and a thermometer and everything from essential oils to medications” to cure her mild symptoms, she says.

LL bean

Personal Organizer toiletry bag, large

Bed risers with USB ports

For adding storage under the bed, you can’t beat bed risers, says Saltman. The Simple Essential The set elevates a bed 8 inches and provides two additional electrical outlets and two USB ports, while DormCo carbon steel trusses elevate the bed an impressive 2 feet. (A note: some dorm beds are height adjustable. Check before buying risers.)

Simply essential

Bed Lift with Outlets and USB Ports (Set of 4)

Removable wallpaper

To make a dorm look less like a cookie cutter, try peeling and gluing wallpaper. Making a statement wall by the bed yourself is simple and can help define every student’s space. These wallpapers are easy to put on and take off (avoiding year-end damage charges) and come in a ton of fun choices, from oversized palm fronds to faux brick. Or go for an easy-going pattern like this gingham, so there’s no risk he’ll feel winter-holiday tired.


Watercolor Gingham Wallpaper

A laundry bag-backpack

We bought this laundry bag for my son, and it works on many fronts: it’s sturdy, spacious and easy to carry, thanks to straps that allow you to carry it on your back. Plus, unlike many laundry bags, it’s designed to stand completely upright, so it won’t collapse into a bulky mess on a closet floor.

teen barn pottery

Laundry bag

An ottoman to sit and store

This simple furniture Checks Many Boxes: As well as functioning as an extra place to put things, it can be used as a bedside table or a stepladder. This one made a big difference in the layout of Vacca’s dorm at the University of Wisconsin: “Not only did it serve as a seat, but I could also store my shoes in it,” she says.

A touch of greenery

Nothing warms up an impersonal dorm like a plant, but it’s not easy for students to keep something alive because they’re always busy, uh, studying. Enter pretty faux succulents in sleek modern pots, like this charming one from Pottery Barn.

pottery barn

faux potted succulent arrangement

Soft, wrinkle-free sheets

Reich loves these wrinkle free lands end leaves and sent sets with his son to Emory University and his daughter to the University of Washington. Made from 400-thread-count cotton sateen and available in size XL (the size of most dorm beds), they look and feel more expensive than they are and don’t require careful washing. Adding a monogram isn’t just a touch of luxury, she notes: It’ll make it easier to identify their linens in a communal laundry room.

lands end

Premium 400 Thread Count Supima Cotton Bedding Set

A lighted mirror

“My makeup mirror was surprisingly useful,” says Vacca. Also: “If you have a dark room, these bulbs can help brighten it up.” This one has nine LED bulbs, one detachable magnifying mirror and a 360-degree swivel to grab every angle before popping out.


Vanity mirror with Hollywood lights

A duvet cover and pillow shams

The Ugg Devon is a classic for several reasons: it’s mid-weight, comes in dozens of colors and patterns, and is easy to wash. “Fluffy bedding is a must,” says Vacca. “The college is full of late nights and you will need a comfortable bed, both for studying and for sleeping.”

Bed bath and beyond

Ugg Devon Comforter Set

Cheerful fairy lights

To signal a happy new home, this festive string light set includes 150 star-shaped bulbs. Fill up on Command hooks to hang this – and everything else – on the walls without making noises you might get paid for later.

teen barn pottery

Cheerful fairy lights

A cube organizer plus bins

Most dorm dressers are fine for basics (t-shirts, hoodies), but you might need extra shelves for other random items (socks, gym clothes, hair ties, charging cables). This model is a Saltman favorite because you can use it horizontally or vertically. It works well with fabric bins that tuck into each cubby and come in a multitude of colors and patterns, from Ikat-inspired to classic stripes, to suit any decor.


11″ 6 Cube Storage Shelf

A bedside trolley

The downside to lounging or studying in a loft bed is that all of your belongings are out of reach. A bedside pocket, like this cute felt number, solves that problem. Slip it between the mattress and bed frame and it holds a phone, headphones, retainer, pens, and more. at hand.

A hanging shower trolley

Unlike many other shower carts, this one is made from water-resistant fabric (made from recycled water bottles, according to the company), which makes it lightweight and easy to carry around. items in and out of a shared bathroom. With 12 external pockets, it’s simple to keep shampoo, conditioner and other shower essentials organized.

teen barn pottery

shower basket

A desk lamp with charger

Many dorms have overhead lighting, but for desk lamps it’s usually BYO. Surface space is valuable, however, so consider a lamp that ticks more than one box. This one, in white plus gold, black or silver, is equipped with a USB port and storage tote which can hold a fitness watch, headphones and more.


2-Tone Catchall Charging Lamp

Any advice, recommendations, or rankings expressed in this article are those of the WSJ’s Buy Side Editorial Team, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our business partners.