After the stressful roller coaster that is the modern-day college search and admissions process ends, parents and students deserve a chance to catch their breath and let the new reality of their post-high school existence settle in. Yet, as the days on the summer calendar quietly pass by in all too rapid fashion, it is important to begin thinking about the approaching new daily routine that awaits. This is where a list of college dorm essentials can come in handy.

A flood of emotions are likely to hit both parents and students as the “fly the nest” date becomes less theoretical and is actually just a matter of weeks from being upon you. Members of both parties (student and parent) may feel a medley of excitement, trepidation, pride, mourning, and dozens of other feelings across the emotional spectrum. Whether you/your teen is attending college 30 minutes or 300 miles away, the transition to living on campus and away from home can be a hard one for everyone.

While processing these significant and very real emotions, it can be hard to properly plan for the move to college. To assist, College Transitions has created a college dorm checklist. In addition to a practical list of physical items you should bring, we also want to stress the following big-picture, overarching philosophy:

Don’t try to stuff every “fish” in the ocean into the trunk. Instead, this summer, teach your kid to fish.

Leaving for College Checklist – Skills to Master

In that vein, we want to first and foremost stress the actual skills parents should be building in their child. Whether this takes place organically throughout adolescence or via a cram session in July prior to starting college, all 17/18-year-olds should be able to:

  • Monitoring your own checking account/credit card/budgeting.
  • Doing your own laundry (washing AND drying).
  • Book your own doctor’s appointment.
  • Be experienced using public transportation and/or Uber or Lyft.
  • Vehicle maintenance, if bringing their own car.
  • Keeping a calendar/general time management.

If a student was dropped off at their dorm room with these abilities and literally zero supplies, they would be perfectly fine. We firmly believe that the most important thing you can do is help raise a resourceful and self-efficacious young person.

Health-Related Checklist

Next, let’s discuss the next most important category on our list –physical and mental healthcare. After all, if you forget a toothbrush or an extension cord, it won’t be hard to pick one up at a store on campus. The same cannot be said for things related to your teen’s physical and mental health.

On the paperwork front, you’ll want to make sure your child has a copy of their insurance card and COVID-19 vaccination card and finds a safe place to keep these with them at all times. Other steps you may want take include:

  • Reviewing campus health resources with them (online or in-person).
  • Know the location of the student health center and how to access services.
  • You should also know the location of the nearest Urgent Care and ER.
  • Learn how to access emergency mental services. Sometimes this is part of the general health center and sometimes this is part of a separate office.
  • Set-up any necessary prescription refills at a local pharmacy.
  • If your student is in regular therapy, find a therapist in your college’s state.

If you have prescription medication, it is a good idea to purchase a small lockable safe. Medications used to treat issues like ADHD or migraines are common targets of theft.

What Physical Objects do I Need to Bring to College?

As we transition to tangible everyday items, it is our belief that a minimalist approach is best here. Some lists you’ll see on the internet of stuff to bring to college were written before Amazon Prime shipping existed. Other lists (even very popular ones) recommend items like MP3 players that will only come in handy if you have time machine that will let you attend college in 2006. In short, there is no need to jam a lifetime supply of floss, paper towels, and frozen pizza bagels into the trunk of your car. However, there are some staples–in various categories–that can be advantageous to bring with you.

College Dorm Essentials Checklist – Electronics

  • Laptop
  • Phone (like they would forget it!)
  • Surge protector
  • Extension cords
  • Printer (optional)

College Dorm Essentials Checklist – Bedding/Furniture

Of course, you’ll receive materials from your son or daughter’s school that outline what fixtures are included in the dorm and what you need to provide. Some common items that students add on include:

  • A mattress topper (most dorm mattresses are not particularly comfortable). The most common size is Twin XL.
  • Sheets for a Twin XL (or other specified size) bed.
  • Comforter
  • Lamp
  • Pillows and pillowcases
  • Large storage containers for under the bed.
  • Desk chair
  • Trash can
  • Closet organizer
  • Additional seating for guests (chairs, beanbags, etc.)

College Dorm Essentials Checklist – Clothing

Hopefully college will not be the first time your kid is dressing themselves, so there really isn’t too much planning needed here. The one key tip is to consider encouraging your teen to purchase extra socks and underwear that may help them be able to put off doing laundry during busy periods when projects and papers pile up. Here are some other considerations:

  • If you are moving to a different climate, make sure to account for that in what you elect to bring (e.g. you won’t need a closet full of sweaters if you are leaving Maine for Florida).
  • That said, you’ll want to have attire in the event of extreme weather, no matter where you are attending college. This means items like rain/snow boots, and gloves/scarf/hat.

Ultimately, if you forget something, it’s no big deal. It turns out that college towns do indeed have clothing stores and online ordering extends to wearable items.

College Dorm Essentials Checklist – Common School Supplies

Again, it’s important to remember that there isn’t a school-related item that you won’t be able to pick up at the university bookshop or a local drugstore. You could literally not bring a single one of the items that follow and you’d be perfectly fine. Still, the materials must college students will use right off the bat include:

  • Pens and pencils
  • Notebooks
  • Folders/organizers
  • Index cards (for studying)
  • Highlighters
  • Stapler

College Dorm Essentials Checklist – Personal Care/Hygiene

As with the school supplies, there is not a college campus in the country where procuring deodorant, eye drops, shampoo, or shaving cream will involve more than a couple-minute walk from your dorm room. While it can be nice to have these items on hand the day you arrive, just from a comfort standpoint, nothing in the personal care/hygiene realm is worth stressing about.

Of course, if there are particular brands of items that you like that can be difficult to find (an organic soap perhaps), feel free to stock up more than with easy-to-track-down name-brand items. For those who want to get a head start on some reusable items, here’s a simple list:

  • Nail clippers
  • Comb/brush
  • Hair dryer
  • Shower shoes/flip flops
  • Shower caddy
  • Razor

Teaching Your Teen to Fish – A Summary

A generation ago, students did not have cell phones which rendered instant 24/7 communication an impossibility. Parents—you may have attended college in the ’80s or ’90s when even email was not yet a widespread form of communication. In 2022-23, long distance phone cards, landlines, and handwritten letters are mostly relics of the past.

It is wholly understandable that parents of the pre-smartphone/email had a higher degree of anxiety about the separation that occurs when a child leaves for freshman year of college. We want to remind you that the ability to text your kid anytime and the existence of Amazon Prime should alleviate a ton of stress you may feel about the nuts and bolts of this process. If teens feel a sense of competence when it comes to navigating the world and fending for themselves, the transition to college will automatically be a smoother one for them…and for you!