This page is your go-to guide for figuring out what to bring to college in 2020.
Whether you’ll be living in a dorm, an apartment, or in the steam tunnels that run underneath campus, this list will provide you with all the college essentials, plus a few fun extras that can improve your life or help you make new friends (Pro-tip: be the person who has a tool kit). We’ve put a ton of work into this packing list; we hope you’ll find it helpful.
To make it easy to navigate, everything is broken down into categories. We’ve also marked certain items as “essential” to help you prioritize.
Most links here go to Amazon. Full disclosure: College Info Geek participates in the Amazon Associates program, and we’ll earn a commission on qualifying purchases made through the links on this page (at no extra cost to you). We’ve worked hard to recommend items that are both high-quality and inexpensive.
Do note that you also can also buy many of these things locally, and we’ve put together a printable checklist that you can take to the store if you like. Click the picture to download it!
P.S. – Having a properly set-up calendar, task manager, and file system before I started classes saved me a ton of stress. If you want to make sure you’re really prepared for college, consider taking my 1-hour productivity systems course:
Sheets, pillowcases, and a comforter. Boom.
I actually rest my head on a pile of bricks every night, but that's a level you'll need to work up to. Start with these.
Dorm HVAC systems sometimes like to test your will to live. So you'll need a blanket.
I'm marking this as essential because you don't know what happened on your dorm mattress before you moved in. And you don't want to know.
Dorm mattresses aren't always very soft, so you have two options: either #dealwithit, or get this. (Honestly it's really comfortable)
If you'll be sleeping in a loft bed or on the top of a bunk bed, get this (or build your own if you're into DIY). It's a great place to put your iPad so you can fall asleep to old episodes of The Bachelorette.
For when your roommate needs sleep but you have 5,000 more pages of calculus homework. I recommend a clamp light like this one, especially if you have a loft bed.
Laptop needs vary based on what you'll be doing. This is our main budget pick, though - it's less than $500 and will work well for any major (unless you're doing lots of video or other graphics-heavy work).
This is our laptop upgrade pick (unless you're a Mac user). Similar specs to the Acer, but it's much thinner/lighter and will have better build quality.
Having a second display to work with is monstrously helpful for many, many different majors. Just avoid the temptation to throw up Netflix on it while you're working.
You don't know what you're missing until you actually use a gaming mouse. This one performs incredibly well and can be had at a great price.
This is the BEST mouse pad. That's the only reason I'm listing it. You can probably find a regular cloth mouse pad under your couch cushions, but this one is just amazing. I keep one in my backpack all the time.
One Drive to store them all, one Drive to save them....If you need a lot of storage space, it's often cheaper to use a portable hard drive than to buy a laptop with a bigger internal drive.
If you live on campus, you might not actually need a printer, as there's probably a computer lab nearby. But if you live OFF campus, owning a printer can be really handy. This one works well and doesn't cost too much.
Desk and School Supplies
Because the odds are good that the only outlet is on the complete opposite side of the room as your desk.
For math and stuff...and drawing little pictures of your professor when no one's looking.
Until we figure out pocket-sized cold fusion reactors, these will have to do. Seriously a great way to make friends - people always need batteries.
Get sticky with it. For marking important passages in books without damaging the pages, these little guys are a miracle.
Some people get paid lots of money just to sharpen pencils. Seriously, Google "artisanal pencil sharpening."
If you don't want to fool with sharpening pencils, go the mechanical route. I find them especially great for math homework or really any task where you need to write really small and neatly while still being able to erase.
For reading textbooks or serving as backlighting for your next Insta selfie #wokeuplikethis
From reminders to grocery lists to amusing pranks to play on your roommates, sticky notes might be the most versatile school/office supply there is.
For your whiteboard. Make sure to get an eraser, or your embarrassing caricature of your RA may be stuck there forever.
Only slightly less awesome than the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
The proper way to affix paper to your corkboard is by throwing shuriken, but it takes a while to master. Use these in the meantime.
At least when I was in elementary school, these notebooks were the shiz. Even in the age of tablets and laptops, paper notebooks persist. And they're a lot less distracting when you're trying to take notes in that stats class where you're never sure if the professor is trying to make your head hurt or if the subject is just really hard.
This thing is awesome. It's like a regular notebook, except you can open the rings and refill it with new paper when you've run out. That means you can use it for EVERY class - while still keeping it small and light.
Some people do still write on this stuff, believe it or not.
...I believe you have it.
While I also use Google Calendar heavily, I find a paper calendar a nice quick reference for seeing what day of the week it is. Plus, they make good decorations against your dorm room's white cinderblock walls.
It's all fun and games until you knock it over, scattering pencils, pushpins, and paperclips as far as the eye can see. "Shoot," you think, "my room will never be safe to walk barefoot again."
All jokes aside, journaling is a superb form of self-reflection--it's like free therapy. Plus, it gives something your great-great grandkids can look back on and say, "They used Facebook back then? Woah! Now everything is just wired directly into your brain."
For important papers that require your attention. This is becoming less and less common, but they still make a nice desk decoration.
One strip to rule them all.
Since you can't afford to pony up the cash for artisanal pencil sharpening (at least not yet), you can use one of these in the meantime.
It sticks things to things.
For when you go to a college or live in an apartment complex that still requires payment in paper checks.
The first step to becoming a flash card guru.
To sever that which must not remain joined.
I use mine to measure my beard, but they're also handy for drawing straight lines.
So much better than staples. Also a way to get a house, according to some guy's TED talk.
Because someone in your family or friend group will send you mail, and it's only polite to respond.
For unspeakable secrets...or old homework.
Because everyone knows that your pens and pencils are seriously trying to take over your desk.
This is my top backpack pick for most students. Unless you're a bag nerd like me, it'll probably do everything you need. It's durable, comfortable, and will fit most laptops. P.S. - Check out our list of backpack essentials.
This is our founder Thomas' favorite backpack, and the one he uses on a daily basis. Costs more than our base recommendation, but looks sleeker and offers better organization. Watch his review here.
When (not "if," but "when") something in your dorm room breaks, this is a great thing to have on hand, especially if you don't want to wait for the maintenance crew.
This speaker's battery lasts forever, it's small enough to throw in a bag, and it's loud enough to fill a dorm room or apartment living room with decent sound. I use mine every day and have bought no less than four more as gifts for friends.
If you have roommates, or just need some isolation when you study, a good pair of headphones is a must. Buy these if you don't want to shell out for noise-cancelling headphones just yet. Also, here's my study music playlist.
Getting a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones has been a game changer for me. With these, places that were previously too loud are now perfect study spaces.
While some dorms have air conditioning that tests your will to live, others have no air conditioning to speak of. Pick up one of these to keep your room cool and ventilated.
When the broom's not enough (or if you have carpet), bring out the big guns.
Gotta keep that floor on sweep.
I'm still not sure what every tool is for, but this is really handy. Plus it kind of makes me feel like Batman.
Great as a supplement or instead of plastic under the bed storage containers. Probably what you'd take on the train to Hogwarts as well.
I use a set of these to store my alphabetized, mint condition collection of rare Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, but they work pretty well for anything that you need but don't use regularly.
If you want the storage benefits of an elevated bed without the brain trauma hazards of lofting, then pick up a pack of these. I recommend having a friend help you install them.
I'm not going to say I've raced these up and down the hall with my roommates...but I'm not going to say I haven't.
Woah, it's a groovy blast from the past! Seriously, though, this is actually a pretty comfortable chair. It even folds up for easy storage during DDR battles.
If your floor is tile, you'll thank me for this. Especially in winter. Especially if you have an 8 am class.
"Every problem in the world can be fixed with one of two items. If it moves and it shouldn't, duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, WD-40." - some engineer at some point, probably
Textbooks can be expensive - it sucks. But they don't always have to be like that. This link takes you to my favorite site for finding the best deals on textbooks. I also strongly suggest checking your college's library or looking into digital versions of your books.
A great way to get around fast and stay healthy. Really saves time if your campus is large and/or spread out. Bonus points for wheelies. Note: this link is for Amazon, but if there's a local bike shop in your town, I recommend checking there first.
Always keep your style and your bike on lock. Protip: for maximum security, make sure to lock the frame to something, not just the wheel.
Keep those tires inflated for maximum speed and comfort.
For shredding, carving, or just coasting to class. Note: I've linked to Amazon here, but if you have a local skate shop in your area, I highly recommend going there instead.
Loud music can be great when you're jumping up and down to it at a concert...but less than thrilling when it's blaring from the room next door while you're trying to sleep. Good earplugs make all the difference. Note: pair with sleep mask for best results.
Because sometimes your roommate wants to stay up till 3 am studying...or maybe you're a vampire, I dunno. Pair with earplugs for best results.
Maybe unnecessary if you attend college on the moon, but for most places it's handy to have a quality umbrella that you can store in your bag.
Great for storing...books, obviously, but also for almost everything else that you want to be accessible or displayed. Note: Your college may include one of those with your dorm room, so check first.
For storing important documents, embarrassing photos, and the One Ring.
Definitely not an essential in the age of streaming, but good to have if you prefer a larger screen or want to hook up to cable for some reason. Note: Ask your roommate if they're already bringing one before you buy.
For late night Smash Bros sessions or just lounging around procrastinating on your chemistry homework...(not that you would ever do anything like that). Note: Ask your roommate if they're already bringing one before you buy. Also, check thrift stores and Craigslist before buying new.
For chilling food and beverages. Note: Ask your roommate if they're already bringing one before you buy. Also, you can often rent one of these from your college, which can be a better deal than buying one. If you're living in a house or apartment, this is likely provided.
For those frozen foods you shouldn't but probably will eat (especially during exam week). Note: Ask your roommate if they're already bringing one before you buy. Often available to rent from your college, and also often provided if you're living in a house or apartment.
For boiling water to make tea, coffee, and Ramen. A game changer.
Going to college in what could, at times, feel like the literal Arctic, it was great to have a way to keep my coffee warm on the way to class. Even if you need your beverages to stay cold, this tumbler works great for that, too.
Unless you're Aquaman, you could probably stand to drink more water. This bottle is durable, easy to clean, and a great conversation starter. It also prevents you from wasting money and plastic on bottled water.
Cooking your own food a couple times a week (and then reheating as you need it) is a great way to save time and money. These microwave safe containers are what you need to keep that food fresh throughout the week. These will make you less likely to turn to frozen pizza bagels when you're tired and just want something to eat.
Coffee is love, coffee is life - and this is my FAVORITE coffee making device. It's cheap, but the coffee it produces tastes amazing. It's like French press coffee without the grit.
To make a truly potent and delicious cup of coffee, grind your own beans fresh. Pair with the Aeropress for best results.
As someone who has opened cans with a pocket knife before, I strongly suggest getting one of these instead.
You don't realize what a brilliant invention they are until you're without them and are forced to use duct tape instead.
Eating off paper plates gets old fast.
If you've ever tried to cut pizza with a knife, you'll know how necessary one of these is.
Also useful for warding off intruders.
It steams, boils, and roils. What more could you want?
A quality knife that will make you feel like you're in a scene from Ratatouille.
For all your stirring, flipping, and mixing needs.
Sure, they work for cookies, but you can also use them to bake, roast, or toast just about anything imaginable.
Not to be confused with "software" or "hardware."
Far superior to paper towels for drying dishes. Also useful for cleaning up heavier spills and wiping the kitchen counter to a mirror shine.
Those dirty dishes won't clean themselves, either.
Spills happen. These ones are a bit pricier than others, but they're some of the best I've used (and now this sounds like a paper towel commercial. I swear it's not).
That trash ain't gonna bag itself.
For those of you who don't have hands made of asbestos.
Any time you need to get something from one container to another without spilling, you'll be happy to have some funnels. They also work as funny little hats.
For gripping and grasping. Also for pretending that you're Zoidberg from Futurama.
For pasta, every college student's best friend. Can also work as a steamer basket when combined with a pot.
I've slowly built up my immunity to hot metal, but for everyone else I recommend pot holders.
If you live in a house or apartment, these are handy to have, though they're often included.
For making baskets and tossing rubbish. Note: often provided with your dorm room, so check before buying.
Bonbowl is a compact induction cooktop that lets you cook and eat out of the same bowl. Prepare rice, cook eggs, reheat leftovers, and much more. It's perfect for a small dorm room or apartment without a stove. Use the code CIG20 at checkout to get $20 off.
I use one to wash the silk ascot from my Austin Powers cosplay, but they work well for any delicate garments.
Roll, roll, roll your lint, gently off your clothes.
For when you bust a move so hard that you rip your pants.
To stain is human; to remove stains is...OxiClean?
The best way to lose your socks is carrying all your laundry down to the washer in one big wad. Get a hamper instead.
For drying delicate garments like my morph suit.
These are magical: just throw them in the washer with your clothes. Just make sure not to make the mistake I did of putting them in the detergent compartment. Doesn't work quite as well.
My bed is actually a literal "iron board," but I still have one of these for keeping my clothes pressed and smooth.
Pro tip: steam can set off fire alarms, so make sure not to iron directly under the smoke detector.
I hang my cape on one every morning after I return from fighting crime.
Undoubtedly invented by the same extraterrestrial geniuses that brought us Command strips, these are great for hanging coats and towels.
It only made my closet slightly less of a disaster area, but that's probably just me.
Personal Items and Toiletries
Quite possibly the most useful item in the universe.
The most magical and mystifying of all personal care items.
Shower floors are grody. "Men's" because of the size more than the color - black looks good on everyone.
You don't know what's been on that shower floor. "Women's" because of the size more than the color - pink is for everyone.
Because someone will "borrow" your shampoo if you leave it in the communal shower.
Even if it's just a papercut, it's always best to have some basic first aid supplies on hand.
Don't be grimy; keep it shiny.
Bathroom floors can be slippery.
Shower floors can be slippery, too.
Imagine how shocked I was when I arrived in my apartment and found that a shower curtain wasn't included. Don't be like me; pick one of these up. And make sure to close it all the way, because there's nothing worse than stumbling into the bathroom at 3am only to find your socks soaked by the puddle someone left after showering.
These are easy to forget, but a shower curtain isn't much use if you can't hang it up. And no, you shouldn't try to use rubber bands and paper clips for this (speaking from personal experience).
For taking care of business. If you live in a dorm with community bathrooms, this will usually be provided.
I've never used one, but this model has good reviews. I'll assume you've probably done your own research if you're getting one.
Walking to class with wet hair in January is never fun...unless you go to college in the Southern Hemisphere, of course.
Like the curling iron, I don't have any experience with this personally (nowhere near enough hair), but this model got good reviews.
For when you don't feel like clothes but also don't feel like being cold and making everyone uncomfortable.
Makes the walk back from the communal bathroom a lot less chilly and awkward.
Your university will almost certainly give these away by the fistful, so you probably don't need to buy them.
Because no one wants to be that guy coughing uncontrollably during a calculus lecture that you could barely understand on the best of days.
Unless you're secretly Catwoman, you'll probably want a pair of these.
Keep it trimmed, folks.
You may look a little chalky, but you'll be thankful you used it when you're older.
For all your plucking needs.
The wall is just a blank canvas...or something like that. Pair with Command strips for best results.
Some of the best evidence that aliens have visited Earth, these can attach anything to the wall. One of the great marvels of our time.
How else will you know if you have spinach in your teeth? Note: many dorms come with one of these, so check before buying.
They add a touch of home, and they're great for keeping out the literal eye of Sauron that is the streetlight outside your window. Some dorms include curtain rods, but it really depends.
If you don't want the responsibility of a pet but still enjoy caring for a living thing, plants are a perfect choice. Just make sure to water them or they'll get sad.
For your daily dose of soothing, salty illumination.
Not just for holidays, these lights provide a pleasant ambient alternative to the industrial fluorescents that most dorms have.
The individual items in this category are totally, completely optional. We just thought it’d be cool to suggest some of the games and other things that work really well for bringing friends together or for relaxing after a huge study session.
If Civilization were a board game...er, I mean, "tabletop strategy game."
A crazy, fun card game that I'm still not sure I fully understand.
I'll always remember it as "how I got to know people freshman year."
Imagine every argument you've ever had over which superhero would win in a fight, and you'll begin to get an idea of what this game is about.
Sort of like Scrabble, but without the board and a lot more fast-paced.
For Euchre, poker, and 52 pickup.
A Midwest classic and favorite of hipsters everywhere.
"Hut, hut, hike!"
I use mine for disc golf.
For re-enacting the climactic final scene of the 1996 classic Space Jam.
What the rest of the world calls a "football."
For battling the zombies...or your hallmates (or maybe both. Maybe you have zombie hallmates?)
*or your console of choice. I mainly play PC and Wii U games myself - I'm only suggesting the PS4 here because it's the most successful current-gen console.
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Original feature photo: Macbook on desk