What to Pack: Your Back to College Checklist

Going off to college is an exciting time for students and parents. But in the run-up to the first day of class, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the to-do's and to-get's, and even easier to forget crucial items.

That's why we created this checklist of college essentials, designed to help you keep track of the large and small things that make collegiate life happen.

Personal items & storage

  • Bedding: “In close, shared spaces, it's important to have your own unique space that reflects your personality,” says Charlene Jimenez, an adjunct creative writing professor at Rio Salado College in Tempe, AZ. Pack your favorite set of sheets, blanket, comforter, pillows and a bed skirt to hide items stored below the bed. Check with the college's student affairs office or the dorm's residential advisors to see if specific bedding sizes (like extra-long twin sheets) are needed.
    Pro tip: Need more storage? Just prop your bed up on risers and stow under-bed bins or crates filled with extra shoes, cleaning supplies or K-Cup® pods for your Keurig®.
  • Clothes: Fitting an entire wardrobe into a confined, shared space is challenging, but closet organizers and nesting clothes hangers free up space for other items like laundry supplies.
  • Toiletries: If you share a central bath, you may be schlepping shampoo and towels back and forth. Stock a caddy full of must-haves (hair supplies, soaps, razors, etc.), grab those shower shoes and robe, and enjoy communal living.


  • Computers: A laptop computer is a must-have, but leave the printer at home. “Campus will be full of them, and you probably won't have space for one anyway,” says Brian Kearney, a recent graduate of Rowan College in Glassboro, NJ. Laptops also double as TVs, so no need to bring a hulking flat screen.
    Pro tip: Research your college's computer requirements — some are more restrictive than others.
  • Accessories: Power strips and charging stations, USB flash drives and earbuds or headphones ensure work gets done whether it's in the dorm, the library or the popular new coffee shop. Mobile phones do double-duty as alarm clocks, calendars and radios, thanks to desktop speakers.

Other college supplies

  • Pens and paper: Most students take notes on computers, but there are still times when putting pencil to paper makes sense. “Make sure you have the basics,” says recent Barnard College graduate Julie Zeilinger. That includes notebooks, pens, pencils, sticky notes, paper clips, a stapler, scissors and other materials “you feel you objectively don't need in the digital age, but then always end up needing.”
  • Kitchen supplies: Eating won't always happen in the dining hall, so Zeilinger suggests keeping plastic plates and utensils around. If being a foodie is part of your campus dream, mini fridges, microwaves and coffeemakers are additional must-haves.
    Pro tip: For safety reasons, most schools ban toaster ovens and the like. Ask the resident advisor or admissions office before purchasing this equipment.

Focusing on the essentials is the best approach. “There's one basic rule parents and students should keep in mind: Minimalism is key,” Zeilinger says. “And never underestimate the extent to which being well organized will not only make their lives easier, but may very well make their academic experiences more efficient.”

Use this back to college checklist to make sure you or your student has everything necessary to live, study and excel at college.

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