Whether you've got an incoming freshman or returning student, it's time for back-to-school shopping for the collegiate set. And as everyone over the age of 25 knows, it’s a process that will go much more smoothly with a list. Here, we pulled together the ultimate college shopping list, regardless of where the kid in question is in their higher education trajectory.
The Ultimate College Shopping List, According to Current Students & And 2 RA’s
PureWow editors select every item that appears on this page, and the company may earn compensation through affiliate links within the story. You can learn more about that process here.
1. Twin XL Bedding
Product We Love: AmazonBasics 5-Piece Bed-in-a-Bag Bedding Set
If she’s going to be moving into a dorm, twin XL bedding is a must. This set from AmazonBasics means you can stock up on sheets, a comforter, a sham and a pillowcase in one fell swoop. And when she wants to change up her decor next semester, you won’t be too upset, since the whole set costs just $40.
2. Mattress Topper
Product We Love: Bedsure Twin XL Mattress Topper
“Most of my friends had a foam mattress topper that totally flattened after the first month of school. I’m happy my mom opted for a down alternative because it kept me comfy and didn’t need to be replaced for two whole years,” says recent college grad Kayleigh H. We like the fact that this Bedsure topper secures to the mattress with deep pockets that fit up to 18-inch mattresses, so it won’t slip and slide under their sheets.
3. Storage Bins
Product We Love: Rubbermaid Cleverstore Clear 71-Quart Storage Containers, Pack of 4
Most college students aren’t minimalists, so it’s a good idea to send them off to school with some organizational tools that will keep their room looking neat. Like storage bins that fit under their bed, where they can keep off-season clothes, last semester’s books and other miscellaneous items. Plus, these Rubbermaid bins are super-sturdy.
Product We Love: Madison Park 8-Piece Towel Set
Plush towels are a luxury that even an 18-year-old can appreciate, so they’re one college shopping list staple that’s actually worth splurging on. This set includes two bath towels, two hand towels and four wash cloths. And don’t forget to remind them to launder their towels regularly.
5. A Lap Desk
Product We Love: Wishacc Oversized Lap Desk
No matter how many times you tell him it’s easier to be productive at the library, he’s inevitably going to do homework in bed at some point during the semester. That’s where a lap desk comes in handy. The bottom of this one is cushioned, so he’ll stay comfortable while he works, and a strap gives him something to hold down papers or pens.
6. A Laundry Basket
Product We Love: United Solutions Rolling Hamper
A laundry basket with wheels is the gift that keeps on giving. You know they’re going to let their dirty clothes pile up until they absolutely have to do laundry, so being able to roll their load around will make the trip to the laundry room much easier when it’s finally time.
7. A Drying Rack
Product We Love: Polder 2-Tier Mesh-Top Clothes Drying Rack
“The dorm dryers totally wrecked my clothes freshman year,” says Caitlin G, a rising senior. That’s why she recommends investing in a drying rack for delicate items that don’t do well with high heat (like Lululemon leggings). This one from the Polder is made from rust-proof steel and has durable rubber feet, so it’ll last longer than those flimsy budget options.
8. A Power Strip
Product We Love: GE 6 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip
College dorms are notorious for having terrible outlet placement, so power strips are always a good idea, says Kerry S., a recent college grad and former RA. Just make sure your kid’s school allows them first (some don’t because of fire safety concerns).
9. An Extra Long Phone Charger
Product We Love: Anker iPhone 10-Foot Charger Cable
Speaking of those poorly placed outlets, many kids invest in an extra-long phone charger for their dorm room. You know, so they can scroll through TikTok for a few hours before dozing off.
10. A Shower Caddy
Product We Love: Haundry Mesh Shower Caddy Tote
If she owns approximately 20 different shampoos, hair masks, conditioners, body washes and shaving creams, this shower caddy is the way to go. It has eight large pockets to store all of her essentials. Just remind her to store it in her room, since her pricey lavender shampoo might mysteriously disappear if she leaves it on the counter. Ah, the joys of communal living.
11. Shower Slides
Product We Love: Aoowall Men's Shower Shoes
Shared bathroom showers aren’t known for being the cleanest, so he’s definitely going to want a pair of shower shoes. This pair of plastic slides from Amazon has hole in the bottom for drainage, as well as anti-skid bumps on the sole.
12. Wall Hooks
Product We Love: Command Wire Hooks (Pack of 16)
Whether she wants to hang string lights, a framed picture of her and her high school friends or just create a spot on the wall for her wet towel, she’s going to need some wall hooks. These ones from Command come with strong adhesive strips that make them easy to install (and take down in May).
13. Bed Risers
Product We Love: Utopia Bedding Adjustable Bed Furniture Risers
“Bed risers are something that most parents totally overlook at first,” says John M, a recent grad and former RA. “A lot of people end up making an extra trip to Target or ordering them online once they realize how small their room is.” Bed risers allow for extra storage space underneath the bed, which most kids end up needing unless they luck out with a spacious room assignment (if those even exist?). This adjustable set can be three, five, or eight inches high.
14. A Coffee Maker
Product We Love: Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker
Unless you want them to waste all of their dining card money at the campus coffee shop, send them off to school with a Keurig. This mini version is only $80 and will ensure that they can get their caffeine fix without having to make the trek to the dining hall. And while you’re at it, pick up a few boxes of K-Cups too.
15. A Weighted Blanket
Product We Love: Degrees of Comfort Cooling Weighted Blanket
A lot of college students struggle with anxiety, and weighted blankets have been shown to help by providing a comforting sensation that eases the nervous system. This design includes two covers, a fuzzy one for winter and a cooler one for warmer seasons. He’ll want to wrap up in, even when he’s not feeling particularly high-strung about his upcoming exams.
16. A Game
Product We Love: What Do You Meme? Party Game
Former RA Kerry S. also recommends adding a fun game to your college shopping list. “They’re great for a night in, and it’s an easy ice breaker to invite people over to play a game if your kid is trying to get to know their hallmates,” she says. FYI, What Do You Meme? is a classic for the Gen Z crowd.
17. A Mini Fridge
Product We Love: Whirlpool 3.1 Cubic Feet Stainless Steel Refrigerator
Some colleges allow you to rent a mini fridge, but it’s usually a rip off. If you invest in a quality model like this one, which even has a full-width freezer, he can use it for all four years of school. If you want him to have the dorm room feel at home it’s also a worthy purchase—he’ll get a kick out of being able to reach over and grab a drink without having to go down to the kitchen.
18. A Nice Blazer
Product We Love: Cicy Bell Women's Casual Blazer
You might feel silly sending her off to school already prepped with an outfit for her first interview, but recent grad Izzy C. says she’ll need one before you know it. “I wish my mom and I had shopped for a good blazer before I left for school. I ended up needing one when I interviewed for an internship that spring and I had to scramble to find an outfit at the last minute,” she explains. This classic style from Amazon can be thrown over a dress or button-up and black jeans for a polished look.
19. A Supportive Chair
Product We Love: Wayfair Basics Mesh Task Chair
This adjustable ergonomic chair fits into even a small space and comes in 15 colorways, which makes it a decor item as much as a siren's call to study.
20. A Touch of Neon
Product We Love: Smiley Neon Sign
It's the trendy decor note for dorm rooms right now, and this 9.5-inch square wall-mounted symbol is just the thing to prop up your little soldier when the going (and grades) get tough. It comes with a 6-foot USB power cable, so there's no fancy installation required.
21. A Tool Kit
Product We Love: Dormify Marketplace Character Mini Tool Set
They're going to be displaying all kinds of things on their walls and measuring possible Ikea additions to their mini-palace. So give them this canvas carryall that contains a hammer, tape measure, screwdriver, small adjustable wrench and slip joint pliers, and be glad that, for once, it's not your walls that they are pounding holes into.
22. A Charging Table
Product We Love: Daisy Charging Side Table
This tiny footprint beside their bed not only holds whatever miscellaneous items they're into, it has an outlet with two ports to charge their devices. So, there's never an excuse for them to say they're sorry but their phone died.
Want to know which buzzy products are *really* worth buying? Sign up for our shopping newsletter to uncover our favorite finds.