Transition from High School

10 Things You Might Not Think to Pack—but Absolutely Need for College

By Hélène Tragos Stelian, Author of Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack

While the warnings usually focus on not packing too much, here is my list of commonly forgotten items that it’s essential you do bring to college. Here are 10 Things You Might Not Think to Pack—but Absolutely Need for College:

1. Mattress topper

At most colleges, your dorm room mattress will be thin and well used. A Mattress Topper looks like a padded fitted sheet and adds cushion and comfort to that hard mattress. Make sure you buy the right size for your mattress—most will require XL Twin.

2. Shower shoes

Antimicrobial Shower Shoes are essential to protecting your feet from common infections resulting from shared dorm bathrooms.

3. Spare prescription medication

At your summer checkup (you’ll need this for your school’s health forms), ask your physician for spare quantity of your everyday medications and get a paper refill Rx as well. It can’t hurt to have a spare pair of prescription glasses with you in case you break or lose your regular pair (or run out of contact lenses).

4. Adhesive hooks and poster tape

Many dorm room walls are made of painted cinder block, and don’t allow you to use nails or screws in your walls. 3M Command Hooks are extra strong but are also removable; they will help you take advantage of wall space to hang coats, umbrellas, purses, etc. Buy a variety of shapes and sizes. Poster tape or putty is ideal for lighter items like posters and photos.

5. Desk lamp

Lighting in most dorm rooms is notoriously poor. You’re usually provided only a ceiling light and will be grateful for a desk lamp when reading or writing. If your desk is by the head of the bed, you can use it as a bedside lamp too, or you might want to consider a Clip On Light. Remember, no halogen bulbs (most dorms prohibit these due to the fire hazard). Check out HerCampus’ list of the The 13 Coolest Desk Lamps for Your Dorm Room.

6. Backup charging cord for your cell phone

Of course you’ll bring one, but think about how often you’ve misplaced it in the past, and bring a backup just in case. Because so many people share the same model phone (and charging cord), it’s wise to label both with your name; you might want to consider some colorful stickers or Washi Masking Tape to help you easily differentiate your electronics from those of others. Same goes for laptops, tablets, etc.

7. Noise-cancelling headphones

If you have a hard time studying or sleeping with ambient noise (think doors slamming, roommate tapping on keyboard, music next door), you will want Noise Cancelling Headphones. Or at least some Earplugs!

8. Sleep mask

If you like to sleep in pitch dark, your window shades (and your roommate’s lamp or screen) will make it hard for you to get a good night’s rest. The College Sleep Eye Mask is an easy way to address this.

9. Personal safety alarm 

To stay safe on campus, you’ll want to heed the guidelines provided by your college, like always staying alert and vigilant when alone or in new situations, having a charged phone on your in case of emergency, knowing how to alert campus security, etc. Some colleges give new students personal safety alarms as well, but if yours does not, consider buying your own. The Revolar Safety Wearable keeps you better connected and protected. It’s small enough to wear anywhere, yet powerful enough to alert trusted contacts with your real-time location in seconds.

10. Doorstop

You’ll want to use this starting on move in day, to prop your door open and invite passers by to say hello. The SABRE Dorm Apartment Security Alarm Kit can double as a security device when you use it on the inside of your door.


For more ideas, check out Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack

Practical Resources include:

  • A step-by-step list of things to do, from decision to move-in day, such as: Booking hotel rooms ASAP for parents’ weekend, securing scholarship money to close financial aid gaps, understanding your health plan options and HIPAA waivers 
  • The life skills every student should learn before leaving home, including: staying safe and handling a medical emergency, managing expenses and staying on a budget, handling common roommate problems  
  • The most comprehensive college packing list, for every category, featuring: dorm life essentials and what’s a waste of money, extensive product information and reviews, packing and move-in day tips to ensure a stress-free move 
  • Hundreds of resources, with links at your fingertips, including: the best stores for college dorm shopping, with tips on student discounts, where to buy, rent, and sell textbooks so you never pay full price, great books, websites, and blogs for both students and parents

About the Author

Hélène Tragos Stelian is mom to twin daughters, who are leaving for college in the fall. She is the author of 3 books, including Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack and is a contributing writer to Huffington Post. She also mentors first-generation, under-resourced Chicago teens on the college application process. Hélène founded Next Act for Womento share stories of midlife reinventions and is a professional transition coach, working primarily with women in midlife who feel stuck or lost, often as a result of an impending empty nest—she’s been there!

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