When you’re in college, back-to-school shopping looks a little different. On top of laptops and fun stationery, you need bedding, bathroom and kitchen essentials, storage options and decor to help your dorm room feel more like home.
This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF)’s annual back-to-school spending survey found that college students and their families expect to spend an average of $1,367 per household — this is a significant increase from $1,199 last year, surpassing the record of $1,200.32 spent in 2021. The NRF noted that this increase in expected spending is mostly due to a higher demand for electronics. The NRF also said that people are starting to shop back-to-school early to get a head start in preparing for the upcoming school year. Still, 85% of respondents said they still have at least half of their shopping left to do.
Whether you’re sharing a bathroom and kitchen space with your peers or have your very own space, everyone’s dorm room experience will be different, which makes dorm shopping a very personal experience. As recent college graduates who have lived in many dorms, we’ve compiled a list of items that we consider essential for dorm living. We also highlighted products we wish we had bought before move-in day.
Our top picks
- Best bedding: Threshold 400 Thread Count Printed Sheet Set
- Best bath: Xomiboe Shower Shoes
- Best decor: Command Hooks
- Best storage: Room Essentials 11-inch Fabric Cube
- Best kitchen: Room Essentials Plastic Short Tumbler
- Best tech: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)
How we picked our favorites
We picked products based on our own experiences as former and current college students living in a dorm to help you determine what works best for your living situation. All the products we recommend are things that we’ve used or are highly rated. Here are some factors we kept in mind when picking our favorites:
- Dorm layout: We made sure to include products for different kinds of dorm room situations and layouts. Dorms can range from singles, doubles and triples to suites and the amount of space you have for your items will vary based on how many people you’re sharing a room with. Sites like DormCo and Dormify sell products specifically for dorm rooms with college students and families.
- Student discounts: Many retailers have college student-specific discounts and student memberships so you can get the best deals on bedding, storage and more. For example, you can create an Amazon Prime Student account for $89.88 a year, which is $90 less than a standard Prime membership. For tech, brands like Apple and others offer student pricing, discounts and memberships.
Best dorm essentials
We separated our favorite products into six categories: bed, bath, decor, storage, kitchen and tech so you can shop based on what you need for your specific dorm room. It’s important to note that not all of these products are necessary to kickstart your college experience but may be helpful to help you settle in and make you more comfortable in this new environment.
One thing we recommend to anyone living in a dorm is a bed riser, which lifts the bed a few inches off the floor and can be useful if you want to create storage space underneath. These adjustable bed risers come in a set of four and have a 4.5-star average rating from 19,188 reviews on Amazon.
“I love this duvet cover because it’s comfortable, but also has a subtle pattern that makes my room look more put together,” says Select intern Estee Yi (Cornell University ’24), who’s used this duvet cover through her dorm and college apartment. It comes in Full/Queen and King sizes and though this duvet doesn’t come in a Twin XL, Yi says that a twin-sized duvet was still long enough for her twin XL bed.
This silk pillowcase from Brooklinen is a favorite of former Select intern Kala Herh (NYU ’22). It can be especially useful for those with dry and acne-prone skin since silk doesn’t zap away moisture from the skin like cotton pillowcases tend to do, experts told us in our guide to silk bedding.
The mattress that comes with a dorm room’s typical twin XL bed can be unsupportive and uncomfortable, but a mattress topper can help add some extra cushioning. As soon as Yi layered this mattress topper on her bed, she says it felt much more comfortable than her bed back home. “It was only 1.5 inches of extra padding, but I always had the best sleep. I ended up buying the full-size version of this topper for my apartment,” she says.
To keep allergens like dust mites, mold and bacteria from collecting in your mattress — especially those provided by dorms and used year after year — our staff recommends using a mattress protector. Designed to go under your mattress pad, this machine-washable mattress cover fully encases your mattress and zips closed for a secure fit. It’s made from antimicrobial and water-resistant fabric that adjusts to your body temperature, according to the brand. This mattress protector is available in Twin, Full, Queen and King sizes, and you can also purchase pillow protectors.
A great pair of sheets do not have to be an expensive purchase, according to both Yi and Select associate updates editor Zoe Main (Northwestern ‘22). They opted for Target’s Threshold Sheet Set, which is made from 100% cotton and comes with a flat sheet, fitted sheet and two pillowcases. The sheet set is available in Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King and California King sizes, and comes in vibrant patterns and solid colors.
While Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin (Northwestern ’22) mostly used this lap desk as a workstation in bed, she also brought it to her dorm’s lounge to support her computer when she’s sitting on the couch. The lap desk folds flat, making it easy to transport and store away. In fact, Malin would slide it under her bed or in her closet when she wasn’t using it. It also has a built-in cup holder and a slot that acts as a stand for tablets, phones and books.
Made with a soft, durable cotton blend, these pillows are a great option for neck and shoulder support, Herh says. As someone who likes to lay on one pillow and hold another while they sleep, she says she appreciates that the pillows come in a set of two.
“These are so light and airy and gave my feet much-needed support in my dorm after walking all over campus to get to different classes,” says NBC page Carolyn Chun (Cornell University ’22). These cushioned sandals have 1.7-inch-thick soles that provide enough support to help relieve foot pain, according to the brand. You can also customize the slippers by using a hair dryer on high heat to soften the upper strap and mold the slipper to your foot, according to the brand.
Bath and laundry essentials
After living in dorms, we can confirm that you should always wear flip-flops or sandals in communal dorm showers. These open-toe slide sandals have drainage holes that prevent water from pooling under your feet, according to the brand. The shoes are made from a quick-drying elastic material and have grippy anti-slip outsoles so you don’t fall in the shower, according to the brand.
A robe is useful to wear while heading to the bathroom and walking back to your dorm room after a shower, according to our staff. This highly rated H&M bathrobe has a 4.3-star average rating from 207 reviews at H&M. It is made from a machine-washable waffle-weave cotton blend. It has two front pockets and a tie belt at the waist.
Shower caddies help you store your shampoo, soap, toothbrush and other supplies in one space, which makes going to a shared bathroom a more streamlined experience. This option is a foldable mesh tote that keeps your toiletries organized with multiple pockets for other accessories. Yi liked this tote because she could hang it from a hook in the communal shower instead of putting her toiletries on the shower floor.
One thing Yi regrets not using in her dorm room is a drying rack for the times she had to hand wash her clothes or for items that hadn’t finished in the school dryer. This collapsible drying rack has a 4.5-star average rating from 31,738 reviews on Amazon. It weighs less than 5 pounds and folds down to 3 inches tall so that you can stash it under your bed or in a closet when you’re not using it. It’s 29 inches long, which makes it a great drying surface for your small space.
Having a backpack hamper can make bringing your laundry back and forth from the laundry room much easier on your back, especially with heavier loads. This one has adjustable straps, a pocket to add extra clothing or your laundry detergent and it also has a drawstring so none of your clothes will fall out. It’s especially helpful if your laundry room is far away from your room, according to our staff.
Having a set of towels is crucial for showers, but can also be good to have on hand for impromptu picnics or a home workout. This six-piece cotton set comes with two washcloths, two hand towels and two body towels so that you can have a backup set when it’s time to do laundry. This set has a 4.5-star average rating from 34,904 reviews on Amazon.
Since you usually can’t use nails to hang anything on dorm room walls, Command Hooks are a great choice, Malin says. Their sticky adhesive doesn’t damage walls when you apply or remove them, and you can purchase them in different styles, like strips and cord organizers. Beyond using Command Hooks to cover the walls in picture frames, posters, bulletin boards and string lights, Malin also used them in her closet and on the back of the door to hang coats and backpacks. The brand also offers a line of hooks to support heavier items weighing 10 to 20 pounds.
Mixtiles is a service that turns your favorite images into framed wall art with a built-in adhesive on the back — you can hang the frames on walls without nails or screws, making them ideal for dorm rooms. The frames measure about 8 inches by 8 inches and are less than an inch thick. You can take them off walls and move them around multiple times without the adhesive losing its stickiness. Malin moved her Mixtiles between two dorm rooms and three apartments. You can upload pictures through the company’s website or its app and flow in pictures from Facebook or Instagram, as well as purchase Mixtiles individually. And if you don’t want to use pictures of friends, family and pets, you can also browse Mixtiles’ collection of art.
This chalkboard calendar is a decor piece and an organizational tool in one, according to Herh. It comes with two pieces of chalk and a magnet so you can tack on important notes, lists or photos. The calendar is easy to hang using its included mounting system and requires no additional tools, Herh says.
There’s no guarantee that your dorm will have enough natural or built-in lighting to satisfy your personal preferences, so a floor lamp can help brighten up the room, according to Gabriella DePinho (Manhattan College ‘21). While this one from Target may be a simpler option, she says it withstood four years of use and multiple moves. The lamp is 71 inches tall and 9 inches wide and DePinho said it did not take up a lot of space in her room.
Storage and organization essentials
Closets are tricky in dorm rooms: Some have no doors, and sometimes you’re only provided with an armoire that barely fits half your wardrobe. But the one thing you’re almost always guaranteed is a hanging rod, and you need to maximize every inch of space you’re given. Malin says the Wonder Hanger helped to increase the storage volume of the closet by hanging up to five garments from one hanger. Each Wonder Hanger can hold up to 30 pounds of clothing and works with any type of hanger, according to the brand. You can use it horizontally with both hooks or vertically with one hook.
Since Malin put a mirror on the back of her door, she couldn’t use an over-the-door organizer to store her shoes. Instead, she bought this shoe rack and kept it under her dorm bed. It holds up to 12 pairs of shoes, and if you need more space, you can stack multiple racks on top of one another, according to the brand. The rack has three mesh shelves that hold up to 30 pounds and you can assemble the shelves either flat or at an angle depending on how much space you want between them.
Fabric cubes are the perfect storage solution to organize extra clothes, books, skin care essentials and more, according to our staff. Select associate reporter Bianca Alvarez (Penn State ‘21) says she would be worried about there being too much clutter in her dorm room and likes that these storage cubes served as both decor and storage. The cube is collapsible and can fold flat to store away when you’re not using it. It can hold up to 25 pounds.
Over-the-door hooks are a great way to add additional hanging space in your room for coats, bags and more. This hook is highly rated with a 4.5-star average rating from 8,752 reviews on Amazon. “These hooks are a lifesaver, especially when it rains or snows and you need a place to dry your wet clothes,” Yi says. It comes with six total hooks and it’s padded with a sponge to prevent scratches, according to the brand.
Shelf and storage space are definitely limited in dorm rooms, making this rolling cart a great way to organize your belongings. “This is one of my favorite things that has moved with me from my dorm to my now adult apartment,” says Alvarez. She used the top section of the cart as a bedside table and the other two tiers to hold her smaller essentials. The cart is available in eight different colors, including light blue, white and sage green. It also has wheels so that you can easily transport it around your room if needed.
Instead of walking to the water fountain to fill up your water bottle, you can keep a pitcher with a filter in your mini fridge. This Brita water filter has a 48-ounce capacity and is slim enough to fit inside a mini fridge, according to Yi. If you don’t want to use a filter pitcher, Malin recommends a water bottle with a built-in filter like those by LARQ and S’well.
Malin spent the first two years of college exclusively cooking meals in a communal microwave using this dish, which is designed to steam food in the microwave. The dish is made from frosted borosilicate glass and has a silicone-rimmed glass lid that keeps steam inside. The dishes are dishwasher- and freezer-safe, and they come in small, medium and large sizes, as well as shallow and deep depths. Malin recommends purchasing the medium dish since it allows you to make enough food to have leftovers.
Heavy drinking glasses can be difficult to store if you have minimal shelf space, especially since dorm rooms don’t usually have kitchens. This 18-ounce tumbler is both microwave- and dishwasher-safe. Though some plastic cups can be flimsy, this option is sturdy and won’t easily tip over when you fill it, according to Yi. She also recommends this cup as drinkware or a holder for items like kitchen utensils or makeup brushes.
It’s always helpful to have a travel mug at your disposal, so you can take your favorite caffeinated beverage to an early class or late study session. Herh uses this dishwasher-safe tumbler to keep drinks hot or cold for hours. The insulated stainless steel mug is available in four sizes: 12, 16, 20 and 28 ounces. It comes with the brand’s Closeable Press-In Lid, but if you prefer using your tumbler for smoothies or cold beverages, you can purchase the Press-In Straw Lid separately. The mug fits in most cup holders, and you can buy it in colors like indigo, white and more. It has a 4.7-star average rating from reviews on 2,167 reviews on Amazon.
Power strips are incredibly useful accessories for devices like vacuums and laptop chargers. Herh says that dorm desks tend to come with only one outlet, which makes it difficult to charge a phone, laptop and calculator at the same time. This power strip clamps on the desk and has six outlets and two USB charging ports.
Having an air purifier in your dorm room is good to have to keep germs, bacteria, dust and poor air quality out of your room. Alvarez found this air purifier particularly helpful during flu seasons. “It kept us from getting sick constantly and was just helpful to have that added layer of protection,” she says. This air purifier has three fan speeds and is ideal for room sizes from 105 square feet to 178 square feet, according to the brand. Replacement filters are sold separately.
Going to the library to study isn’t always possible — sometimes it’s too late or too crowded. With the Apple AirPods Pro’s noise-canceling feature, you can create a quiet study space wherever you are, even if you’re with your roommate. The AirPods are also sweat- and water-resistant, according to Apple, making them great for wearing while you work out. These earbuds come with a MagSafe charging case and three sets of silicone tips in different sizes, allowing you to customize their fit. These earbuds also won a Select Wellness Award for best fitness equipment and tech.
DePinho didn’t bring an Amazon Fire Stick to college, and she regrets it. She says she spent a lot of time struggling to find an HDMI cord when she could’ve easily plugged the Fire Stick into a TV in her door room or common room and streamed shows across platforms like Netflix, Hulu and more. The device also lets you pull up YouTube videos with ease and watch live TV with a subscription. The Fire Stick 4K comes with an Alexa Voice Remote that lets you adjust the volume, search content, customize settings and more using voice commands.
Along with a power strip, another essential desk accessory is this 3-in-1 charging stand. Compatible with both Apple and Samsung products, this stand wirelessly charges a smartphone, smartwatch and wireless earbuds. The stand also doubles as an upright platform where you can simultaneously charge your tech while video chatting or watching TV shows. It’s highly rated with a 4.4-star average rating from 4,018 reviews on Amazon.
A handheld vacuum makes dorm maintenance much easier. This Bissell model is cordless, so you can clean your room for up to 12 minutes without needing to recharge it, according to the brand. It comes with tools like a 2-in-1 crevice tool and dusting brush, which you can store along with the vacuum itself using the included stand. It has a 4.3-star average rating from 15,939 reviews on Amazon.
How to shop for dorm essentials
Before you start dorm shopping, here are a few things to consider, according to our Select staff:
- Student discounts: While you’re shopping, keep in mind that many retailers offer student discounts and student memberships. For example, after providing proof that you’re enrolled at a college through your school email address or student ID, you can create an Amazon Prime Student account, which offers benefits like fast shipping and exclusive prices on select products. Brands like Apple and others offer student pricing, discounts and memberships, too.
- Storage Space: The amount of space that you have in a dorm room is limited, especially if you have a roommate. If you’ve toured your future dorm room or know its dimensions, you can get a sense of what you can and cannot fit in your space. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see your room yet, it may be better to wait to buy larger items like chairs and appliances.
- Flooring: This is a smaller detail, but knowing if your room is carpeted or has a hardwood floor can impact the types of products you buy. For example, certain vacuums work better on hard floors but might not be as effective on carpet.
- Roommates: We suggest that you coordinate with your roommate for items that will take up a considerable amount of shared space, including appliances like mini-fridges. You can also share items like kitchen appliances and storage solutions between yourselves to save space and money.
- Bed sizing: Dorm rooms usually use twin XL beds, which are slightly longer than a standard twin bed. Not all bedding retailers carry products in twin XL sizes, so you should always check which brands carry fitted sheets, flat sheets and other bedding to fit your dorm bed.
- Dorm rules: Some dorms and residence halls will not allow you to have certain appliances or electronics in your room. Before buying any appliances like mini fridges or lamps, be sure to check your dorm or residence hall’s guidelines.
Why trust Select?
Estee Yi is a graduating college senior and Zoe Malin is a recent college graduate. After living in dorms for years, they have knowledge of what products worked and didn’t, and what products they could have used but didn’t have.