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36 best dorm room essentials, according to recent college graduates

After living in dorms for years, recent graduates recommend important items to buy based on their experiences living on campus.
Illustration of two girls in there dorm room, a tumbler, reusable dinner set and a purifying fan
When moving into a dorm, you need bedding and bathroom products, as well as decorations to make the room feel like home.Courtesy Zoe Malin ; Courtesy Gabriella DePinho ; Hydro flask ; Amazon ; BedBath and Beyond

Moving into a dorm requires a longer back-to-school shopping list than just a laptop, planner and backpack. You need bedding, bathroom and kitchen products, decorations to make the room feel like home and storage options that can help you fit a lot into a small space.

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 $1,199 per household — this is almost exactly the same amount as last year, but the NRF also noted that more people are shopping for college items this year compared to 2021. The NRF said record high inflation is driving prices up across categories like groceries, gas and even school supplies. Still, when it comes to back to school and college spending, the organization said it’s not seeing shoppers pulling back.

SKIP AHEAD Bed essentials | Decor essentials | Tech essentials

As recent college graduates who have lived in many dorms, we compiled a list of items we consider essentials for moving into a dorm based on our own experiences. We also highlighted products we wish we had bought before move-in day. And to make it even easier to find what you need, we organized the list into categories like bed, bath, tech and more.

— Zoe Malin (Northwestern ‘22), Gabriella DePinho (Manhattan College ‘21) and Kala Herh (NYU ‘22)

College dorm essentials

While you’re shopping, keep in mind that many retailers offer student discounts and student memberships. For example, after providing proof of enrollment in 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 You can also get a Bed Bath & Beyond College Savings Pass, through which you receive 20 percent off your entire purchase every time you shop. Brands like Apple and others offer student pricing, discounts and memberships, too.

Bed essentials

Home-It Adjustable Bed Risers

One thing we recommend to anyone living in a dorm is a bed riser — they raise the bed a few inches off the floor, which can be useful if you want to create storage space underneath. These adjustable red risers come in a set of four and you can use them to either raise your bed 4, 6 or 9 inches.

Buffy Eucalyptus Duvet Cover

As you may be juggling clubs, classes and studying, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to getting it all done in college — but it can often be hard in a dorm. Herh said purchasing a comfortable duvet set can make sleeping a lot easier. She recommended this one from Buffy, which is made from 100 percent Eucalyptus. Herh noted that the duvet cover is soft and cool to the touch, and it’s available in three sizes: Twin/Twin XL, Full/Queen and King/California King. You can purchase the duvet cover in colors like Blush, Dark Blue and Light Gray, as well as in striped patterns.

Brooklinen Mulberry Silk Pillowcase

Another sleep aid Herh recommended is this silk pillowcase from Brooklinen, which is especially helpful for those with acne-prone skin. Experts previously told us silk pillowcases don't zap moisture from skin like cotton pillowcases tend to — rather, it lets the skin retain its natural hydration. Brooklinen’s Mulberry Silk Pillowcase comes in Standard and King sizes, and you can choose from solid-colored options like Ivory and Cool Mint or patterned designs like Celestial, Wild Peach and more.

Therapedic Gel Memory Foam Mattress Topper

Most of the dorm mattresses we’ve slept on have been made of an innerspring core that isn’t always the most comfortable to sleep on. A mattress topper can help solve that problem. This option from Therapedic is designed with a 2-inch layer of memory foam that the brand says conforms to your body while sleeping.

Allergy Relief Mattress Protector

To keep allergens like dust mites, mold and bacteria from collecting in your mattress — especially those provided by dorms and used year after year — we recommend 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 waterproof fabric that the brand says adjusts to your body temperature, and the brand says it provides protection against bed bugs, too. This mattress protector is available in Twin, Full, Queen and King sizes, and you can also purchase pillow protectors.

Serta White Goose Feather and Down Fiber Pillows

Made with a soft, durable cotton blend, these pillows are a great option for neck and shoulder support, Herh said. As someone who likes to lay on one pillow and hold another while they sleep, she said she appreciates that the pillows come in a set of two.

Threshold 400 Thread Count Printed Sheet Set

In Malin’s experience, a great pair of sheets does not have to be expensive. She opts for Target’s Threshold Sheet Set, which is made from 100% cotton and comes with a flat sheet, fitted sheet and two pillow cases. Since the sheet set comes in a variety of prints like Blue Strip, Bella Floral, Beachcomber and more, they double as decor. The sheet set is available in Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King and California King sizes.

Therapedic Oversized Backrest Pillow

Since most dorm rooms don’t have space to add secondary seating options beyond your desk chair, Malin often uses her bed as a couch to relax in. This pillow provides support for your head, neck and back when you’re lounging in bed, propping you up while you watch movies or work on your computer. You can lean it against a wall or headboard, and it has a pocket to store your phone. The backrest is covered in polyester fabric and it’s available in colors like Navy, Grey and Taupe.

Foldable Lap Desk

While Malin mostly uses this lap desk as a workstation in bed, she also brings 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 — Malin slides it under her bed or in her closet when she’s not using it. It features a built-in cup holder and a slot that acts as a stand for tablets, phones and books.

Bath and laundry essentials

Shower Shoes

After living in dorms, we can confirm that anyone who tells you it’s essential to wear flip-flops or sandals in communal dorm showers is correct. These open-toe slide sandals are designed with drainage holes that the brand says prevents water from pooling under your feet. They also have grippy anti-slip outsoles so you don’t fall while taking a shower. The shoes are constructed from a quick-drying elastic material, according to the brand. The sandals are available in sizes to fit men’s and women’s feet and come in six colors: Black, Grey, Light Blue, Pink, Blue and Purple.

H&M Waffled Bathrobe

A robe is useful to wear into the bathroom and after you shower to walk back to your dorm room. H&M’s machine-washable Waffled Bathrobe is made from a waffle-weave cotton blend — which the brand says is a soft, machine-washable material — and it has two front pockets as well as a tie belt at the waist. It’s available in two unisex sizes — Small/Large and Large/Extra Large — and comes in seven colors: Dark Gray, Light Pink, Taupe, White, Black, Green and Light Mauve.

Simply Essential 6-Piece Towel Set

Herh bought this towel set from Simply Essential because it comes with two large towels, two hand towels and two face towels — you can throw one set in the washing machine and still have another on hand to use. Towels are made from 100% cotton and come in four colors: Blue, White, Sand and Grey.

Room Essentials Shower Caddy

Shower caddies help you store your shampoo, soap, a toothbrush and other supplies in one space, which makes going to the bathroom a more streamlined experience. This option from Room Essentials is made of plastic, which the brand says helps it dry quickly and prevents it from collecting mold or mildew like fabric options might. Malin also purchased a second caddy to use for laundry supplies like detergent and dryer sheets.

SnapBasket XL Collapsible Laundry Tote

Malin uses this collapsible laundry tote as both a hamper and laundry basket. The brand says it can fit about two loads of laundry and has two over-the-shoulder straps, which is helpful when you need to carry the bag down the hall to the laundry machine. It also collapses flat when it’s not in use.

Decor essentials

Command Hooks

Since you can’t use nails to hang anything on walls in dorm rooms, Command Hooks are your best friend, Malin said. Their sticky adhesive doesn't damage walls when you apply or remove them, and you can purchase them in multiple different styles, like strips, clips 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 recently launched a line of hooks to support heavier items weighing10 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 are about 8 inches by 8 inches and less than 1 inch thick, and you can take them off walls and move them around multiple times without the adhesive losing its stickiness. So far, Malin has 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.

U Brands Magnetic Chalkboard Calendar

Herh said this chalkboard calendar is a decor piece and an organizational tool in one. It comes with two chalk pencils and a magnet so you can tack on important notes, lists or photos. The calendar is easy to hang with its included mounting system, according to Herh, and requires no additional tools.

Room Essentials Torch Floor Lamp

There's no guarantee that your dorm will have enough natural or built-in lighting to satisfy your personal preferences, DePinho said, so she recommended you bring a floor lamp to brighten up the room. DePinho said floor lamps are more effective than desk lamps, and while this one from Target may be simple, she said it withstood four years of use and multiple moves. The lamp also did not take up a lot of space in her room — it is 71 inches tall and 9 inches wide.

Storage and organization essentials

Dormify Under the Bed Storage Bin On Wheels

One of the biggest mistakes Malin made freshman year was buying underbed storage without wheels. She said it was a hassle to drag bulky bins out from under the bed — they were challenging to slide across the dorm’s carpeted floors. Sophomore year, she purchased Dormify’s Under the Bed Storage Bin On Wheels, which she said was much easier to manage. The bin has handles on all four sides and a PVC top that zippers closed to keep moisture out, the brand says. It’s also low profile at only 8.5 inches high, so if you can’t raise your bed in your dorm room, the bin will most likely still fit underneath. The bin is 24 inches long and 15 inches wide, and Malin could fit a few under her bed vertically or horizontally.

Wonder Hanger

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 said she was originally suspicious about this “As Seen On TV” Wonder Hanger, but it did exactly what it promised: 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 it works with any type of hanger, according to the brand. You can use the Wonder Hanger horizontally by both hooks or vertically by one hook.

Seville Classics Shoe Rack

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 bed. It holds up to 12 pairs of shoes — if you need more space, you can stack multiple racks on top of one another. The rack has three mesh shelves that hold up to 30 pounds, the brand says, and you can assemble the shelves either flat or at an angle depending on how much space you want between them.

Kitchen essentials

Nespresso Original Espresso Machine by De’Longhi

For those who are looking for an affordable coffee machine that will fit in their dorm room, Herh recommended this one from Nespresso. She purchased it freshman year and still owns it years later. The coffee machine only takes 25 seconds to brew a cup, the brand says, making it ideal for students who struggle to get out of bed for morning classes. Additionally, the water tank has a 24-ounce capacity, so it can make nine single-serve cups of coffee before you have to refill it. Just make sure to check your dorm room’s policies on small kitchen appliances before investing in a coffee machine.

Elfa Platinum Mesh Rolling Cart

Malin used this rolling cart to elevate her mini fridge so its contents were at eye level. The cart has wheels on its feet so it’s easy to relocate and reposition. It also comes with three mesh drawers to store snacks and on-the-go breakfast options. To add even more storage, Malin used the Honey-Can-Do Mini Fridge Storage Caddy on top of her mini fridge to hold utensils, plates and cleaning supplies.

Hydros Water Filter Slim Pitcher

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. However, since the built-in door shelves in mini fridges are so small, larger and wider pitchers don’t always fit. According to Malin, the Hydros Slim Water Filter Pitcher is the perfect size. It has a 40-ounce capacity and is available in four colors: White, Grey, Red and Blue. It comes with the brand’s built-in Fast Flow Tech Multi Tech Filter, which reduces the presence of chlorine and sediment in water, Hydros said. If you don’t want to use a water filter pitcher, you can purchase a water bottle with a built-in filter like those by LARQ, Brita and S’well.

W&P Porter Lunch Box

Between late night study sessions and clubs that began around dinner time, Malin often had to take food with her on the go using a lunch box like this one from W&P. It’s built with three compartments, including a tray divider that the brand says keeps snacks and sides separate from your meal. The lunch box has a silicone strap to secure the lid on top, and the brand says it’s microwave- and dishwasher-safe.

Anyday The Medium Shallow Dish

Malin spent the first two years of college exclusively cooking many of her meals using a communal microwave and this tool from Anyday. The brand’s dishes are designed to help you steam food — from ramen noodles to eggs and more — in the microwave. They’re made from frosted borosilicate glass and have a silicone-rimmed glass lid that keeps steam inside the cooking vessel. The dishes are dishwasher- and freezer-safe, according to the brand, and they come in Small, Medium and Large sizes, as well as shallow and deep depths. Malin recommended purchasing the Medium dishes since they should allow you to make enough food to have leftovers.

Hydro Flask All Around Tumbler

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. Hydro Flask said the mug fits in most cup holders. You buy it in colors like Indigo, Snapper, White and more.

Simply Essential 6-Piece Eco Plastic Dinnerware Set

Whether you cook, order in or heat up leftovers, keeping plates, bowls and utensils in your dorm room will come in handy. Malin used this dishwasher- and microwave-safe dinnerware set from Simply Essential, and purchased a utensils set separately. It comes with two dinner plates, two cereal bowls and two fruit bowls. The dinnerware is made from a wheat fiber and plastic material that you don’t have to worry about breaking, the brand says.

Tech essentials

Blueair Pure Fan Auto

The Blueair Pure Fan Auto doubles as a cooling fan and air purifier, giving you the benefit of a versatile compact product that improves air quality in small spaces. Using Blueair’s HEPASilent filtration technology, which is different from a typical high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, the Pure Fan Auto removes over 99 percent of airborne allergens like dust and pollen from the air, according to the brand. It also provides a cooling stream of air and is built with an air quality indicator. The device is lightweight so you can move it around your room, and you can personalize its design with fabric pre-filters that are available in multiple colors.

Tripp Lite Surge Protector Clamp Mount

Power strips are incredibly useful desk accessories. Herh has found 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 as well as two USB charging ports.

QI-EU Wireless Charger

Along with a power strip, another essential desk accessory is this 4-in-1 charging stand. Compatible with both Apple and Samsung products, this stand wirelessly charges a smartphone, smart watch, smart pencil and ear pods. The stand also doubles as an upright platform where you can simultaneously charge your tech while FaceTiming or watching movies.

ASUS ProArt Display 27” Monitor

Months spent taking online classes due to the pandemic taught us how important it is to think about desk essentials that make studying and doing homework more efficient in a dorm. Herh said she hooks her laptop up to a computer monitor and uses it as a secondary display. She can take notes on one screen while watching lectures or reading on another. Herh recommends the ASUS ProArt Display 27” Monitor because you can adjust the screen height and tilt angle, as well as pivot the screen to be vertical or horizontal. The screen also swivels on its base so you change the direction it faces.

AirPods Pro

Going to the library to study isn’t always possible — sometimes it’s too late or too crowded. That’s where Apple’s AirPods Pro come in handy. With their noise-canceling feature, the earbuds help you create a quiet study space wherever you are. The AirPods are also sweat- and water-resistant, according to Apple, making them great for wearing while you workout. These earbuds come with a MagSafe charging case and three sets of silicone tips in different sizes, allowing you to customize their fit.

Amazon Fire Stick 4K

DePinho didn't bring an Amazon Fire Stick to college, and she regrets it. She said she spent a lot of time struggling to find an HDMI cord she could use to hook her laptop up to a TV, which would have been avoided with a Fire Stick. You can easily plug the device into a TV in your door room or common room and stream shows across platforms like Netflix, Hulu and more. DePinho also said you can pull up YouTube videos with ease and watch live TV with a subscription. The Fire Stick 4K comes with an Alexa Voice Remote as well.

AeroSlim Handheld Vacuum

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 it needing to be recharged, the brand says. 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.


Herh rarely carries a wallet and instead uses this cardholder to store her student ID and credit card. It uses 3M adhesive to stick to the back of your phone and holds up to three cards, the brand says. The PopWallet is removable, too — you can easily remove it to wirelessly charge.

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