By Jacqueline Olivo, Marine Daughter

As Military families, we move A LOT! But packing up and moving away to college is a whole other ballgame. Below you’ll find ten DO’S and DON’TS of your first dorm packing list to help you decide what to pack for college – perhaps with a couple of items you might not typically think of!

What to Pack for College


Bed Necessities

Mattress cover, mattress pad, bed bug spray, and bed risers.
The first thing I do on move-in day is spray down the bare mattress with my bed bug spray. Better safe than sorry! While that dries, I rearrange and clean my room, and then on goes the mattress cover. The mattress cover seals in the mattress completely – so my mattress pad never touches the actual mattress. Bed risers aren’t exactly a necessity – many universities allow you to loft your bed through a maintenance request (and if you read your student handbook, you may be able to submit this request before move-in) – but, in case the bed doesn’t loft, bed risers are a great investment.

Shower Necessities

Towel wrap, shower shoes, and a shower caddy.
Whether you live in the dorms or an on-campus apartment, chances are high that you have roommates and a shared bathroom. In most dorms, the shower is entirely separate from your room – which could mean a trek. A towel wrap is essential to this journey! Towel wraps have Velcro fastenings, so you don’t have an awkward towel slip in the co-ed hallway. Shower shoes are also a must – you don’t know who else has been using that shower! Shower caddies are also useful, so you’re not juggling four bottles and your towel on the way to the bathroom.


As you consider what to pack for college, make sure you stock up on Dayquil, Advil, Neosporin, and such before move-in. I can guarantee that your college kid won’t realize they need it until it’s too late – and then they’re making an emergency run to CVS at God-only-knows what hour of the day. This is especially difficult if they don’t have a car; not all campus’ have 24-hour transportation available.

Shoe Rack

Trust me, in a room as small as your dorm is bound to be, the last thing you need are shoes everywhere. There are plenty of shoe racks that will fit comfortably in the bottom of your closet and double your shoe space – or even on the back of your closet door, as a hanging rack.

Drawer Liners

Not only do drawer liners brighten up your space, but chances are they protect you from any spots or damage left behind from the last occupant. Make sure you get the REMOVABLE liners, so they come up easy when it’s time to move out – and you’re not paying damage fees.

Crock Pot

This is only a do if you’re on a reduced meal plan, or in an apartment – but if you are either of those things, the crock pot is the way to go. Throw in some ingredients, run to class for a few hours, and come back to a delicious, low-effort meal. Very useful, especially for first-time cooks.

HDMI Cable

This is an excellent item to have in your back pocket – whether for movie nights in the common area, working in the library, or presentations in class – at one point or another, you’ll need to connect your computer to a monitor.


Not a necessity, but very useful to have. The Roku connects to your monitor with HDMI and allows you to turn your TV into a Smart TV on the cheap. You can pay for their cable service if you want, but chances are your university provides basic cable (check your student handbook for more information!). Still, the Roku allows you to access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and more without the hassle of hooking up your laptop; provided you pay for those services.

Wall Art

Command Strips, Faerie lights, and art.
What to pack for college? Command strips are a MUST! If you want to hang up anything with any kind of weight, make sure you use non-damaging command strips. You’ll be glad you did at the end of the year when you’re not paying out the wazoo for damages! Command makes a lot of great dorm products – hooks – for your towels, hanging lights, etc. – or Command shelves! For anything light, such as posters, you can use wall putty to avoid damage. Faerie lights also come highly recommended – or at least, some other type of lighting besides the ghastly fluorescents provided by your college. Make your room feel a little less like a prison with some soft lighting! Lastly, make sure you decorate your room with stuff that will make it feel like home. Personally, I go for posters and the non-traditional art of paint chips! A free solution, paint chips allow me to cover every inch of my room with color and really warm up the space. Check Pinterest or Tumblr for more dorm decorating ideas!

What not to pack for college



Unless you want to risk a hefty bill at the end of the year, definitely don’t use tacks on your walls (and especially not nails!). If you really like the pinned aesthetic, try command stripping corkboard to your wall, and use that instead!

Laptop Lock

Smart in theory, but not entirely useful. There are some excellent laptop locks for PC, but not for Apple users – not in a way that isn’t incredibly annoying! Mac laptop locks require you to superglue a piece on the outer shell of your computer – which can be a pain when you’re trying to put it in a laptop case! In my experience, people don’t really leave their computers unattended anyway.

Excess Kitchen Supplies

Let’s be honest – if you’re on the school meal plan, chances are you aren’t cooking anyway! If you’re in the dorms, your chances of cooking are even slimmer. Settle for one pot, and one pan, for that late night mac and cheese. Buy paper plates for those few times when you and your friends order pizza – they’re way easier to store in your tiny dorm room than a whole plate and bowl set.

Toaster Oven/Hot Plate

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a college allowing open heating elements in a dorm room; they may be permitted in the apartments, so make sure you check your handbook for dorm rules specifically.

Iron/Ironing Board

Speaking of open heating elements, irons are a fine line for most colleges. Either way, chances are your college student won’t be ironing their clothes, and an ironing board can take up a lot of room in a small closet!

Fan/Space Heater

Most colleges don’t allow space heaters, and you probably won’t have the use for a fan. Many dorms come equipped with a personal air conditioner/heater – check your student handbook for more information!


Keeping with the theme of prohibited items, candles are almost surely banned in dorm rooms across the country. Fires are one of the biggest dangers to living in a dorm – and an open flame next to your tapestry is a BAD idea!

Blackout Curtains

You probably won’t actually use blackout curtains, and they’re especially hazardous when you’re trying to wake up for that 8 AM liberal arts class! Studies show that excessive napping can also be a problem; it’s recommended that you limit yourself to one nap a day, between 15-90 minutes. Besides, your college kid will be able to sleep through just about anything.

Door Stop

Typically, your dorm room door will either have a stop built in, or it will be too heavy to prop open. Besides, after the first week, you’ll probably want to block out all the hallway noise as opposed to letting it in!

Extra Furniture

Chances are your dorm will come fully furnished, and you won’t want to overcrowd it. Sometimes, if you loft your bed high enough, there’s room for a futon or beanbag, but for that first move-in day, I would recommend waiting to see your preferred dorm layout before purchasing those kinds of items. is a community of military and veteran families helping each other with our biggest relocation needs through trusted reviews. Help us help each other and submit your reviews today.  Together, we can truly make a difference!

Jacqueline Olivo is the daughter of a Marine and a college graduate with a B.F.A. in film editing. She enjoys reading, writing, and making movies! Surviving five PCS moves and four years of moving to and from college makes her somewhat of an expert on what to pack for college. Like most military brats she was born in one state, graduated high school in another and graduated college in a third!