What to Bring to College—The Ultimate Packing List

By Brandi Lucey · July 21, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What to Bring to College—The Ultimate Packing List

Congratulations: You’re on your way to college. You can put all the standardized tests, the applications, and the rest of the stress behind you and embark on this new adventure. Education and independence await, but you have to prepare for it.

And that starts with packing. Which clothes, books, and artwork are coming with you? What do you need to go shopping for?

To help you prepare, follow this list of what every new student might need.

School Supplies

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the only necessary supplies are a laptop and phone. Additional supplies can help students manage their college courses.

Even though phones and laptops have built-in calendars, having a physical planner can be a good idea as well. Writing information down can help you remember it better, and it can be less distracting having school information in a physical planner, away from all those social media apps.

When it comes to taking notes, some professors don’t want everyone on their computers during class, and some don’t mind. It’s a good idea to have a notebook for each class just in case, along with pens, pencils, and highlighters.

Check the specific course requirements as well. You’ll likely need some textbooks (you may be able to pay for books with student loans, if you have taken any out). Also check the syllabus for each class should be available early enough to read through and see if the professor lists any required materials. If you’re taking a math class, for example, a specific type of calculator may be required.

(Tip: Since paying for college can be a stretch, look into renting books and equipment instead of buying them outright.)

Depending on how many books you have to lug around campus, you may want to invest in a new backpack or messenger-style bag. Some students like a small bag with roll-aboard-style wheels if they have to lug it long distances. The most suitable bag will likely depend on students’ schedule, how big their campus is, and how many classes they have in a row.

It might be good to wait to choose this item after you’ve selected your courses and can see what each day is going to require.

💡 Quick Tip: With benefits that help lower your monthly payment, there’s a lot to love about SoFi private student loans.

Shower Supplies

Students who choose to live in the dorms will need to bring shower supplies with them. Sharing a bathroom is going to be another adjustment in starting college. There are a few must-haves for a comfortable experience.

•  Shower shoes are one of these musts. A cheap pair of flip-flops will do the trick. These are shoes that are worn only while taking a shower. What’s the deal? They help to prevent athlete’s foot, a fungal infection that can result from public showers. Just make sure to rinse and dry off the shoes after each use.

•  A shower caddy is another essential. Most students will likely be walking from the dorm room to the shower, so they’ll have to bring all shower supplies with them. A portable container makes this much easier.

•  The caddy will have room for your shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and so on, and some of them also come with hangers, so they could potentially be hung up in the shower. In choosing a shower caddy, look for one that is waterproof and has holes in it so it doesn’t fill up with water.

•  Don’t forget the towels. At home, there’s always a stack of clean towels ready to be used. This won’t be the case in the dorms.

•  You might also want to have a robe that can be thrown on while walking from the dorm room to the bathroom and back.

Recommended: A Student’s Guide to Money


This can be one of the most fun parts of packing: Thinking about what you’re going to wear. After all, it’s an opportunity to present your best self or a whole new you on campus.

You may have a stellar closet full of clothes you can’t wait to take with you. Or you may want to go shopping and take a break from the looks that you loved in high school. You’ll also have to consider the weather. If you grew up in Florida and are heading to Maine for freshman year, you are going to have to get gear that’ll keep you warm.

If you’re the sort of person who wants an entirely new wardrobe for college, it’s wise to learn how to save money on clothes, and uncover the joys of everything from couponing to hitting thrift stores.

Recommended: What Is the Average Cost of College Tuition

Don’t Forget Shoes

College campuses are much bigger than most high schools, so investing in a good pair of walking shoes is important. Classes may end up being a solid 15- to 20-minute walk away from each other.

It’ll take a toll on a student’s mood and physical comfort if they try to handle that walk in heels, unsupported sandals, or ill-fitting shoes.

Shoes take up a lot of space while packing, so trying to bring just the necessary pairs is wise. If your college is in a state that will experience cold or snowy winters, make sure to invest in some warm boots.

Recommended: Guide to Private Student Loans

Bedding and Room Necessities

What else do students need to bring to a college dorm? Most dorm rooms will come with a bed but not sheets. Pack a couple of sets of sheets and a nice comforter. Some college students also recommend bringing a mattress pad and backrest pillow because you may spend more time in that bed than expected. Not living on campus? If you’ll be staying off-campus, look for furnished apartments to minimize your costs.

One important note: It’s vital to look into the school’s list of restricted items so you know what you should not bring to college. The college may also list the furnishings that come with the room. Check out your school’s website first so you don’t buy something that’s already there.

It can also be helpful for students to contact their roommates ahead of time and see if they’re planning to bring anything that could be shared. That could be a move that helps make college more affordable.

It’s not a bad idea to pack on the light side; it can help you avoid overbuying and spending too much on things you don’t need. If you get there and need things, most items can be ordered online anyway.

Planning how to make the most of the small space provided in a college dorm is going to be great practice for when students are ready to move into apartments.

💡 Quick Tip: Parents and sponsors with strong credit and income may find much lower rates on no-fee private parent student loans than federal parent PLUS loans. Federal PLUS loans also come with an origination fee.

The Takeaway

The packing list has been made and the shopping trip planned, so what’s next? Paying for everything. There are a lot of options for financing the entire college experience, and students can try to get help from more than one avenue if they need to.

Students seeking financial aid should look into scholarships and grants and then federal aid. If federal student loans do not cover the full need, or if a student is not eligible for federal aid, private loans may be an option.

Private loans are issued by private financial institutions. A co-signer is often necessary. Look for loans that don’t have origination fees and offer extra services like co-signer release and hardship deferment.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


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