Last-Minute College Checklist: Buying Your Dorm Room Essentials

Making a shopping list for your soon-to-be college student? Here’s how to maximize your shopping dollars.

Young woman holding a box and moving into her college dorm room

by NEA Member Benefits

The last few weeks before sending your child off to college is a flurry of activity. There’s a lot planning and shopping to do to be sure everything is ready for move-in day. You may already know about the most important dorm essentials, but there are many other things your child will need that may not be on your radar. 

This college checklist can help you get your shopping lists in order. Get the basics taken care of first, such as buying dorm bedding and school supplies. Then, if your budget has room left for splurges, add some of the fun stuff! 

Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, these college shopping tips can help you think of the many little things that might easily be overlooked, from measuring a microwave to finding discounts for textbooks. 

  • Define needs versus wants. Make essential must-have items your top priority. Check BigFuture’s Off-to-College Checklist to be sure you’ve covered fundamentals such as pens and pencils, notebooks, laundry detergent, dish soap, food storage containers, bedside and desk lamps and other basics.
  • Don’t overbuy. Most students bring too much stuff to college. Stick to the bare minimum for the first semester. Worried you might miss something or need more? You can always add it later when genuine needs are clearer.
  • Ask for discounts. Hundreds of discounts are available to college students with a valid college email address or student ID. That can add up to big savings on a wide variety of things including movie tickets, package shipping, electronics and software, restaurants and food, travel and more. College Student Discounts lists 80 places where students can save, and many student discounts can be combined with other membership organization discounts.
  • Measure space and check sizes. Dorm beds are typically five inches longer than twin beds so you’ll need TwinXL size bedding. You may also need a mattress cover (if not provided by the college), sheets, a blanket and a comforter. Midsize microwaves work better than small (dorm size) ones but occupy more space. Make sure whatever your student brings will fit.
  • Ask what’s allowed or provided. Some schools don’t allow certain small appliances in dorm rooms, and some provide in-room or communal appliances. If your student really needs a coffee maker, microwave or mini fridge, consider ordering it after move-in and have it delivered direct to the dorm.
  • Skimp on clothes and shoes. Shop your student’s closet before you hit the stores. Still need clothes? “Take them to a local thrift shop,” suggests Gobel. Online, search for promo codes and coupons and sign up for email special offers from favorite stores.
  • Save on textbooks. Yearly costs for course materials and textbooks is nearing $700, but students can shop the campus store and still save with tips from the National Association of College Stores. Watch for advance notice of sales on the campus store’s Facebook and Twitter pages, rent print or electronic textbooks, buy used and resell. Renting, buying used and reselling could average students up to 70% on textbooks and supplies, says Brian Morris, Communications Coordinator for
  • Tap partnerships. Many colleges have partnerships with companies such as Bed, Bath and Beyond for discounted back to school items including bedding and discounted or free public transportation for college student I.D. holders. Ask the Residential Life office for details on your college’s discount deals, advises Champoli. 
  • Save on housing. Dorm living can be expensive. If your college requires undergrads to live on campus, ask the Housing Office about Resident Advisor (RA) positions that provide a stipend and/or cover room and board while fulfilling the on-campus housing requirement, Romm Lockard says. “Some colleges allow students to work as RAs as early as their freshman year,” she adds.
  • Use your NEA member benefits! Stay connected with discounts on phone plans through the NEA Wireless Program. And if you have a variety of purchases to make, such as a laptop, bedding and other back-to-school items, you can find deals and earn cash back through the NEA Discount Marketplace. For more shopping and saving tips, advice and deals, sign up for the NEA Member Shopper’s Guide.

Stay on track this summer with these additional college checklists

See Last-Minute College Checklist: Covering Your Tuition and Fees to make sure your financial bases are covered so you'll be prepared when that first tuition bill arrives.

Also see Last-Minute College Checklist: Insuring Your Car, Apartment and Possessions for tips on how to make sure your student and their belongings are protected while they're away from home. 

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