recommended by experts

Everything You Need to Outfit Your College Dorm, According to RAs

Photo: Sony Pictures

If you’re heading off to college this fall, or are the parent of an incoming freshman, you’re probably neck deep in packing lists full of dorm-room staples like twin extra-long sheets and bed risers — not to mention a whole slew of items you might not have packed in past years, like protective masks and hand sanitizer. While most of the back-to-school lists you’ll find online or in big-box stores are fairly generic, we were curious about what actual students find most useful, and which things are truly functional on campuses. We were also curious to hear what items they’re packing this fall to make college amidst COVID a bit more manageable. To find out, we consulted 17 resident assistants from eleven different colleges, who together have looked inside hundreds of dorm rooms. Our seasoned experts are so familiar with outfitting these spaces, they told us, that they’re often the first source students consult when it comes to furnishing their rooms.

Interestingly, one common piece of advice from our RAs is to avoid overpacking. “Don’t buy extra furniture until you’ve seen the room you’re going to be in,” says recent Barnard graduate Alice Min, who was an RA for three years. “On move-in day, there were so many fed-up parents lugging futons and nightstands home.” Sabrinna Fabi, who graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in May and was an RA there for one year, agrees: “It’s super important to only bring items you really need to get through the year. Saving space will not only create less roommate problems — it will also allow you to declutter your life.” For what’s actually essential, read on to discover the space-saving hangers, portable speakers, plush mattress toppers, and more that our panel of RAs recommend.

To make it even easier, we’ve organized the list into categories. Click here to jump to bedding, storage and organization tools, school supplies, décor, tech and appliances, kitchen supplies, bathroom supplies, or cleaning supplies.

Best Bedding

For many college kids in small dorm rooms, the bed is a kind of home base — not just for sleeping, but for studying, watching Netflix, or hanging out with friends. So it’s not surprising that several of the RAs we spoke with stressed the importance of making sure your bed is comfortable. “The beds that most colleges provide don’t tend to be that comfortable, so a lot of students buy mattress toppers,” says Justin Feliciano, an RA at the University of Connecticut. Fellow University of Connecticut RA Klajdi Sosoli agrees that a mattress topper is “extremely important,” and recommends amemory-foam option.

It’s more expensive than the Lucid mattress topper, but Hannah Maier-Katkin, a former RA at Brown University, says this plush Tempur-Pedic one “will make your dorm mattress not only tolerable, but genuinely comfortable.”

Since maximizing your bed’s comfort is a priority, you’ll likely want additional pillows for support. Sarah Rebarber, who’s been an RA for two years at Columbia University, recommends an upright pillow that’s perfect for reading or working on your laptop in bed. Plenty of her fellow RAs agree. “Almost everyone I lived with last year had a study pillow and we all got great use out of them,” says Kynzie Clark, a first-year counselor at Yale (the school’s equivalent to an RA). “If I want to study or watch a movie in bed it’s super-convenient. I also use it when I have friends over in my suite and we run out of chairs so I can sit with something comfy and not just lean on the wall.” Montana Love, also at Yale, says, “My backrest pil