Dorm Living 101: Prepare Your Teen For College

Photo Courtesy Cottonbro

Whether your teenager is headed to college an hour away or across the country, two things are usually true. One, freshman are generally required to live in the dorms, and two, dorm rooms are small, stark and short on storage space. Follow our tips and it won’t be long before the dorm feels like a home away from home.

Plan Ahead
Request a dorm assignment for your teen as soon as possible, take a virtual tour, read the school’s suggested packing list and compare it to the one below. Resist the urge to bring too much from home. Take the essentials, plus a few comfort and personal items.

Teens, whether you’ll be living with a friend or meeting your roommate for the first time, make sure you agree on things like quiet hours, overnight guests and cleaning routines.


Shopping Tips
Shop early for the best selection. Avoid buying bedding through your school, and, except for textbooks, don’t purchase essentials from your campus bookstore — they’re expensive!

Packing Essentials

For the Bed
Most dorm beds are longer than a standard twin, so you’ll need twin XL bedding. When budgeting, remember that most college students only live in the dorms their first year.
● Sheets
● Blanket/throw
● Comforter
● Pillows (a few extra will turn your bed into comfortable seating for watching shows, playing games or hanging with friends)
● Mattress pad
● *Mattress topper (dorm mattresses are thin and hard)

For the Bathroom
● Toiletries
● Cold medicine
● 1-2 bath and hand towels
● Tissues
● Hair dryer

For Shared Bathrooms
● Shower shoes (1-2 pairs; shared shower floors get gross)
● Caddy to transport shampoo, soap, razor, etc.
● *Bathrobe (many floors are co-ed)


For Private/Semi-Private Bathrooms
(coordinate with suite-mates as items will be shared)
● Shower curtain and rings (if not provided)
● Bath mat
● Toilet paper
● Plunger/toilet scrub brush
● Cleaning supplies

For the Closet
● Clothing and shoes (take only half of what you think you’ll need; dorm closets are small)
● Hangers
● Laundry basket, liquid detergent, *fabric softener, *lingerie bag
● *Bins for under bed storage (if needed, buy after moving in)
● *Duffle bag (for gym or overnight trips)

For the Desk
● Laptop computer
● *Ethernet cable
● Backpack
● Basic school supplies (notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighter, calculator – anything else can be purchased later)
● Smart phone, charger with long chord
● Earbuds or noise cancelling headphones
● Power strip with built-in circuit breaker (dorm rooms are notoriously short on outlets)
● Bluetooth speaker for music
● *TV (only if you have space; otherwise use your laptop for streaming)
● Desk lamp for ambient/task lighting – bonus if it has a built-in USB port (most dorms only have harsh overhead lights)
● *Led strip lighting or string lights (trendy and fun)
● *Small fan (most dorms don’t have AC; doubles as white noise)
● *Mini-fridge (if not provided)

For Some Fun Decor
● Posters/wall art and a means of hanging them (each school has specific rules about this)
● Photos of family/friends
● *Push pins (for rooms with bulletin boards)
● *Small card/board games
● *Dry erase markers (some dorm doors have dry erase boards attached)
● *Favorite stuffed animal
● *Area rug and pad (most dorms have hard surface flooring)

Other Items
● Reusable water bottle
● *Lanyard or carabiner clip for keys (schools often provide lanyards but when yours is unique it’s easier to tell them apart)
● Face masks and hand sanitizer (a good idea even post-pandemic)
● Air freshener
● Non-perishable snacks
● Umbrella (even native Oregonians will appreciate this during long walks across campus in the rain)
● *Bicycle
● *Personal leisure items, like a frisbee or guitar
● *A mug and spoon (great for hot cocoa, yogurt etc.)
● If you’re driving, large reusable bags with handles are easier to carry, and they fit in the car better than boxes.

Don’t Bring
● Computer printer
● Items banned by your school
● Broom or vacuum cleaner (usually available to borrow)

*optional items

Move-In Day Tips
Although move-in days are streamlined to keep elevator, hallway and parking lot traffic jams to a minimum, reserve the earliest time slot you can get. Mornings are cooler and less crowded. If you get stuck with a later time, you can usually show up earlier and, if you ask nicely, won’t
be forced to wait.

Teens, after Mom and Dad leave, it’s normal for freshman to feel a little lost and lonely, so it’s important to make friends right away. Start by making an effort to meet the people who live on your floor. When you get invited to go places or meet someone new, say yes. Participate in freshman week activities. And, even if you’re not homesick, call your mother! She misses you.

Parents, after everything is moved in and your teen is ready for goodbyes, don’t linger. However, you’ll likely get a “yes” if you offer to take your student out for a meal before you leave. Remember that you’ll see your teen soon, try not to text and call them too much, and bring tissues for the drive home.

Elizabeth Ely Moreno
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