University Newbie? Your Essential Dorm Readiness Guide

Dorm Room Cheat Sheet Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Kid Ready for University Living


I can’t believe I’m sending another kid off to university. It just boggles my mind.  What’s unbelievably crazy is that I’ve now experienced every single kind of first day of school possible, from nursery to kindergarten, grade 1 to high school, and even college drop off. I’m earning my OLD MOM badges faster than you can blink, and there aren’t that many firsts left for me to cry over.


Since it’s the second time I’m setting up a home away from home aka a dorm room, I thought I would help out with some tips and ideas. Ignore those ‘must-have’ checklists floating around which include tons of stuff they just don’t need and use my tips instead. I’ll save you aggravation and money. I’m nice like that.


Rule of thumb: boys need and want less crap than girls. Girls want to decorate like it’s Elle Interiors. Boys only want to take what will fit in one garbage bag. Plus a pillow. Find the happy medium.


To start with, there a few questions your teenager needs to ask the university (yes, THEM. They’re all growed up now. Time to cut the apron strings. A piece of advice: Do NOT call professors! )


  1. Bed size: before buying bedding, find out if the beds are twin or twinXL. You don’t want to arrive with sheets that are too short.
  2. Small appliances: Every university has different rules about what small appliances are permitted, such as hot pots or coffee makers. You’ll also need to know if you can bring your own mini-fridge or if you have to rent from the university.
  3. What’s in the room: some schools supply a desk chair and lamp and some don’t. Is there a closet or just a rail? Any bookshelves? How much storage is there?


Now you’re ready to start procuring. But in between those answers and collecting your haul, here’s what you DON’T need:


  • A bean bag chair – the rooms are too small
  • Hooks, nails, or anything that will damage the wall (that is if you want your security deposit back)
  • Bed bug kit – Ignore the fear mongering. The schools generally use gross vinyl mattresses, wooden furniture and tile or laminate flooring. Nowhere for bad buggies to hide.
  • A water filter, toasters, garbage bags, plates, cutlery, etc. – Fancy shmancy children. How much did you pay for the meal plan exactly? Get a bag of plastic cutlery and some paper plates at the dollar store. And napkins.
  • Futon – seriously? Have these people NOT seen dorm rooms?
  • Backrest pillow and/or body pillow – how many pillows can ONE student use?
  • Cleaning supplies – public areas are cleaned for them, and how many students are spending time dusting their dorm rooms, washing dishes, or otherwise playing Molly Maid.



Here’s what you DO need (besides personal effects): 


Bedding: Don’t blow the budget on sheets. Since they’ll probably get a double or queen when they move off campus in second year, this bedding is only going to be used for about 8 months. A bed in the bag works great, if you can find one your kid likes. Or, hit Ikea. Their single duvets are under $30 and the sheet sets are under $15.00.


Mattress topper: Teenagers and sleep go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Dorm mattresses and sleep do not. A memory foam topper is worth every penny. Try this one from Bed, Bath and Beyond.


A great chair. The dorm room may or may not come equipped with a desk chair, but it won’t be that comfortable. Hopefully your student will be spending hours (gag!) sitting at their desk. Get them an ergonomic desk chair like this one from Staples to last right through their education.


A desk lamp. Lighting is key to comfortable homework doing. Try this sleek black Gooseneck LED lamp, also from Staples.


Storage. They’ll probably have one dresser and one bookcase, so there won’t be a lot of space. Storage containers like these will help your student stay organized.  There may or may not be a closet (see point 3 above), so things like over the door hangers, shoe racks, sweater organizers,  and soft-sided folding cubes are useful. Get an underbed storage container to hold extra bedding and other things they don’t need all the time. Girls will need a rolling clothing rack. Don’t forget an extra garbage can and some small garbage bags.


Over the door mirror. Because looks are important and you’re not allowed to nail anything into the wall


Technology. These kids are wired. They’ll need a laptop for sure. If your kid has a lot of class, a tablet for note-taking will help with the physical load. A Microsoft Surface with keyboard will ensure they stay on the ball without breaking their backs.


Really good backpack. Speaking of backs, all that walking and book-carrying means a really good bag. The Ergo Backpack from Five Star is full of features to protect their backs like a shoulder strap designed to provide superior load compression. It also has laptop storage, tons of pockets, and side-access making finding stuff easier.


Don’t forget:


  • Shower caddy, shower shoes, a bathrobe etc. (if they’re on a traditional dorm floor. It’s just like camping!)
  • At least one power bar (running out of outlets is disastrous)
  • Water bottle like this one from Me to We (every Me to We purchase makes a positive impact by giving a gift in a Free The Children community oversea. Kids can see where their gift was delivered by entering the code found on the back of the product at
  • Extremely long internet cable (in case the dorm isn’t wireless)
  • Hangers
  • Dry erase board, markers, and a magnetic caddy like this 5 Star Dry Erase Caddy that’s meant for lockers but is perfect for holding stuff they need to keep handy (they can WRITE on the caddy. This is one of my favourite new products of the year!)
  • Sticky tack for hanging pictures and other memorabilia
  • A desk organizer
  • The usual school supplies and extras like  USB keys, a wireless mouse, pens.
  • Reusable bags for the odd grocery run (stock up that mini fridge
  • A couple of drinking glasses and mugs



  • laptop desk and Laptop Cooling Pad like these. You know, so your kid ergonomically doesn’t burn up their bed-desks.
  • A mini-fridge and Breakfast appliances: Win friends, fight the freshman 15, and be the most popular room in the dorm with this trio of meal-makers. The Hamilton Beach Single Serve Breakfast Sandwich Maker, 5 Cup Personal Brewer and Single Serve Blender will ensure your student makes it to class (and leave meal plan credits for giant dinners).
  • Decor items. Throw pillows, a little floor mat, curtains and any other touches to make their room feel like home.
  • Internet rocket stick (for crappy wifi)

So…are you ready to send your babies off into the big, bright world of post-secondary education? Experienced mama? Any more tips? DID I FORGET ANYTHING?


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