Practical advice on shopping for freshman year

It’s really easy to overbuy for freshmen year. When I was a freshman, I made a lot of mistakes in my dorm shopping. There are obvious things you need, like clothes and laundry detergent, but I wish I’d known some of these subtleties before I went shopping.

Textbooks and chocolate are essential.

Obviously, before you start buying anything, consult with your roommate(s) and school website. Don’t bring anything that the school provides in the rooms already.

General tips:

  • I go to school on the opposite coast from where I live, so I had special concerns in terms of getting all my stuff there. Whenever I purchased something the summer before freshman year, I tried to buy it online and have it shipped directly to the school. I saved a lot on shipping costs that way. Consider whether shipping an item you already own will cost more than buying it near campus. It was cheaper to buy my fan on campus than to buy one at home at ship it there, even though the fan I bought was more expensive than one I would have bought at home.
  • Avoid colored bed linens. You can’t bleach them.
  • Avoid splitting costs of appliances with roommates. You’ll just have trouble deciding who will keep it.
  • Keep your cardboard boxes for when you have to pack your things for summer. At the end of the year, there was a mad rush for boxes at the campus bookstore. I just stuck mine under my bed all year.
  • Look for a dollar store near campus. My roommates and I bought all our dishware and cleaning supplies there.
  • Buy your textbooks early so you can get them cheaper online and have them ready for class. But first, email your professors and ask whether the “required” textbooks are really required, or just recommended. The most frustrating thing about college is buying a “required” textbook for $200 and never using it.
  • If you’re not sure you’ll use something you buy, keep the receipt. I bought an iron at Bed Bath and Beyond, never used it, kept it in its packaging, and returned it the next summer.

Must have:

  • Refrigerator. It can be tiny, but you’ll want one. My school has a fridge rental program, which my freshmen roommates and I tried. It wasn’t worth it; for the $225 we spent renting a fridge/microwave combo for one year, we could have bought a fridge that would have lasted longer. Even though my dorm has a public fridge, I wouldn’t trust food I put there to stay there.
  • Mattress pad. When I did my shopping, I assumed that since I didn’t need an extra mattress pad at home, I wouldn’t need one at school. Unfortunately, dorm mattresses suck. I got through one semester and decided enough was enough. My best Christmas present that year was my 4-inch memory foam mattress pad. Worth it.
  • Plain old water pitcher. The bathrooms in my school’s dorms are down the hall and we don’t have sinks in our rooms. When you want a glass of water at 3am, you’ll be grateful for that pitcher of water. I got mine at the dollar store.
  • Electric kettle. I borrowed my roommate’s so often to boil water for ramen that I ended up just getting one for myself. Essential for ramen, tea, and instant coffee. It need not be expensive; I got mine for $20 at a drugstore.
  • Painter’s tape. When the freshmen arrive on campus and find they can only hang their posters with painter’s tape, there’s a mad rush on the bookstore for the stuff. Buy it early.
  • Cold medicine. When everyone gets sick at the same time, the bookstore will run out of Nyquil, and you won’t want to leave your room anyway.

Don’t buy until you get to campus, and then only if you find you need it:

  • Printer. My school, like many, has a campus-wide printing system. I bought a printer, but found I didn’t print enough to justify the cost of having my own. I ended up selling it.
  • Bed risers. For all you know, you’ll have a bunk bed that you can’t raise. But if you have a single bed, bed risers are a must for more storage space.
  • Water purifier. Don’t bother unless your dorm’s tap water is undrinkable.
  • Furniture and fans. Your dorm should provide essentials like desks and chairs and waste bins. It’s better to wait until you get to your room and see how much space you have before you buy extra furniture. That said, a folding bookshelf and extra chair are really nice to have. Make sure any furniture you buy can be made smaller for transport. (Do NOT buy these; they fall apart if you put books on them.)
  • School supplies. Buy paper and pens to be ready, but wait until you go through your first session of each class before really stocking up on school supplies. You never know when a professor will have a special requirement, supply-wise.

Another question I hear often is whether to get a Mac or a PC for college. For the most part, it doesn’t matter. Make the decision based on what kind of repair facilities you’ll have access to, whether you’ll need to run any special software for your major, and what you can afford.

One last hint: Amazon now offers a service called Amazon Student. Sign up with your .edu email address, and they’ll give you Amazon Prime for a year. That means free two-day shipping on most items. As far as I can tell from the terms and conditions, it doesn’t look like they’ll automatically renew the subscription at the end of the year, too.

I’d love to hear about other students’ lists of essentials. Leave a comment, or email me at Good luck shopping!

Stuff I forgot (thanks to reddit):

  • Flip flops. Without them, shower at your own risk.
  • World News

    ?Thanks for sharing the link but sadly it appears to be unable to get to? Does anyone have a mirror or another web link?