Back to School Essentials for College

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It's about time. After a long time away, students are getting ready to head back to campus. And even if college looks a bit different this year, there's still a lot to prepare for. Packing for college is a bit overwhelming. After a year or more of remote learning, you're going to need more than just a laptop and a few new masks when you head off to school. So whether you're starting freshman year or an experienced upperclassman returning after a year off. It's likely been a while since you've even thought about dorm living. But don't worry, Optimum has you covered. Read on for our guide on what to bring for college.

Essentials for college dorm rooms

College packing lists can get long quickly. Whether you plan to Marie Kondo your dorm or bring everything from home, consider starting a group chat with your roommates. You don’t want to lug a mini fridge if a roommate already has one. With that in mind, here are some college dorm essentials.

Best college dorm room bedding and sleep accessories

Dorm beds have a bad reputation. It's not exactly like sleeping at a five-star hotel. A quick fix is to pick up a dorm mattress pad; Lucid’s memory foam toppers will help. Pair it with your favorite pillow from home, sheets, and comforter. Recreating your bed from home will ensure a good night of sleep.

Best college backpacks essentials

Making the most of dorm living means maximizing a very small space. You'll want a clothes hamper for laundry (a sturdy-yet-portable pop-up mesh hamper shines), lots of clothes hangers (these super slim ones double your hanging space), and a shower caddy for trips to and from the communal bathroom.

A good backpack is absolutely essential. Timbuk2, L. L. Bean, Fjallraven, and Herschel all sell stylish-yet-sturdy options. Pick one that fits your style, but make sure to pick one with a padded laptop compartment.

Best mini fridge for college

It's pretty common for colleges to provide a mini fridge in their dorm rooms, or at the very least an option to rent one. If your school doesn't, you're definitely going to want one.

Which mini fridge you get is going to depend on your space and how many roommates you have. The Midea 3.1 Combat Refrigerator features a dedicated freezer and isn’t gigantic, while Magic Chef’s freezerless 1.7 cubic foot fridge is ideal for smaller spaces.

College tech essentials

Best laptops for college

A good laptop is something every college student should have, even if you take notes with a pen and paper. While you can get away with doing some things on a smartphone, you'll want a laptop for writing papers, accessing learning management systems like Blackboard, and streaming Netflix to unwind.

The “Mac vs PC” choice more or less comes down to personal preference, though there are some edge cases (a graphic design student probably wants a Mac, while a computer science major likely needs a PC).

The M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13” are all-around good choices with great portability for most people. For more screen space, the MacBook Pro 16” is a powerhouse that’s not a chore to lug around.

For PC options, the Lenovo Yoga 7i and HP Spectre 13 are fantastic portable workhorses for under $1,000. If you're looking for more power or want to play games, look into Dell’s XPS series.

Best software for college students

You'll want to download programs that let you write papers, create presentations, and work in spreadsheets before arriving on campus. The two heavyweights in this space are Google Workspace and Microsoft Office. Your school likely uses one or the other, so make sure to follow suit when it comes to submitting assignments. With that said, Google Workspace is free and excellent for online collaboration, and is helpful for group work. If your projects are in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, look into the brand's student discounts for software.

Best headphones for college

A good pair of headphones is essential, especially as remote collaboration becomes more common. They're also just a great investment for blocking out annoying roommates, music, and streaming.

Sony (WH-1000XM4, WF-1000XM4) and Apple (AirPods Max, AirPods Pro) make premium, wireless, noise-canceling headphones and earbuds. For something more affordable, look at options from Soundcore and EarFun. It’ll be a massive upgrade over the freebies that came with your phone that are now tangled in a drawer.

Best computer monitors and TVs for college dorms

You're almost certainly going to want a TV for your dorm room, especially if you plan to bring an Xbox or PlayStation. For the money, it's really hard to beat the TCL 4-Series. They’re available in a range of sizes and come loaded with Roku’s TV operating system for streaming Netflix, Hulu, and more.

A computer monitor is also worth considering, especially if you have the desk space. Once you work with an extra screen, you'll never want to go back. There are plenty of options for every budget, but ViewSonic's VA2456-MHD and VX2485-MHU are good picks for PC and Mac users respectively.

Still asking yourself "should I bring my desktop to college?" It can work, but space is an important consideration. College dorm rooms can be very small, and oftentimes have desks that simply won't fit a large desktop PC tower. A good solution is to get a powerful laptop PC or MacBook. Pair it with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse and you'll have the desktop experience with a much smaller space footprint.

Best printers for college

A dorm room printer may seem unnecessary but trust us: not running to the library to print something is a lifesaver. A model like the Canon Pixma TR4520 or the HP ENVY 6455e is worth every penny.

Best charging and cable accessories for college

Commonly forgotten but often needed are cables, batteries, and surge protectors to keep your devices topped up. For all three, Anker is your one-stop-shop. Their portable batteries, cables, and surge protectors are high quality, affordable, and come in almost every configuration imaginable.


Packing for college is all about having a plan. Talk to your roommates and see what they're bringing. Go through your things and see if any of them need an upgrade. There's a solid chance you already have quite a few of the things on this list. And if you forget something, you can always buy a replacement online or around campus. So pack up, jump in the car, and get back to school.


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