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When I finally headed to college, it was after a summer spent organizing and reorganizing a long list of things I thought I would need, plus a link to which item I had deemed best in each category. In much of my free time, I compared the deeply personal, embattled reviews of those defending various middle-priced sheets and dorm room fans.
I wish I’d just spent the summer in a pool. Or, at the very most, learning how to make as many meals as possible using only one pan or the microwave, which would have been either very relaxing if the former and very, very helpful if the latter. I know that no matter what I would have spent those months how I did, but now that Insider Picks does the nitty gritty comparisons for you with well-researched, definitive Buying Guides, you can do 1/20th of the work and still get the best. I wish I’d had them, to say the least.
But after getting to college — and now, having recently graduated — I know what basically everyone figures out pretty quickly at school: You can anticipate a lot of your needs, but the most useful things you’ll buy will likely be the unexpected ones you buy to fill a need that crops up on you.
Pretty much everyone will come with sheets, a shower caddy, shower flip flops, and snacks that will help them make friends with the strangers they’re now being left with by their parents. But for me, and most of my friends, most of our best buys weren’t strictly the basics.
These were the things I wished someone older had told me about.
Things like collapsible water bottles to take to concerts, travel steamers (college is an insidious den of wrinkles), sweatshirts we could lose at the bar without concern, and actually printed photographs of our hometowns and high school friends. Those were the life-hacks we slowly figured out on our own, and I had “lost” a couple coats before the sweatshirts caught on.
In the interest of all the students heading to college this fall, I asked my colleagues at Business Insider to share the best things they bought for themselves in college that they might never have thought to pack.
These are the things we remember as MVPs of our college experience. Check them out below:
A sweatshirt you don’t mind losing
I would have loved to know to bring “fratkets” as in random sweatshirts to wear out when going to bars or frat parties so you don’t ruin your nice ones. People always lose their jackets, especially in the winter, either by misplacing them or other people taking them, so its nice to bring something out you don’t necessarily care about losing. — Rayna Hollander
I bought myself a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones before my freshman year of college. They were expensive, but they were the best thing I bought throughout my four years of college. I could study in my dorm despite whatever loud ruckus was occurring.
These are obviously not the same pair because it’s been a long time since then, but they’re basically the same. — Corey Protin
A foldable drying rack
Definitely a foldable drying rack. You don’t realize how many of your nicer, going-out clothes are flat-dry only…plus sometimes you can’t find a free dryer and it’s easier to dry a quick load in your room. — Joanna Fantozzi
Depending on your bed situation, you might want bed risers. Some beds are just four posts and with risers you can stick much bigger boxes of storage under your bed. My roommate had way more stuff than me, and her bed risers saved her life.
These are easy to install and just go under the bed posts, but they make an incredible difference. You can usually see photos of your room ahead of time, and if you have a four posted bed and know you like to pack a lot, pick up some bed risers too. (Some people who have bunk beds obviously won’t have this option). — Madeleine Sheehan Perkins
Home-it Adjustable Bed Risers or Furniture Riser bed lifts in Heights of 8, 5 or 3 Inches, Set of 4, $20.99
A laptop lock
Shatterproof wine glasses
I went from a dorm where nothing nice lasts to living in a college house with four good girl friends. We loved to entertain, but no one — the guests or the hosts — wants the pressure of using breakable glasses or plates.
Shatterproof wine glasses were a gift from the gods; no one had to feel bad about understandably dropping anything, and no one else had to spend 30 minutes awkwardly vacuuming glass from around peoples’ feet. — Mara Leighton
A portable charger
In college, the portable charger became my best friend, considering there were days where my classes were back to back and I’d have work right after, so I’d be on the go and outlets weren’t always a guarantee in some of the older classrooms (and if people were using them to charge their laptops) and the subways.
Considering the battery life of an iPhone these days, the portable charger definitely helped get my phone to actually last a full busy day. — Emma Mayor
Looking back at my college years, I was always glad that I had random party-themed articles of clothes handy (Hawaiian shirts, referee jerseys, sports jerseys, construction vests, an extra bed sheet for a toga party, etc). Random indeed, but you never know when you’ll need them, and they’re surprisingly not the easiest pieces of clothing to find at the last minute. — Samuel Kovel
An HDMI cord
Most people watch Netflix on their laptops in bed, but once you move into a house or want to enjoy a common space, you’ll be extremely glad that you already thought to buy an HDMI cord. — Mara Leighton
A sewing kit
A sewing kit. The number of adults that go to college/university never having EVER had to sew up a tear in their own clothes is ridiculous. I took a mini sewing kit with me, and soon I was everyone on my floor’s best friend. I don’t think any of them realized that ripped clothes don’t mend themselves. — Bobbie Edsor
An electric kettle
This exact electric kettle I used in college. I got it as a gift from my great-aunt and thought I’d pack it and get rid of it halfway through the year, but I brought it with me when I moved to New York City four years later!
I could make tea, hot chocolate, oatmeal, and ramen in the comfort of my own tiny dorm room; perfect for early mornings, late nights, or whenever I was too lazy to go to the dining hall. When I got cramps, I’d use it to pour some hot water on a towel to use as a hot compress. When I pierced my nose, I used it to mix hot water with epsom salt to act as a disinfectant. It’s seriously just been a lifesaver! — Hannah Goldstein
A stain remover stick
You’ll want a stain stick. You WILL spill food on your clothes while watching TV in your room, but you might not want to toss an otherwise clean shirt into the wash and waste your precious laundry quarters. This way you can hand wash your fave dress in time before you have to go out! — Madeleine Sheehan Perkins
A collapsible water bottle
If you plan on going to a festival or a concert and you need to use public transportation to get there, collapsible water bottles are a great trick for staying hydrated (or bring whatever else you might want) that you might not initially think to buy yourself. The thing that I love about these is that you can clip them onto whatever you have on and the collapsible form means they’re easy to roll up and stuff in a pocket. It’s a low maintenance fix. These supposedly have an antibacterial aspect, too, which is great since collapsible bottles can be hard to clean.
If you’re planning on filling these with anything that isn’t water, it’s nice that they’re pretty inexpensive, so you can have one for water and one for something else to keep the tastes from mixing. — Mara Leighton
A fabric steamer
Cramped dorm room storage left a lot of my things wrinkled (or on the floor…), so this little steamer would save me when dressing up for an internship or a night out. So good, I’m still using it regularly today! — Kyle Kerchaert
My roommate snored…okay “snored” is too kind. It was like a bear growling in the woods. So I’d throw on headphones and some music, and I’d sleep like a baby. These Howard Leight Earmuffs are very similar to the ones I had, and at a similar price. — Andrew Meola
Actual printed photos
Before heading out for my freshman year, I got a bunch of photos printed that I had taken of my friends from back home to tape up around my dorm room. It was nice to see photos from times we had spent together, rather than just seeing their faces on Facebook/online. Go to CVS and spend $10 printing photos to take with you rather than scrolling back through your Instagram when you’re feeling nostalgic or homesick. — Sarah Jacobs
Or check out Snapfish for inexpensive prints here. They can be as low as $0.09 cents or $9.99 for large prints.
A bunk bed caddy
Fordham put me in a forced triple my freshman year (which means my dorm room was only meant to accommodate two, not three), and while I was lucky in that I loved both my roommates, I was very unlucky in that I was the last one to move in and got the very desirable top bunk.
A bunk bed caddy/organizer was something I bought a few weeks into the semester, and it was a totally clutch purchase. Instead of having to climb down my somewhat rickety bunk bed whenever I needed a highlighter or a granola bar, I stored all of my studying and reading essentials within reach. — Ellen Hoffman
Comfortable house shoes
I had a pair of bright pink snow boots that I just wore in my house all the time. They were soft, fuzzy, and super warm on the inside and great for the winter. I always felt cozy at home whether I was just lounging around or sitting at my desk studying. — Connie Chen
Earplugs, because you never know when your roommate’s going to get mono and become a snorer overnight. Or just be a snorer. — Lyndsey Schley
An eye mask
If you have a roommate, you need an eye mask and ear plugs. At the least, just ear plugs. Your roomie may be the nicest person in the world, but they may also have an early class and be waking up at 6 a.m. Or they may be a huge partier getting home at 2 a.m.
You will thank yourself when you sleep soundly through these. Don’t bother with ear plugs unless you’re getting something heavy duty. Use whatever eye mask you’re comfortable with, but I find thin ones work better than thick ones. —Madeleine Sheehan Perkins
Reusable food containers
Something I didn’t bring but wish I did was Tupperware, so I could steal meals and food from the cafeteria. — Lauren Shamo
Thicker blinds that you can just put on a curtain rod. My room got really bright early in the morning. — Lauren Shamo
An Ethernet cable
A bad internet connection in the middle of the feeding frenzy that is course selection can leave you in a 300-level physics class as a history major. You can avoid that debacle with an ethernet cord. — Spencer Lambert
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