Staff Picks: Freshman Dorm Essentials

Hey, Class of 2026!

In about a month, the newest members of the Penn State family will move into their dorms for the first time. While it may seem daunting now, moving away from home presents new responsibilities and challenges that will prove to be a lot of fun and set up the next generation of Penn Staters for success.

The first challenge? Making sure you have all the essentials for your dorm.

Shopping for your first home away from home is easily one of the most exciting parts of starting your college experience. While you’ve probably already begun looking for the fun stuff or picked up some common-sense items, such as shower shoes, some important essentials may fall through the cracks amid the excitement.

Never fear! We asked some of our veteran staffers to share some of their dorm essentials that’ll make your first time living on your own that much easier.

Anna Wiggins: Hand-Held Vacuum

Listen, shit happens.

Whether it’s broken glass, spilled food, dirt, a makeup disaster, or maybe your rug just looks like hell, there will be countless times where a vacuum will come in handy.

Sure, you could walk to the Commons Desk, rent the ancient, full-sized vacuum, and then lug it back to your room just to have to return it later. Or, you can have one on standby.

I found myself needing a vacuum for all of the reasons mentioned above at one point, and I certainly appreciated having my own. Personally, I found that a small, hand-held pet fur vacuum worked great. It took up very little space and got the job done.

Annie Kubiak: Ottoman

One of the best purchases I made for my freshman dorm was an ottoman with storage inside.

Instead of having to catapult my 5’0″ self onto my lofted bed every day, I used my ottoman as a step stool. It was also a great way to store spare blankets and sheets, as well as provide an extra seat for friends when they visited my room.

Dana Nunemacher: A Really Long Phone Charger

I know this is an absolute first-world problem, but nothing is worse than wanting to lay in bed to watch TikTok after a long day to find your phone is almost dead and your charger just doesn’t quite reach your bed.

I highly recommend getting a 6 to 12-foot phone charger for your dorm room. You can’t place where your outlet will be in your new home, but you can at least choose the comfort of knowing your phone is not halfway across the room. 

Emily Grill: Space-Saving Hangers

If you’re like me and pack every single clothing item you own for school “just in case,” you’ll definitely want to invest in some space-saving hangers.

I ran out of room in my drawers really fast, and when I moved to hang up clothes in my closet, I quickly realized there wouldn’t be enough room. These hangers allowed me to put up to 10 items on one hanger, making room for more of my clothes. It made me feel a lot better about overpacking.

Frankie Marzano: Portable Steamer

With such little space in your typical dorm room, it isn’t easy to neatly store your clothes.

During my freshman year, I crammed a lot of my clothes into tight spaces and a lot of them came back out too sloppy and wrinkled to wear in public. Luckily, I bought a small steamer, and it worked perfectly.

If you don’t care about wearing wrinkled clothes, that’s fine, too! But if you want to look sharp during class and when you go out, this is a smart investment.

Larkin Richards: Plug-In Air Freshener

The dorm rooms at Penn State are endearing — truly. They build character and really build up your personality. These rooms humble you. Make you appreciate what you have, you know?

As much as I adore them and look at the bright side of things, I can’t help but notice how tight the space is. Because of the room’s coziness, it gets a bit… musty. If you keep the window open, there is a great flow of air. But, bugs exist, and so do rain and wind, so opening the window isn’t always an option. There is a solution, though.

When moving in, bring any type of air freshener. I beg you, your roommate begs you, and any visitors will, too. Coming from a Resident Assistant herself, I suggest a good ole’ plug-in air freshener that has the options of different release levels. I’ve seen, and smelled, it all. You’ll thank me. Whether you live in renovated or not, you only get so much space between two people. Don’t torture yourself with mustiness, the smell of dirty laundry, or your dining hall takeout box. Spoil yourself and just make sure you leave for Penn State with an air freshener in hand.

You’re welcome.

Mikey DeAngelis: Desk Lamp With An Outlet

I know this may seem like a super niche product, but you’ll thank me later.

You’re going to need a desk lamp, especially if you don’t know the habits of your roommate. But, finding one with a charger built-in is extremely convenient. In my experience, when you’re in your dorm room you’ll almost constantly be charging something, whether it’s your phone or laptop.

Having an accessible outlet on your desk makes a huge difference. They sell these online and at stores like Target, where I found mine, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one if you’re buying a lamp anyways. 

Sam Fremin: A Stash Of Cold Medicine

Every fall, countless students are afflicted with the Penn State Plague. And every fall, countless unprepared freshmen flock to their nearby residence market or downtown shops only to find ransacked medicine shelves and pharmacy sections.

Nobody plans on getting sick, but it will assuredly happen, and those who aren’t prepared will be stuck without an easy remedy. DayQuil, NyQuil, Mucinex, Vicks VapoRub, cough drops — whatever you prefer to treat a cold — is worth stashing for the fall. Even later on in the year, do you really want to pay the exorbitantly gouged prices of the on and off-campus “convenience” stores?

Cold medicine will not be an everyday need, but the days you need it, you’ll wish you had it.

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