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Packing for university: essentials checklist

Preparing to wave goodbye to your teen and load up the car with everything - including the kitchen sink? First, get some top tips from experienced Mumsnetters.

By Gemma Wilcock | Last updated Aug 16, 2023

Packing for university: essentials checklist

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If you’re reading this, you're likely gearing up to send your teenager off to university this September. You’re probably feeling a mixture of emotions about sending them off on this new chapter alone and want to make sure they’re fully prepared.

There’s hundreds of things you could buy when it comes to packing for university but with limited space in their accommodation (and your car!), it’s best to try and whittle your shopping list down to essential items that they are going to need in the first weeks at university. From bathroom accessories to electricals, we’ve put together a list to help you figure out what to pack for university

We searched on our forums for advice from our Mumsnet users who’ve been there and done it, to help us find the items that your fresher will actually need. And in our efforts to find the best things to pack for university, we’ve partnered with John Lewis, a one-stop shop for all your university-bound teenager’s needs. They’re even offering free click and collect on orders over £30 and free delivery for orders over £50 for added convenience! 

Keep reading to check out our guide to packing for university and your essential checklist. 

Bedroom essentials

It’s the room where they’ll spend most of their time, so you’ll want to make sure their bedroom is as comfy and cosy as possible. Before you fork out a small fortune on bedroom necessities, make sure you know roughly how much space your teen will have, and if the room has a single or double bed. 

It should already have all the basics, such as a wardrobe, drawers, desk and chair, but you may want to add in a few extra home comforts to help them settle into their new room. Cosy throws and cushions will make their bedroom feel like home away from home and also consider getting cleaning products like washing powder.

☐ Duvet – buy now, Synthetic Soft Touch Washable Duvet, from £36

☐ Bedding – buy now, Crisp & Fresh Easy Care Organic Cotton Standard Pillowcase, from £10

☐ Pillows – buy now, Synthetic Soft Touch Washable Standard Pillow, £14

☐ Mattress protector – buy now, Quilted Microfibre Mattress Protector, from £8

☐ Blanket – buy now, John Lewis ANYDAY Fleece Throw, £12

☐ Hot water bottle – buy now, totes Faux Fur Hot Water Bottle, £22

☐ Alarm clock – buy now, John Lewis ANYDAY Quartz Analogue Alarm Clock, £4.50

☐ Lamp – buy now, John Lewis ANYDAY Eastbourne Stick Table Lamp, £25

☐ Small bin – buy now, ANYDAY Gloss Waste Paper Bin, £6

☐ Door stop – buy now, Beech Doorstop, £5

☐ Hangers – buy now, Plastic Hangers, Pack of 6

☐ Washing basket – buy now, ANYDAY Foldable Laundry Basket, £20

☐ Fold-up airer – buy now, Slim 3 Tier Indoor Clothes Airer, £24

☐ Iron – buy now, Speed Steam Iron, £25

☐ Mini ironing board – buy now, Tabletop Ironing Board, £25

What Mumsnet users say

Check the size of the bed before buying new bedding - some halls are single beds and others (often Unite run halls) have 3/4 beds.” Iwantacampervan

A door stop. It's years since I was at uni but nearly everyone in my halls had one and it was a good way to meet people.” motheroreily

From the sheer number of them I saw being carted back across campus from last minute runs to Wilkos last term - the clothes airer is the number 1 item everyone seems to forget. For about a fortnight solid I was dodging people carrying one back from the city centre wherever I moved around campus.” DominaShantotto 

A mattress topper, especially if the beds are still covered in plastic.I had a really big cushion so I could sit up comfortably on my bed. A good fleece blanket. One of those big washing bags to cart washing about.” Sewsosew

Find everything your teen needs for university at John Lewis

Kitchen essentials

Depending on the type of halls your teen has opted for, kitchens are often minimally equipped, so first of all do some enquiring to find out what they’ll have to hand. They may already have some essentials like a toaster, microwave and kettle, so you’ll likely need to stock up on bits like utensils and crockery.

One of our Mumsnetters’ top tips is to avoid getting common colours like plain white cups and plates as they’ll easily get mixed up or lost. Also check what type of hob they have before buying pans.

☐ Mugs – buy now, ANYDAY Ribbed Stoneware Mug, £2.25

☐ Cutlery – buy now, Oval Cutlery Collection, from £8 

☐ Plates – buy now, Two Tone Stoneware Dinner Plates, Set of 4, £18

☐ Bowls – buy now, Two Tone Stoneware Cereal Bowls, Set of 4, £16

☐ Tupperware – buy now, Rectangular Plastic Storage Containers, Set of 5, £7

☐ Set of pans – buy now, Aluminium Non-Stick Pan Set, 3 Piece, £28

☐ Baking tray – buy now, Classic Non-Stick Oven Tray, 36cm, £8

☐ Chopping board – buy now, Joseph Joseph Pop Plastic Chopping Mats, Assorted, Set of 3, £12

☐ Sharp knives – buy now, ANYDAY Stainless Steel Kitchen Knife Set, 5 Piece, £40

☐ Tin opener – buy now, Joseph Joseph Pivot Can Opener, £12

☐ Bottle opener – buy now, OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Bottle Opener, £12

☐ Sieve – buy now, Tala Stainless Steel Sieve, 14cm, £5

☐ Colander – buy now, Joseph Joseph Square Nest Colanders, Set of 2, £15

☐ Peeler – buy now, ANYDAY Stainless Steel Lancashire Peeler, £3

What Mumsnet users say

Everyone will have white Ikea/Argos plates. Coloured plates and mugs are easier to reclaim when they inevitably get "borrowed".” chesirecat99

Assuming he is in self catering accommodation, yes he will need crockery and cutlery, pots pans and cooking utensils. My DS had 2 sets of crockery and cutlery, a couple of saucepans, a baking tray, a casserole dish, fish slice, wooden spoons etc. Flat sharers tend to club together to buy toasters, kettles, sandwich toasters etc Microwave is usually provided. Check what type of hob his accommodation has to buy the right pans.” Seeline 

A baking tray big enough for pizza, a pan big enough for pasta, a wok/large frying pan and a couple of decent knives cover most eventualities.” HewasH2O

Bathroom essentials

It's worth knowing in advance if your teen's lucky enough to have an en-suite or will be facing the joys of a communal bathroom. This will help you decide just how much you need to buy to make sure they are fully equipped for starting university. 

They’ll need toiletries, such as shower gel, shampoo, toothpaste and toilet roll but pack wisely, remember you have to get all this stuff to their accommodation! Also, you don’t need to stock up for the whole year – they’ll be able to go shopping later when they run out.

☐ Towels – buy now, Ultra Soft Cotton Towels, Silver Grey, from £4

☐ Bath mat – buy now,  ANYDAY Recycled Polyester Quick Dry Bobble Bath Mat, from £5

☐ Wash bag – buy now, Tinc Mallo Wash Bag, £13

☐ Shower hanger – buy now, ANYDAY Two-Tier Hanging Shower Basket, £30

☐ Dressing gown – buy now, Chelsea Peers Plain Fluffy Hooded Dressing Gown, £40

☐ Flip flops – buy now, ANYDAY Long Island Flip-Flops, £10

☐ Toilet brush – buy now, Block Stripe Slimline Toilet Brush, £18

What Mumsnet users say

A dressing gown/robe. Depending on the accommodation, the bathroom will probably be in demand at peak times and it's nicer to have a robe rather than dash through halls/a shared flat in a towel.” QuestionableMouse

Also plastic flip flops for the disgusting communal showers. And a pack of antibac wipes for this reason! PoshWatchShitShoes

Find everything they need from tech, to bathroom, to kitchen, living and more

All-important gadgets and gizmos

The library can get busy – especially at peak deadline time – so your teen will find it near impossible to study without the help of a trusty computer. Whilst a desktop has the benefit of a bigger memory, a laptop is easy to carry around.

All-important gadgets and gizmos

The library can get busy – especially at peak deadline time – so your teen will find it near impossible to study without the help of a trusty computer. Whilst a desktop has the benefit of a bigger memory, a laptop is easy to carry around.

Also think about what other electrical items they need to make sure they can get on with their coursework. If you want them to keep in touch, make sure they have enough chargers for their phone! We know how easily those plugs and wires can go missing. 

Moreover, if you shop with John Lewis, your teen’s new tech will come with a minimum two year guarantee on all electrics, and five years on TVs - all at no extra cost!

☐ Laptop – buy now, HP 14s-fq1000na Laptop, AMD Ryzen 5 Processor, £550

☐ Chargers for all electricals – buy now from John Lewis

☐ Multi-socket extension lead – buy now, TP-Link KP303 Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip, £27

☐ USB memory stick – buy now, SanDisk Ultra Flair USB 3.0 Portable Flash Drive, £10

☐ Speakers – buy now, Sony SRS-XB13 Extra Bass Waterproof Bluetooth Portable Speaker, £40

☐ Printers – buy now from John Lewis (find our guide to the best Epson printers here)

☐ Ink – buy now from John Lewis

What Mumsnet users say

Check what he needs for the course. Laptop and printer? Sometimes printing at university is expensive. Notebooks, pens etc. Books. Phone and charger.” My0My 

I always pack an emergency box for them. It normally contains things like cash, spare charger, spare ear buds, loo roll, plasters, antibiotic wipes, nail scissors, paracetamol, a can of irn bru, instant noodles, coffee bags and hangover cure. They are told to replace anything they use and to be fair they normally do. I'm told it has been a life saver on a number of occasions (especially the chargers). The most useful things I have bought are sharp knives (large and small), bottle opener, colander and scissors. I always pack kitchen staples, salt, pepper etc. too.Roseshavethorns

Other handy/miscellaneous items

There are many bits and pieces which it may not occur to you to pack, but which are guaranteed to come in handy at some point – if not for your child, then as someone else's saving grace.

Think about things you easily have to hand at home that may be needed at university, such as stationery, cleaning wipes, and first aid essentials.

☐ Pens – buy now, STAEDTLER Ballpoint Pen, Black, Pack of 6, £4

☐ Notepads - buy now, ANYDAY A4 Notepad Refill Pads, Set of 2, £5

☐ Backpack for taking things to lectures – buy now, Vancouver Water Resistant 15" Laptop Zip Top Backpack, £59

☐ Sewing kit – buy now, Golden Lily Sewing Kit, £14

☐ Safety pins – buy now, Prym Safety Pins, Pack of 12, 38mm, £2.70

☐ Scissors – buy now, General Purpose Scissors, 23cm, £11

☐ Playing cards – buy now, Classic Playing Cards, £4

☐ First aid kit – buy now, Mini First Aid Kit, £14

☐ Sleeping bag – buy now, Easy Camp Cosmos Sleeping Bag, £28

What Mumsnet users say

A kit of all sorts of meds...allergy stuff, Imodium, cold and flu tablets, ibuprofen, plasters, etc.” Chimchar 

Best advice I can give about packing is walk round your own house, what do you use day to day in all rooms? Nail clippers, tweezers, plasters, medicines especially for Freshers' Flu where you are in germ city. Herbs and spices and squeezy garlic in a tube, no one wants to be using a garlic press.” Summergrassstains  

A torch. Things you rely on having to hand to fix stuff- DS has a roll of gaffer tape, and a mini tool kit. First Aid Kit, over door hooks, favourite condiments - DS like mayo and sriracha with everything. Kitchen roll or magic cloths for spills. Paracetomol/hayfever pills/sore throat pastilles if that's something they have a tendency for.” DelphiniumBlue

Lots of practical stuff suggested but for each of my DC I also did a little fun box. Contained things I knew they would like… Printed photos of family and cat, shot glasses and a bottle of vodka, chocolate, some cash.” IrisGold

Tips for packing for university

So that's it: you've bought everything they need to get through the first few weeks, at least. Now it's time to cram everything into their bags. While it can be tempting to buy everything on this list, consider your own teen and what they will personally need rather than buying everything and struggling to fit it in your car. 

Here are some packing tips (just don't forget some tissues for that inevitably tearful farewell!):

  • Do your research first on what the accommodation provides so you don’t waste time and money packing items they won’t need.

  • Make sure they pack clothes for different seasons and occasions, such as nights out and a dressing gown/hoodie for keeping warm at home. Resist the urge to pack all of their clothing as wardrobe space is very limited.

  • Think about how you will get the items from the car to the halls - what will be easy to transport and carry?

  • Try to stick to the basics initially, such as plates, cups, etc, you can always buy them stuff later if needed.

  • Vacuum pack everything to make space for more things.

What Mumsnet users say

We also found that bags for life were the best way of transporting stuff from home to uni, with a suitcase for clothes, then the excess bags fold up into the suitcase which is stored on top of the wardrobe. Boxes, other than underbed storage boxes take up too much space. When DD2 moved into halls, because the student helpers could carry four bags at a time, the car was unloaded before she'd even got as far as exploring the kitchen.” MyVisionsComeFromSoup

How much to pack for university

Depending on how they’re getting to university, probably as much as they can fit in their suitcase or your car! The thing to bear in mind is university accommodation rarely has a lot of space or storage so you don’t want to pack so much that they can’t move in their bedroom or they end up doubling up on items that their housemates have bought too. 

If you’re worried about overpacking, keep to the basics initially, items you know they will need in the first weeks and if they’re missing anything, you can always order it and get it delivered.

What Mumsnet users say

There are lots of "uni haul" videos on YouTube showing what some people take to uni. Some fill 2 cars worth and others pack it into a suitcase and get on a plane. We have told Ds that if it doesn't fit in the car it is not going.” ViewFromTheSteeple

Send your teen off to uni fully prepared, with the help of John Lewis this year

What not to pack for university

There will be items that the university won’t allow, so check their guidelines before you start shopping. These can include kitchen items like coffee machines and waffle makers, things that can cause a fire, such as candles and incense sticks, and big speakers. 

You might also want to avoid packing heavy shower gels and shampoos as they can take up a lot of room and can be easily bought when they get there. Also, don’t be tempted to buy all of their reading books - not only are they heavy and take up lots of luggage space, they may not need them all and they may be able to borrow them from the library or share with other students. 

What Mumsnet users say

Don’t spend a fortune on new appliances for the kitchen, most unis won’t let you use your own microwaves or George Foremans…Serin

Once he knows which hall of residence he will be in, he should be able to check the specifics of what is provided, what is not and what is forbidden. Even if all the university owned and managed blocks have the same regulations, a lot of universities also contract accommodation from outside providers such as Unite or Host and things may well be different in those halls.” MarchingFrogs 

What to pack for university abroad

If your teen is travelling abroad to study then they’ll be much more limited with what they can pack, not just because they’ll have less luggage but some items may be banned on the plane.

Larger items like kitchen and bathroom essentials may have to be bought over there, so focus on the basics like clothing and electricals, such as their laptop. Have a look at what the seasons will be like when they’re there and pack accordingly, layering clothes may help them to pack lighter.

Make sure they have all their important documents, such as their passport, visa, travel insurance and university paperwork (and take photocopies of all of it in case it gets lost or stolen). Also make sure they have local currency and suitable adaptors and converters and pack any prescriptions and medication that might be harder to get out there.

About John Lewis

Known for much more than just those tear-jerking Christmas adverts, John Lewis is a department store that will accommodate all your needs. Find everything you need from home, garden, electricals, beauty, and fashion. Particularly their great range of homewear for everyday family needs. That’s not all - John Lewis has advice you can rely on for the moments that matter most, such as All Things Baby expert advice and resale and rental with thelittleloop.

About the author

Gemma Wilcock is a freelance writer and copywriter. At Mumsnet, she creates content providing useful parenting advice, information and top products to make life easier – as a mother of two children herself, Gemma knows how important it is to get the right advice.

 After working on women’s weekly magazines for nine years, Gemma turned to freelance writing to fit around family life, writing for a range of online and print publications, charities and small businesses. She loves writing about subjects that will be helpful to the reader – and herself! - including recommending top products or sharing advice on Mumsnet that help parents in their day-to-day life. Whether it’s purchasing someone online or searching for advice, Gemma knows how important it is to thoroughly research every product and topic so that we’re always sharing the best advice and products.