Moving out of the dorms? Here's the ultimate college apartment checklist

Movin' on up

Living room with neutral couch and white coffee table
(Image credit: @frau_sommerfeldt_wohnt)

Moving out of the dorms and into your first apartment is a super exciting time. Not only will you no longer have to shower in communal bathrooms, but you’ll also have plenty more space for studying and relaxing, plus a kitchen where you can cook using more than just a microwave and boiling water. 

With that said, moving into your first apartment requires a lot more stuff and shopping can get a bit overwhelming if you aren’t organized with a college apartment checklist featuring all of the essentials.  

What do I really need for my first apartment? 

Shopping for your first college apartment can feel a bit daunting. Luckily, you might already have some of the essential items from your dorm life (hello storage ottoman!!). If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered with this college apartment checklist, organized by kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living room.  

For a budget-friendly route, it’s worth stopping by a local thrift store such as Goodwill or browsing Facebook Marketplace for deals. If you live near campus, chances are you will have plenty of secondhand options from former students.

Kitchen checklist for college apartment  


Dishes are a kitchen necessity and, while you might have a couple of random mugs and bowls from dorm life, it helps to make a checklist to ensure you have everything you need in your new apartment. It’s worth purchasing at least one or two casserole dishes, a set of four glasses, and stocking up on mugs if you don’t already have them.    

Kitchen furniture  

While you can technically eat at your coffee table (and might end up doing so when up late studying), it’s important to have a designated space for enjoying your meal. When shopping for your first apartment, consider the kitchen space and what kind of dining situation will fit. You can find small kitchen table and chair sets, high-top tables with barstools, or full-size kitchen tables that fit four to six people. 

Cooking tools and utensils 

Shopping for cooking tools and utensils is relatively easy since many come in a set, so you don’t have to worry about getting all of the different types (or even knowing what they are all used for). Ikea is one of the best places to shop for kitchen tools and utensils, including kitchen utensil sets, flatware, and organizers.

Pots and pans 

Pots and pans are a kitchen must-have and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a good quality set when you shop at stores like Home Goods and Target. We recommend starting with a set of two different-sized pots and one skillet pan and then growing your collection from there. 

Kitchen appliances 

Most apartment rentals come with a refrigerator, stove, and oven — but there are a few additional small appliances you might want to stock up on to make cooking for one a lot easier. If you don’t already have one from your dorm room, definitely pick up a microwave, a small toaster (either a classic 2-slice style or a toaster oven), and an air fryer

Aside from those staples, you might need other small apartment appliances, such as a coffee maker, tea kettle, and blender. 

Bedroom checklist for college apartment  

 Bed & mattress

The most important checklist item for the bedroom is, of course, your bed. While you could technically leave your mattress on the floor — and we have totally done it—a real bed is actually a major storage hack for small spaces. Once you have your bed (and bed size) sorted out, consider the type of mattress you want. 

Pillows & bedding

To add to your bed’s comfort level, be intentional about your bedding choice. We love a linen sheet set or super soft jersey sheets. The best places to buy cheap comforters for your first apartment include Ikea, Home Goods, Amazon, and Walmart

For pillows, consider purchasing a couple of cheap options from Target or Amazon to fill your bed, and then investing in something with a little more support for your sleeping pillow, such as a memory foam pillow


Don’t forget about your window treatments! For the bedroom, you’ll definitely want some blackout curtains, which can not only keep the light out of your room after late-night study sessions but also save energy by keeping your bedroom warm or cool, depending on the season. 


A bedside table is also a must-have for your new apartment. We recommend getting one with plenty of storage so you can maximize your space. A classic three-drawer nightstand will definitely do the trick, however, if you want something with a little more oomph to it, we recommend a nightstand with both a drawer and a shelf.


To ensure your room has plenty of lighting for late-night studying, it’s worth purchasing a table lamp for your nightstand as well as a floor lamp for your bedroom corner.  

 Bathroom checklist for college apartment  


While you might have some towels left over from dorm life, it’s worth stocking up on a few more or refreshing your collection entirely (especially if you purchased cheap towels, which don’t last long). Amazon is a fantastic place to shop for bath towel sets, which typically include a couple of bath towels, one hand towel, and some washcloths. 

Bath mat

Depending on the size of your bathroom, you’ll need at least one or two bath mats to keep your space dry when showering. We recommend one for under the sink and another that you can drape over the bathtub and use when getting out of the shower.  

Trash can 

To keep things sanitary in the bathroom, add a small trash can in the corner. And, if you don’t want to rinse it out on cleaning days, it’s also worth purchasing a roll of trash can liners.

Shower curtain

A shower curtain is functional, but it’s also a great opportunity to add some personal style to your rented apartment. When shopping for shower curtains, be sure to purchase a washable shower liner, too. That way, you don’t have to worry about mold and can easily throw it in the wash on cleaning days.   

Toothbrush holder

If you don’t have an electric toothbrush that comes with a stand, it’s worth purchasing a small toothbrush holder so that you don’t end up using a mug or glass (or just leaving your brush on your sink). 

Toilet brush and plunger

Use this opportunity to also purchase a toilet brush and plunger so that you don’t have to worry about it when the time comes to clean the bathroom or deal with an emergency situation.  

Living room checklist for college apartment  


When purchasing your first couch, we recommend not investing too much money since your couch likely won’t make it out of college with you. IKEA is one of the best places to find affordable couches for college apartments. You can also find some budget-friendly options at Walmart, Wayfair, and Amazon. 

Coffee table

A coffee table is a must-have for the living room. You can find several excellent options at IKEA or Target.


Even if your apartment has carpet, an area rug can really warm up a place and add a touch of style.

TV Stand

While you can technically hang your TV on the wall, it’s always a good idea to have either a TV stand or cube shelving unit underneath for extra storage.  


While bookshelves can serve as a design moment, they’re also highly functional and an excellent way to keep all of your study materials close by. Consider purchasing a cheap bookshelf from IKEA, Walmart, or Target. For more splurge-worthy options, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and CB2 are some of our favorite places to find chic bookshelves.  

Other things you’ll need for your college apartment 

In addition to these items, it’s also worth stocking up on a few other miscellaneous apartment essentials, such as cleaning supplies, a cordless vacuum, extension cords, a broom and dustpan set, and batteries. 

It’s also worth putting together an emergency kit with a flashlight in case the power goes out, a fire extinguisher (if your apartment doesn’t come with one), and first-aid supplies. 

Jessie Quinn
Freelance Writer

Jessie Quinn is a lifestyle writer with words published in The Spruce, Byrdie, Well + Good, Shape, PEOPLE, and more. Jessie has a Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Journalism from Academy of Art University and leans on her background in fashion to inspire readers to hone their personal decor style as if it's their wardrobe. When she's not writing, Jessie can be found browsing the aisles of her local antique stores, creating DIY home decor projects, and taking care of her dozens of houseplants. Her eclectic decor style balances vintage, modern, and artisanal pieces that reflect her artsy style and love for handmade goods.