Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

College Shopping List by Jess K. '10

Everybody do the shopping cart!

Welcome to the scary world of College Shopping. Who knows what you need, and where you should buy it, and what you should bring from home or what you should wait to buy in Cambridge? Who comes from far away and knows what’s absolutely necessary to be brought from home and what can be bought later? Does anyone even exist like that?

..Oh yeah, I do. ‘Sup.

This is a pretty good list that I actually used when I was college-shopping, as was Melis’s list. If you’re interested in finding out what you already have in your room, that list’ll let you know: essentially, bed, closet, desk, shelves, phone. Most people don’t even connect their phone (generally, when anyone’s phone ever rings everybody in the room goes “WHAT THE- YOU HAVE A PHONE IN HERE??”), because most people have cell phones, which is a lot more efficient. But here are things you SHOULD bring:

1. Sheets, a comforter, and pillows and pillowcases. Your room might come with pillows, but most of them don’t, so getting your own is a pretty good idea. I bought all of this ahead of time except for the pillows just because I didn’t think I’d have that much time to shop once I got there, which is true, and they’re pretty easy to pack, but I know people who brought only a sleeping bag (good for retreats or sleepovers) and had their parents to bring the rest of their stuff. You can also order it online and have it shipped to your dorm room, but make sure your sheets are twin extra-long. And as far as comforters go, try to get something that’ll be sure to keep you warm in the winter, because here is something I knew but didn’t really understand at your age: BOSTON IS COLD.

I would also recommend getting a mattress pad i.e. the egg carton ones, or memory foam, because the beds aren’t fantastic, and you really need to make the most of every moment of sleep you get!

– as a quick side note, I would suggest getting a winter coat at some point, but maybe over Thanksgiving break or something, because it’s pretty warm when you first get there and you won’t need one for a while. When you need one, though, you will NEED ONE. So be sure to do that at some point. Also, an umbrella, a hat, gloves, a scarf, boots, and EXTRA PANTS. Regardless of how many people make fun of you for wearing two pairs of pants – you will have the last, toasty warm laugh.
2. Laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and a laundry hamper. I got this awesome one on sale at the Container Store (BEST STORE EVER) that folds up, so it fit right in the bottom of my suitcase, and has handles, so I don’t need a laundry bag or anything to lug stuff down to the laundry room. You won’t be doing laundry for a few weeks, though, so you can wait to get that later if you want.
3. You will, however, be taking a shower within the first few weeks (I hope I’m not assuming too much – oh man, please don’t tell me I’m assuming too much) so bring toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush/toothpaste, hairbrush, the works, and something to carry them in. You’ve gone to camp before, right? Think of it like camp, but for FOREVER. I mean, a year. You can definitely get these around Cambridge, or from LaVerde’s in the student center, but LaVerde’s tends to be more expensive than going off campus in exchange for the convenience of having it right there. So if you’re coming a long way, you might just bring travel-size shampoos, etc. before you go out and buy your economy-sized bottles.
4. You’ll need towels: two shower towels are usually pretty good, and one hand/face towel. If you want to work out at the Z-Center, they give you a towel card that you can trade in for a towel whenever you go, so you don’t need to bring one with you.

Other shower-y type items that are a good idea: shower shoes, a loofah, etc.

5. Hangers. I stole them from Mr. Neha constantly throughout the year. At the beginning of the year, however, there was one-day bus service to Target, so you could probably get them then. If you’re not traveling a long way, though, then by all means bring them from home. Closet organizing-type devices are a good idea as well if you want to make the most of your space.
6. General lighting devices i.e. a desk lamp and a floor lamp. Can also be purchased at the Target in Cambridge (accessible by T, or that one-day bus trip) or Ikea (Next House had a one-day bus trip to Ikea in the fall, but as far as I know it’s not advertised to everyone).

Which reminds me – public transportation is excellent in Boston, but if you know someone in the area with a car, it can make moving in/getting all this stuff easier. Especially if you’re scrounging for things off Craigslist. (“NEHA! I FOUND A FREE FUTON! We’d have to take the T… and then walk to.. Jersey?”)

7. An alarm clock. I had an awesome one with an iPod dock – so I could wake up to my iPod, AM/FM radio, and speakers (if your alarm clock can’t be used as speakers, you should get an external pair) that could be connected to my computer. SPEAKING OF WHICH!
8. Computer! I actually know people who have survived for significant periods of time living in Athena clusters, but you can’t use that to Facebo- I mean, take notes, in class. I strongly encourage getting a laptop over a desktop because portability is an extremely important factor, as well as the fact that if you bring a desktop you’ll need to either bring it home or store it at the end of the year, both of which have issues – shipping can be expensive and storage is not guaranteed to be safe. Moreover, if you get a MacBook Pro, you can have all the functionality of a desktop with the portability of a laptop! Starting at $1999 with a $200 discount for being a college student, as well as a rebate on any iPod over 4 GB and ANY PRINTER!

(Honestly, speaking strictly as a Mac user and not an employee of Apple, I find the reliability and stability of my Mac laptop is much more valuable than any corners you might cut by buying a cheaper PC laptop – for which there are 114,000 known viruses, compared to a Mac’s 0. I also found it remarkably easy to switch from using PCs for something like seven or eight years, because everything is so intuitive. And I didn’t even switch over that long ago.)

9. Cell phone. You need one. If you don’t have one, get one. A friend of mine who was international didn’t have one, and we lost him for like, days at a time. Plus, there’s this really sweet one that starts at $499 with seamless email, internet, and iPod functionality. What? I’ll stop, really. (AND AN EXCELLENT 2 MEGAPIXEL CAMERA. Wait, who said that?)

Re: service plans – there are certain places on campus (i.e. the student center, and many classrooms) that don’t have good service. I’ve heard Verizon is pretty good for this; I have Sprint, which I think is okay with roaming, but I don’t get service at home anyway, so I’m used to huddling next to windows doing the whole “can you hear me now?” thing.
10. If you’re not really into forking over vast sums of money for combination cell phone/PDA/cameras, you should bring a digital camera. How will you remember everything without a camera? How will you blog without one? You won’t. Bring your camera.
11. Room decorations: You should probably shop with your roommate on this one, just because a) it’s a fun way to get to know your roommate and b) you can say no if they try to buy anything really heinous. Stuff you might want to think about includes posters, extra shelves, large mirrors, lights, wall clocks, rugs, small tables, large stuffed chairs, sofas if you have room.. but by all means, bring stuff from home if you can and if you have it.
12. Photos from home: not entirely necessary since you can just store them on your computer, but it’s nice to have some printed out for your walls or for frames or whatever. Another suggestion from that first list: high school yearbook. My feelings on that matter can be found here.
13. Cooking utensils and, depending on what dorm you live in, a refrigerator. Some dorms have suite refrigerators or floor refrigerators, so you should check on that, but living in Next House we needed to have our on refrigerators if we ever wanted to eat perishables later and still live to talk about it. All dorms have kitchens, but how much you want to cook is up to you. I suggest learning how because it can be a lot healthier, better-tasting and cheaper. AND LOADS OF FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY.
14. A bicycle can save you valuable minutes in the morning, especially if you live far away i.e. Next or Simmons. Next has a bike auction at the beginning of the year, but if you don’t want to have to bother fixing anything up you can just get one from Target.
15. A small first aid kit or general medicines: not entirely necessary because all dorms have MedLinks, two of which you already know. We’re here to help with your medicinal needs – from Tylenol to Pepto Bismol to disposable thermometers (gosh those are fun) – to talking about your homesickness, or how to use MIT Medical. And if you really screw yourself up, there’s always MIT-EMS, made up of student EMTs – two of which you also know already.
16. School-type stuff. Ohhhh… yeah. Remember that list they give you when you enter middle school? 1.5″ binders and binder papers and pencils and Crayola markers? I guess you don’t really need the markers anymore.

Now, for your reference – this list IN ACTION! Brought to you by my room, in one of its few clean appearances (hey, it happened more often than you might think).

As always, if you have questions, fire away. Hope this helps some, and good luck!

53 responses to “College Shopping List”

  1. Anonymous says:


    I love this post of yours. Can you also give us some info about the grocery stores, department stores to buy warm clothing, furniture like lamps, fans, refrigerators and so on around MIT area and how far away are they, how to get to these stores and so on…?

  2. Snively says:

    Very helpful, nice! I like that there are bottles of Bawls soda all around the room, I have a feeling that that will be the case in my room too.

  3. Back when I was admitted, they didn’t have this fancy shmancy blog thing. I’m pretty sure they stole the idea from me cause I ran a blog about getting into MIT and my life thereafter.

    @ Daniel Sauza:
    Everyone (or nearly everyone) you meet will have a cell phone with free long distance/roaming. So it’s probably easier just to get a phone with your home area code (especially if you already have one so you don’t need to switch numbers). My parents like that because calling me is a “local” call. Also, the new AT&T seemed to work fine for me. Everyone is going to tell you something different. There’s really no clear cut wireless winner.

    @ anonymous:
    In general, the orientation guide usually has a list of places you can shop at for stuff you need. But there is a supermarket called Star Market north of MIT a few blocks, a Staples up at Harvard Square, and a mall with department stores east of MIT called the CambridgeSide Galleria (they have a free shuttle that picks people up right outside the main MIT Coop, not the Stud Center one).

  4. Anonymous says:

    I would suggest not buying paper when you are buying your binders and notebooks. MIT has a lot of it so you don’t really need it unless you love lines.

  5. Let’s not forget sewing kits! Dropped buttons and fraying clothes are no joke at all!

  6. milena '11 says:

    Great post!! Although, as a temporary resident at Next House, I wish to emphasize a few points (which are applicable pretty much everywhere else from what I gather):

    DON’T YOU DARE SHOWER WITHOUT FLIP-FLOPS/CROCS. The showers are nasty beyond measure. Although they might seem clean at first, when you’re the 8th person to shower that morning, the floor will be disgustingly sticky. Seriously, don’t be stubborn or you’ll learn this the hard way (i.e., foot fungus). Great post!! Although, as a temporary resident at Next House, I wish to emphasize a few points (which are applicable pretty much everywhere else from what I gather):

    DON’T YOU DARE SHOWER WITHOUT FLIP-FLOPS/CROCS. The showers are nasty beyond measure. Although they might seem clean at first, when you’re the 8th person to shower that morning, the floor will be disgustingly sticky. Seriously, don’t be stubborn or you’ll learn this the hard way (i.e., foot fungus). <- not that it happened to me.

    If you’re getting a phone for the first time, don’t go with cingular/AT&T. I don’t have reception pretty much anywhere.

    And I agree with the bed thing. The beds are not the best, I couldn’t get much sleep my first week here because the bed sucked. That said, make up for the sucky beds with the softest sheets you can find and the best mattress pad possible.

    I’d also suggest getting a fan (it gets pretty hot sometimes), a full-length mirror, a fridge, all sorts of detergent, and if you’re lazy like me, a printer. Having to go to a cluster to print something stupid like a map is tedious as hell.

    Having a coffee maker also helps for those long, hot nights working on p-sets. For those that hate coffee, well… either start loving it or pay mad bucks for the red bull at LaVerde’s.

  7. If I become a campus rep for a bread co. can I skip buying the cooking utensils and fridge?

  8. milena '11 says:

    Also, I’d suggest buying lots and lots of socks and underwear. You won’t want to do the laundry every weekend, trust me. And I go through 2 towels a week, so I’d suggest buying at least 4, in case you have visitors.

    And all those classy ladies with lots of beautiful, high-heeled, uncomfortable shoes (like me)… get flat shoes. Everybody needs the comfiest shoes possible. Your feet will thank you.

  9. Ryan says:

    My mom is making me ask this. Are the beds really extra long? She’s very bitter because my brother went to RIT and they said they had extra-long beds so she got extra-long sheets and then it turned out they were too long for the beds. Very bitter.

    So, how about it? Are they really extra-long? Or is MIT trying to pull the biggest prank yet?

  10. Rebecca says:

    Haha – they’re really extra long smile

    There will be plenty of pranks at MIT, but sleep is taken pretty seriously! [Since you will getting so little of it…] wink

  11. Lamondo says:

    Check out They have good prices and a great selection.

  12. Paul '11 says:

    Hey, thanks Jess…always nice to know that a few of the upperclassmen, at least, are you looking out for the frosh. raspberry

    Randomness: is it just me, or is that a very large Charmander plushie hanging out on the left side of Jess’ room?

  13. jennifer Lai says:

    FIRST… now back to the post (i haven’t even read it yet)

  14. intl says:

    Thank you dearly for this great blog! I cannot bring much, but I will refer to this smile

  15. Mike A. '11 says:

    Thanks for the post Jess, definitely a help in figuring out what to bring to my new home 2600 miles from the old one.

  16. Ryan '11 says:

    This is insanely useful! Thanks smile

  17. Hawkins '12 says:

    THANK YOU!!! This is so helpful. I’m not even going for another year, but I think I’ll start shopping now. Why? Because I can.

  18. k diab says:

    if you want desktop functionality with laptop portability, mac isn’t the only game in town. in fact, it isn’t even the best game in town. there’s linux!

  19. Daniel Sauza says:

    hooray for two-year-old laptops with windows on them!

    Would it be a good idea to get a Boston phone number for my cell phone? Also the word on the street seems to be that cingular doesn’t work in Cambridge…should I put up with it or just switch plans?

  20. Grace '11 says:

    charmander!! char! char!

    now that that’s over with…how long does it take to get to the ikea store? thanks!

  21. Hank R. says:

    So at CPW, my cell phone battery was dying, and then I lost it. So I lost my little travel group all Friday morning and afternoon. I wondered the campus while they were at the Boston Museum of Science and stuff. But now I have a cell phone again! Yay!

    Also, the showering thing? You’re assuming too much.

    Okay, you’re not, I’m lying.

  22. Dave Chen says:

    I’d like to emphasize the part about Verdes being expensive- it killllllls you when you’re on a budget -__-

    – as a user of a fine Toshiba laptop for over a year, I have to say that I’ve never had any stability problems with my computer, either. And it was cheap =)

    Also, I find the chairs to be very uncomfortable to work in. Just an idea. =)

  23. Dave Chen says:

    One more thing-

    Around the beginning of the year, on some lucky weekend, I believe Target will hire shuttles to run to and from the campus. So you may shop to your heart’s content for all the wonderful goodies that mummy didn’t pack.
    Also, there’s a Costco nearby, but I think it might only be reachable by car. I think someone once mentioned a T stop to me also…


  24. PA says:

    Very nice addition with the shadow boxes and whatnot. What type of posters do you have on your wall there (in the picture)?

  25. Basant'11 says:

    goodness… I’m a bit confused now… need to go shopping all over again! =D

  26. J says:

    You have a poster of The Shins on your wall!! They are THE BEST BAND EVER!

  27. Wings '11 says:

    I printed out this blog earlier but realized I never commented! Gah!

    Thanks for this really helpful post – I’m in the middle of doing my dorm shopping =)

  28. NT H. '11 says:


    i want a pink room with evil small posters on it stating my evil.

    i see forward to looking you in Septamber!

  29. Goli says:

    Nice poster. I love the Shins!

  30. Britni says:

    Can you nail stuff into the walls (mirrors, hooks, whatever)?

  31. lkjohnsn says:

    OMG I have that rug! We’re Ikea Rug buddies :D

  32. AK '09 says:

    Just so you hear the “other” side of the computer story.

    To be honest, Macs are better, and when I had a choice at work (where I wasn’t paying for the computer), I chose a Mac. But my personal machine is a PC running Windows XP, and it’s very reliable, and about $800 cheaper than a similar featured Mac. I’ve never had a problem with a crash or a virus.

    Here’s my bottom line:
    1. If you’re not afraid of it, get a Linux machine.
    2. If you’re not paying for it, get a Mac. It will look cool (and make you look cool).
    3. Otherwise get a Windows machine.

  33. Anthony says:

    The best thing ever is to stock up on multiple 24-pack cases of your favorite drinks from Costco. If you know you’ll be downing bottle after bottle of iced tea, Mountain Dew or Rockstar, why pay a premium for it on campus when you can save easily $1-$1.50/drink by buying in bulk. The cases fit nicely under a standard-issue Institute bed frame.

    If your parents aren’t accompanying you to campus and renting a car, make new upperclass (read: 21+) friends who can bring you along on a Zipcar run. You’ll need these friends throughout the year to support your 24-pack beverage habit by enabling future Zipcar rentals.

    It’s impossible to carry back enough stuff on the T to make a Costco trip worthwhile… I tried it with both the Everett and Waltham Costco locations. (At least the Everett Costco is within walking distance from the Wellington T-stop … Waltham requires you to take commuter rail, a bus, and a hefty hike up a hill.)

  34. Christina says:

    Ryan –

    They’re not really extra long. You might want to get extra long sheets, but you certainly don’t need an extra long comforter. I searched for one and had to settle for a comforter that I didn’t entirely like, only to find out I could have gotten a normal sized one and been just fine. SO – xlong sheets, regular comforter, and you’ll be fine.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Aw poor Hank we missed you too XD

  36. Omar '10 says:

    nice post jess.
    i got a tablet pc last year with windows xp tablet, and now i’m currently linux AND windows vista.
    but guess what? i sooo want a mac.
    so all of you
    if you can afford it, get a macbook pro, they are the coolest and most reliable thing around.

    yeah, that’s about it
    if not, run linux, i’m using sabayon linux 3.4 and it’s quite nice. my main operating system (to avoid vista/xp)

  37. Emily says:

    yay, I really enjoyed reading that! But I did have a question – so just how necessary are laptops? Like when you say you’ve known people to survive for a while in Athena long is a long time?

  38. Jess says:

    MIT supplies bed risers. You can either steal cinder blocks or another bed frame, and put it underneath your bed. Closet size depends on where you live, but I’d say they’re pretty standard.

  39. Elizabeth says:

    so a little off-topic but any idea if I can get the whole free iPod thing even though I got my macbook at the Mac Store not the Apple store? The woman at the Mac store didn’t know when I asked. And I already have an OLD 15G iPod so i don’t need a nano, but hey, why not?

    And thanks for the list- I’m going cross country so I’m already starting to pack…got out the boxes today.

  40. anon. says:

    Great, timely post — thanks Jess.
    Do MIT dorms supply bed risers, or are we supposed to provide them (square or round)?
    And just how big are the closets?
    Just a little over 2 weeks now….

  41. Dave Chen says:

    While laptops sure are useful (and great for relieving boredom), they really aren’t that neccesary for school, for the most part. You really just need to be able to word process (if you’re taking those HASS classes), read PDF’s, and print. Of course, if you’re thinking of taking 6.001, you would probably want to get a laptop, because… well, I’ve never checked if Athena has Dr Scheme or mitscheme. Also, some classes have lectures available for streaming, and I doubt the athena computers can view Real media…

  42. Anonymous says:

    i love you and your blogs!!!

  43. Isshak says:

    Uh how big are the tables in the classroom ? Because my computer is the large screen 17″ type, so it’s pretty massive. And even if I AM dreaming about a macboook pro, I bought mine earlier in February, so no budget for apple!

  44. Emily says:

    thanks so much, Dave Chen!

  45. Rashi says:

    Dis post is seriusly useful..!!!

    Thanx alot 4 dis amazin post!

  46. Aaron '11 says:

    You always do post the most pragmatic entries. I love them!

  47. anonymous says:

    Do you know if the people allocating temporary dorm. rooms actually look at the dorm forms? Or are freshmen deliberately mixed? Or is the process just random? I ask because it looks as though my temp. dorm roomate and I couldn’t be more different from one another.

  48. Dan says:

    thanks this is soo awesome.

    I also found this sweet site that will help all of us in the fall. You can search for the closest store to buy all your dorm stuff or whatever. it also has movies times and all sorts a cool stuff for people who dont know there way around the city

  49. anonymous says:

    Thanks Rooming Chair – it’s good to know the “real matchmaking” happens after REX.

  50. Wings '11 says:

    @Anon – Temporary roomates only have to live with each other for about a week, so I think they’re random (except, of course, they’re assigned the same dorm). You almost always switch at the end unless you want to stay together. Don’t worry about it – there’s REX and then there’s in-house rush (in most dorms).

  51. I’m a rooming chair. Temporary roommates are not usually completely randomly assigned – for example, a lot of guys playing varsity sports requested to be with fellow athletes, so that’s easy to facilitate. Freshmen from similar geographic areas may be placed together, etc. Also the preferences for room type are taken into consideration. [I ended up living with 2/3 of my temped roommates after REX, so the temping process isn’t so bad – but be open to meeting/living with new/different people, etc!]. However, definitely the most work for the rooming chairs will come after REX – this is when the real ‘matchmaking’ occurs. But ideally you will meet someone at an FPOP or Orientation who you want to live with, and make our job easier!

  52. Anonymous says:

    I really need to know about the sze of these x-long twin beds…does anyone have dimensions?? If the reg twin fitted sheet has a deep pocket for a thick mattress will it have enough stretch to accomodate the x-long size??