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14 essentials to buy when starting university in 2023

Heading for halls? Stock up on these must-haves before you go

Annabel Martin
Friday 18 August 2023 13:33 BST
Whether you need kitchen essentials or want something to make your bedroom feel more homey, we’ve got you covered
Whether you need kitchen essentials or want something to make your bedroom feel more homey, we’ve got you covered (The Independent )
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The summer holidays are offically over, and students up and down the country are packing their bags and preparing for their next big step – heading to university.

For many, this means moving into student halls or rented accommodation, and marks the first time living away from home. When it comes to writing up a list of what to take, it can be tough to know what’s an absolute must-have and what can be left behind – after all, your new digs do not need six chopping boards or cheese graters.

Luckily, we’ve done the hard work for you. From a mattress topper to an air fryer, we have found the products to make your home away from home feel, well, homey. Few people look back on their university days as the most comfortable of times. However, it is still home to the best, the worst and often the messiest memories.

So, whether you are moving into halls for the first time or going back to university after a comfortable summer at your parents’ home, these are the essentials for your new digs.

How we tested

Over the past month, we tested affordable products that will make university life easier and more comfortable. We chose products that are affordable and practical for university halls, picking homeware items you’ll want – such as diaries and heated clothes airers – to ones that you’ll need – such as drinking glasses and storage solutions. We thought long and hard about what will be truly useful, and only included the best of the best below.

A selection of the best university essentials for 2023 that we tried and tested (Annabel Martin)

The best university essentials for 2023 are:

  • Best university essential overall – Silentnight deep sleep double mattress topper: £26.05,
  • Best budget decor buy – Dunelm tufted dream cushion: £4.20,
  • Best stationary buy – Papier genius juice academic diary: £25,
  • Best storage solution – Ikea stuk storage with seven compartments: £10,
  • Best kitchen gagdet – Ninja air fryer AF100UK 3.8l: £119,

Silentnight deep sleep double mattress topper

  • Best: University essential overall
  • Why we love it
    • Comes in different sizes
    • Machine washable
    • Stays attached to your mattress

Whether you are getting back in the early hours from a night at the Student Union or catching a few extra winks the night before a big exam, the importance of a good night’s sleep is something to never be overlooked, especially at university. And considering that mattresses in rented student accommodation can be old and the springs uncomfortable, a mattress topper can help ensure your sleep is deep and comfortable.

This topper from Silentnight is not only machine washable – so it is easy to clean and can stay with you throughout your time at university, and beyond – it is also hypoallergenic, so it is kind to your skin. It was incredibly comfortable, easy to fit thanks to the elastic straps and at its price point, it is a university must-have.

  1. £26 from
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Dunelm tufted dream cushion

  • Best: Budget decor buy
  • Why we love it
    • Comfortable
    • Machine washable cover
    • Comes with pillow insert

When creating your space it is important to incorporate your personality and make the room yours – which this charming cushion certainly will. And there’s no doubt in our mind that this blue and white striped cushion with the accent tufted orange will bring a pop of colour to your university room. Whether it is placed on your bed or on your desk chair for added comfort, the Dream slogan provides some inspiration. Plus, it is made of 100 per cent cotton and is machine washable, so it will easily stay a statement piece throughout your undergrad years and beyond.

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Papier genius juice academic diary

  • Best: Stationary buy
  • Why we love it
    • Thick pages
    • Ability to personalise it
    • Nicely layed out

Although there are countless apps to help track deadlines and plan your social life, nothing beats putting pen to paper and having all of your plans centralised. Papier’s academic diary helps you organise university life from August 2023 to July 2024, knowing that there’s less of a need for you to map out your summer fun. And in Papier’s classic fashion, you are able to personalise the planner to make it extra special, making it a great option for a going-away-to-uni gift.

Available in both a hardback and spiral bound softback, the diary’s design is not only playful, it’s practical, too. With space to write down deadlines, weekly double-spread pages – which allows you enough room to plan out each day of the week – an overview of the month ahead with monthly goals and to-do lists and even pages to track finances and grades, it’s the perfect planner to help you stay on top of your busy schedule.

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Ikea pappersbjork mixed colour glasses

  • Best: For adding colour to your kitchen
  • Why we love it
    • Thick glass

The kitchens in university halls and rented student accommodation are usually quite drab, but you can brighten it up with these fun glasses from Ikea. More interesting than your usual clear glasses, these come in yellow, purple, blue and green – perfect for the style conscious student. Holding 300ml, they can be used for juice, water, wine or a cocktail at pre-drinks. And as they only measure 9cm in height, they are less likely to be knocked over than a wine or pint glass – meaning less cleaning up of spillages and broken glass.

  1. £9 from
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Dunelm essentials free standing mirror

  • Best: Bedroom accessory
  • Why we love it
    • Does not damage walls
    • Compact design
  • Take note
    • Difficult to get full body view

In university halls there can be strict rules about what you can and cannot do in your room, and putting nails in the wall is often one of the no-no’s. As such, not being able to mount anything on the walls can make getting a full length mirror tricky, which is where Dunelm’s free standing mirror comes in. With a sleek black frame and affordable price point – it’s part of the retailer’s essentials range, meaning you can get other coordinating pieces – it’s a no-brainer for kitting out university rooms.

It is compact and although one of its merits is that it doesn’t take up much space, it does not easily provide a full view of your body. At 5 foot 6 inches, when we stood a metre away from the mirror, our reflection was cut off at the shoulders, which isn’t ideal when you want to see the entirety of your look. However, its neat size makes it a good addition to tight student rooms.

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George Foreman medium fit grill 25810

  • Best: For grilling
  • Why we love it
    • Easy to clean
    • Uses less energy than conventional ovens
    • Quick cooking times

The George Foreman grill is a university digs classic. Most kitchens will house at least one, and the only thing you need to worry about is who is going to clean the drip tray (which luckily, is an easy task). It doesn’t take up much space on the countertop and its sleek black design means it’s not an eyesore. It uses 88 per cent less energy than a conventional oven, so it will help decrease energy bills while speeding up cooking times.

The opportunities with the George Foreman grill are pretty endless and it’s not limited to meat eaters. Grilled vegetables, paninis and veggie sausages can all be cooked on it – we rustled up a vegetable medley of peppers, onions, asparagus and courgettes in six minutes. We also enlisted the help of meat eating friends for our George Foreman fajita night and they were impressed with how tender the chicken breasts came out, taking only five minutes to cook. The only reason it lost a star from us was because Ninja’s air fryer (£99.99, presented slightly more cooking possibilities. Still, it’s a must have for your new kitchen.

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Status heated clothes airer 230W

  • Best: For laundry
  • Why we love it
    • Cheap to run
    • Speeds up drying time
  • Take note
    • Does not have a timer
    • Takes up a lot of room

Anyone who has lived in university halls will know you are more likely to win the lottery than find an empty, working dryer for your wet laundry. Avoid the wasted money on broken driers and the stress of laundry room politics (when is it acceptable to take someone else’s laundry out of the machine?) by drying your laundry in your room on this heated airer.

This will dry your clothes far quicker than simply hanging them on a standard clothes horse – we did a full load that included a pair of jeans and a jumper in the morning and it was all dry by the afternoon. Plus, for those in a student rental and therefore keeping track of bills, Status’s heated clothes airer costs less than £0.04/hr to run, making it beneficial to both your wallet and the environment. The only downside is that, when unfolded, it takes up quite a bit of room, but it saves itself by being easily foldable for compact storage when you are not using it.

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Ikea stuk storage with seven compartments

  • Best: Storage solution
  • Why we love it
    • Durable
    • Accessible price point
    • Helps organise closet

Student accommodation is not known for its capacious wardrobe space and you’d be lucky to get a chest of drawers. So, any opportunity to maximise storage space is always welcomed. Ikea’s hanging stuk compartments come with a sturdy Velcro strap that can be attached to the pole inside of a wardrobe or to a free standing clothes rack. We were initially sceptical about the strength of the single Velcro strap but were impressed by what it could carry. It was able to hold a pair of shoes in each of the bottom two compartments, three pairs of jeans, four jumpers and five T-shirts and still have a free shelf. Impressive!

  1. £10 from
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Asda ylang and white rose mist diffuser

  • Best: For relieving stress
  • Why we love it
    • Comes with essential oil fragrance
    • Uses USB cable
    • Has power off timer
  • Take note
    • Have to remove the cover for the light function

Lighting candles makes any space feel cosy and creates a calming vibe. However, due to health and safety risks, university halls do not allow you to burn candles in your room. So, if you are looking for other ways to make your room tranquil, look no further than Asda’s diffuser. It uses a USB cable so is much safer to use and makes the set up easy. We also loved the minimalist design – the ceramic cover and the wood effect base seamlessly blend into the surroundings.

The diffuser comes with a ylang and white rose fragrance to use, but it is quite sweet. After adding only four drops of the scent to water, the mist filled our bedroom with a sickly, sweet smell. However, if you aren’t a fan of the included scent, that’s OK – you can add your own essential oils to the water. You can either diffuse the mist continuously until the water tank is empty or you can use the power-off timer for safe use, selecting up to three hours of misting before the diffuser automatically turns off. There’s also a light function forfurther relaxation, but we found you have to remove the cover for the best effect, which slightly ruins the aesthetic.

  1. £18 from
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Ninja air fryer AF100UK 3.8L

  • Best: Kitchen gadget
  • Why we love it
    • Easy set up
    • Easy to clean
    • Quick cooking times
    • Four different cooking functions

Having never used an air fryer before (yes, we are very late to the party), Ninja’s air fryer AF100UK was the product we were most excited to test. And boy, it did not disappoint. Firstly, the set up could not have been easier. We simply peeled off the tape and it was ready to go. However, one thing to note is that the cord is rather short, so you will need a power outlet at the level of your countertop. The instructions manual is clear and concise, while a diagram on the front panel gives you the cooking times and temperatures for go-to foods, including: chips, fish and meat. It also came with a recipe book to help with inspiration.

We decided to test two student snack essentials. First we sliced a potato and made a singular portion of chips in 10 minutes, using a teaspoon of oil. The chips could have been slightly crispier, but the ease and minimal time it took to make them outweighed the slight lack of crispiness. Next up was frozen mozzarella sticks – we know the pain all too well of trying to achieve a perfectly crispy outside while maintaining the desired gooey inside when using an oven, but after eight minutes in the air fryer (without oil) you would have thought they had been deep fried. Absolute perfection and perhaps the best solution for snacking during any late night study session.

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Lenovo IdeaPad 3i

  • Best: Cheap student laptop
  • Why we love it
    • Top value for money
    • Runs on the latest Windows 11 OS
    • Comes with one year of Office 365
  • Take note
    • Less powerful than more expensive laptops

Laptops don’t get much more affordable than the Lenovo IdeaPad 3i. Perfect for churning through written homework, watching the odd YouTube video and firing off emails, this Windows 11 laptop keeps things simple with a cheap and cheerful Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM. That means you won’t be playing Call of Duty on this thing – which could be a positive, depending on your perspective – but the slim design and 1.4kg weight make the Lenovo IdeaPad 3i perfect for chucking in a backpack.

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JBL go 3 eco speaker

  • Best: For music-lovers
  • Why we love it
    • Light to carry
    • Waterproof
    • Long battery life
    • Good sound quality

JBL’s go 3 eco speaker is small but mighty, and gives you up to five hours of playtime after a single charge. We particularly liked how light it is, and were impressed by the quality of the bass, considering the speaker’s diminutive dimensions.

IP67 waterproof and dustproof, the speaker can bring the vibes anywhere, whether you’re studying in your room, enjoying drinks in your kitchen, or hanging out at the park. The integrated loop makes it ideal for attaching to a backpack or bike while on the go, too.

Coming in three fun colourways, the speaker is also environmentally conscious. The grille on the speaker is made with 100 per cent recycled fabric, and the speaker as a whole was created using up to 90 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic, which is music to our ears.

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Habitat Lizzie desk lamp

  • Best: For study sessions
  • Why we love it
    • Quirky design
    • Adjustable

Habitat’s Lizzie desk lamp comes in a cheery orange and it might just make long, late-night study sessions a little more pleasant, adding some funky yet functional flair to your bedroom.

The lamp can be adjusted easily while it is switched on (without fear of burning your fingers), by using the stem on the back of the shade. It does not come with a lightbulb included but, at this price, we aren’t complaining.

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Ikea klunka laundry bag

  • Best: For getting laundry done
  • Why we love it
    • 60l capacity

Rigid enough to be used as a laundry basket in the corner of your bedroom, when you’ve run out of clean socks and it’s time to cart your clothes to the communal laundry room, the straps on Ikea’s klunka bag make it easy to transport.

We love the bag’s minimal design, featuring dark grey stripes, but we wish the straps were slightly longer, so we could sling them onto our shoulder, too. That being said, we still found the bag easy to carry, and, as doing laundry is never the most enjoyable of tasks, anything that makes life a little easier is a win in our book.

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University essentials FAQs

What are the key essentials to pack for university?

Firstly, you should check with your university halls to see what is included in your student accommodation. Will there be a bin in your bathroom? Are you provided with an ironing board? Once you know this, it’s then best to divide up the essentials by room. Checkout our university 2023 checklist below.




What products should I double up on?

One of the great things about living with others in university halls is that you will automatically have more than double of certain homeware items, however, living with others can mean that things can mysteriously go missing. It is best to double (or triple up) on cutlery, which is done in most cases anyway as it is sold in sets. This also goes for plates, bowls and tea towels – do not depend on one tea towel for all of your washing up (and remember to wash them!).

It is also worth doubling up on your bed sheets because it can prove difficult to bag an empty washing machine, and even with your heated clothes airer, you don’t want to find yourself sleeping sheetless if you do your washing in the evening and nothing is dry in time.

What are the best gifts for students?

University maintenance loans don’t stretch very far, and definitely not far enough to cover gadgets and games. Useful gifts for students going away to university are those that will brighten up their day, whilst being practical, such as: a coffee machine, noise cancelling headphones, a bluetooth speaker and card games (great icebreakers to use with new housemates).

For anxious students, a weighted blanket or subscription to a mindfulness app would be a thoughtful gift that would bring added comfort. And for the avid studiers, a laptop stand will help with extended study sessions.

When it comes to moving away from home for the first time, homesickness can creep in. Digital photo frames are a great gift for students so they can feel close to their loved ones and friends.

The verdict: University essentials

Shopping for university essentials can be fun, but it is important to focus on what is going to make your life easier. The Ninja air fryer cuts cooking time and provides a healthy alternative to frying as it requires less oil, Status’s clothes airer is better for both your wallet and the environment and Papier’s academic diary helps you stay organised.

But ultimately, sleep is key at university. Moving away from home, making new friends and starting a new chapter in your life can be exhausting so we think Silentnight’s deep sleep mattress topper will help you get that well deserved, and needed, rest.

Looking for kitchen accessories to bring to uni? Check out the best non-stick frying pans

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