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University guide: If you’re heading for halls, these are the essentials to pack

From kitchen utensils to bedding, we've found the budget friendly basics as well as small additions that can make your space feel more like home

Louise Whitbread
Friday 11 September 2020 08:26
We've got your covered with the practical and budget-friendly items you'll need if you're moving into university accommodation in September
We've got your covered with the practical and budget-friendly items you'll need if you're moving into university accommodation in September

Autumn is here, and after what's been an unusual summer dominated by the coronavirus, universities are getting ready to reopen, after exam results were announced on 13 August.

After GSCE and A-level exams were cancelled earlier this year due to the pandemic, and much deliberation on the best way to grade students without them, the government confirmed what it calls a "triple lock" approach to exam results.

Pupils can either go with their teacher-estimated results, mock exam grades, or they can choose to sit an exam in the autumn. Students can then choose whichever mark is highest out of those results.

Exam marking is not the only change to the university process this year. When students arrive in September, strict measures will be in place to maintain a Covid secure environment, these include keeping people out of educational settings if they’re symptomatic, practising hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping two metres apart from those you do not live with where possible.

But one thing that remains the same is the need to shop for university essentials if you're heading for halls this autumn.

Aside from must-haves like bedding and kitchen utensils, packing a range of homeware items can help add your own stamp to your room in halls, which can ease freshers nerves.

While you'll have your own room, you will definitely be sharing a kitchen with your flatmates. To avoid sharing one saucepan between five, now's the time to stock up on everything you'll need to tackle university life.

If you're living in halls, be sure to check which appliances come with your accommodation before you arrive. Heavy duty items are usually provided, such as kettles and microwaves, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

To help tick off your to-do list, we’ve rounded up all the essentials you need. They will all suit a student budget too.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.


First up is your room, which will be pretty bare when you arrive. Expect to find a bed, mattress, bedside table, worktop, chair and shelves. You'll need to bring everything else with you.

For bedding, look to Ikea which has an affordable range of duvets. More often than not you'll be offered a single bed in halls, so this smasporre duvet 7.5 tog (Ikea, £12) is ideal.

This affordable duvet is perfect to use all year round 

Cosy enough to keep you warm in winter but cool enough to withstand April sunshine, it's the ultimate essential for hangover days and naps in between lectures.

If your room doesn’t come with a pillow, this Silentnight deep sleep medium/ soft pillow (Argos, £7) will do the job.

Rest your head on a comfortable pillow to make up for all those late nights

Machine washable and non-allergenic, it’s perfect if you're on a budget.

For a duvet set that will add a splash of colour to your room without breaking the bank, go for this non iron plain dye green duvet cover (Dunelm, £14). It's an affordable find that will instantly make the room feel brighter but homelier.

It won’t need ironing either, which is perfect for students. Once you wash it, just put on a clothes dryer, then fold to keep it looking presentable.

This easy to clean, minimal design is a no brainer to add some colour into your space

Simple in design but cheery enough to freshen up a space, you'll need the matching pair of pillowcases (Dunelm, £4) to complete the budget-friendly set.

Don’t forget a bed sheet either, unless you plan on sleeping on a plastic-wrapped mattress.

Pick up this fitted cotton sheet (H&M, £8.99) that’s made in finely threaded cotton for a soft, comfortable night's sleep after a big night out.

Made in soft cotton, this will round off your bed set nicely (H&M)

It's unusual to have a washing machine in your kitchen in halls, but that doesn't mean you're off the hook with laundry duties.

After you’ve used the on-campus laundrette, make sure you have a clothes dryer to hand to avoid soggy, damp clothes.

You might not have access to a tumble dryer so ensure you have a fold-down clothes dryer

This Wilko deluxe clothes airer 14m (Wilko, £9) will fold away compactly, as it’s likely you’ll be shorter on space.

While universities will often offer computers in their student library, a laptop is a recommended purchase to complete essays, coursework and for binge watching your favourite shows on Netflix.

Although it is the priciest item on your shopping list, a decent laptop doesn't have to cost the earth. In our guide to the best laptops for under £250, our reviewer loved this Lenovo ideapad S130 81J20076UK (Argos, £224.99).

They found it to be a great price for a laptop with a 14in display. After testing, they said: “It’s thin and light enough to be easily portable and though build quality isn’t as good as on a pricier machine, it’s highly usable."

This essential piece of equipment has lots of storage and features like built-in Microsoft Office 365 Personal

It also has a generous 64GB of storage and a decent 4GB of RAM, with an anti-glare finish, and the price includes a year’s subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Personal.

Although it's not the most exciting purchase, you'll need to pack n extension cable as plug sockets in your room might be few and far between.

To keep your phone, laptop, games console and other tech functioning, add this Masterplug four socket extension lead (Wickes, £9) to your basket.

Plug in all your devices without overloading wall sockets with this extension lead

It has built-in surge protection so it’ll protect valuable electrical equipment from surges and spikes and has a 2m cable length.

Decorative extras

Now you've got through all the basic room essentials, you'll want to add some personality to your space. For a finishing touch, add some foliage in the form of this suri plant (Patch Plants, £3).

Add some life into your room with foliage

It’s easy to care for and nearly impossible to kill, just keep in a well-lit space and water if the soil feels dry.

Ambient lighting will also make it feel like home and is perfect for evening reading.

In our guide to the best bedside lamps, we loved this tanner copper and glass table lamp (Dunelm, £25).

This metallic style will add a modern feel to your room

Our reviewer said of it: "Featuring a curved faucet-like stem, the lamp takes up little space on the bedside table yet offers the perfect diffused light for reading. We loved the way the tinted glass shade colour matches the bright copper."

Or opt for fairy lights such as these clear bulb battery festoon lights (Not On The High Street, £26) to decorate your bed frame.

Brighten up your bed frame with these clear bulb fairy lights that add a retro feel

Not only do we love charming appeal of the retro bulbs, but the handy six hour timer also means they will turn themselves on everyday at the same time and then off for 18 hours after, saving energy. They'll need a pack of four AA batteries, but then simply hang them up and let them do the rest.

Spruce up plain walls with affordable art such as this colourful abstract no1 poster (Desenio, £14.95).

Online art store Desenio is home to hundreds of inexpensive prints that add the perfect finishing touch to any room

An easy way to add colour, just be careful to hang it up in a way that won't damage walls, as you won't want to get charged for it.

Hang up art, posters and photographs with these strips, and when you move out next summer, they won't leave any nail holes, cracked plaster or sticky residue.

We would recommend these trusty 3m picture and mirror hanging Command strips (Amazon, £4.26). They are a self-adhesive, stick to most surfaces, and once removed, leave no trace behind them. A real student must-have.


As your kitchen will be communal, we’d recommend opting for brightly coloured cutlery, crockery and plates so they’re instantly recognisable.

This morgonte plate/bowl set of 3 (Ikea, £8) is bright, simple and lightweight enough to cram in the car on moving day.

Make dinnertime a colourful affair with this crockery set (Ikea )

With a bowl for soups and side dishes, a main plate and deeper dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s an ideal set for one.

When it comes to cutlery, this John Lewis & Partners vero cutlery set (John Lewis & Partners, £14.99) is bright enough to find in the drawer and comes in a set of two, meaning you'll be well prepared.

Bright cutlery will make finding yours in the drawer a breeze

Whether you're a culinary newbie or a experienced cook, you'll need a set of saucepans to get you started.

In our guide to the best, our reviewer featured this affordable three-piece aluminium set (Argos, £19) as the perfect buy for students.

We love the retro feel of this affordable set of pans

"While they’re not going to set the world on fire with whizzy features or durability, they do their job well and the handles stay cool even when the pans get really hot," our tester said.

Just because you're a student doesn't have to mean you'll be living on a diet of baked beans and pot noodles. Bring a student-friendly cookbook to help you whip up easy, tasty meals on a budget.

In our guide to the best, one of our favourites was MOB Kitchen by Ben Lebus (Amazon, £6) which was born out of student Ben's frustration with his housemates’ lack of skill and interest in the kitchen.

Get your housemates together and cook up a feast with these recipes that are inexpensive and delicious

As a result, he's created mouth-watering dishes that feed four people for less than a tenner. Our tester made the Thai pork larb and beer-braised pork belly tacos on repeat and the weekend breakfast staples will cheer up any hungover household.

Each dish is exciting, fresh and affordable with no kitchen confidence required.

For batch cooking or storing leftovers, make sure you have a container to keep in the fridge or freezer.

From pizza to spag bol, this seven-piece rainbow storage container set (Hobbycraft, £5) will hold every food you can think of.

This set is an easy way to store leftover food

It’s also easily identifiable, in case you have sneaky housemates that eat your food.


It's likely that you'll be sharing a communal bathroom, which means space for toiletries will be limited. Make sure to pack a shower caddy for an easy way to transport your shampoos and shower gels.

This Wenko cocktail shower caddy (Victorian Plumbing, £6.95) can hook onto shower slide bars and bath taps, plus it will drain out water through the slots, so is quick drying for moving from room to room.

Use this portable shower caddy if you're sharing a bathroom space

If you’re lucky enough to have an en suite room, or just fancy treating your whole house to a fancy bathroom accessory, keep your feet cosy with a shower mat.

In our guide to the best, we loved this Priya cotton elephant bath mat (M&S, £19.50).

When this bath mat gets dirty, simply stick it in the washing machine (M&S)

It’s woven from recycled cotton and features an Indian elephant motif with its contrasting threads echoed in the pretty tassels.

Our reviewer said: “We loved its global aesthetic, not least for its ability to inspire us to dream of warmer climes."

Keep your toothbrush stored hygienically with this pastel holder

And last but not least, pick up this Wilko pink treasured tumbler (Wilko, £3) to keep your toothbrush out of the sink and add a pop of colour to your bathroom.

For more interiors inspiration, visit our Home & Garden section

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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