Packing for college is not like packing for summer camp.
You’ll need more than a few t-shirts, shorts, and a change of underwear. You won’t, however, need to pack up everything you’ve ever owned and expect it to fit into your half of your new dorm room. The transition to college is a big one—it may be the first big move you’ve ever made, and it’s probably the first time you’ll be living away from home. Deciding what to pack can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to put off this very tangible marker of your transition out of childhood and into adulthood. We have been there, and we’ve put together a list to help you get started.
Since closet and dresser space is probably going to be pretty limited, keep the season in mind as you choose which clothes to bring to college. Remember that you’ll probably be home again for Thanksgiving, and could switch out some of your fall jackets for winter parkas then. Even if you don’t plan on going home before winter comes, you could pack up a box of winter things for your parents to send to you when the temperature starts to drop. Location is important, too—if you grew up in Florida, and are headed to Carleton, Syracuse, or Dartmouth, you are in for a surprise…don’t forget your mittens, ski hat, parka, long underwear, and warm socks. Conversely, if you’re a Vermonter heading to Florida State, go ahead and hand down your snow pants to your little brother. You can always borrow them back when you come home for the holidays.
Some other things to keep in mind as far as clothing is concerned:
- The number of pairs of underwear and socks that you bring will probably determine how often you do laundry. Bring a LOT of them.
- You will definitely want to look good sometimes, but you will find that pajama pants and sweatshirts play a much larger role in your day-to-day wardrobe than they ever have before. Bring lots of comfy things.
- Bring all the things you will need to keep your clothes clean and nice: hangers for your closet, a laundry bag, detergent, stain remover, dryer sheets, an iron and small ironing board, a sewing kit with safety pins in it (they come in handy when you’re making a toga out of a bedsheet), and one of those Tide-to-Go stain remover pens for emergencies.
- Bring flip flops for the shower. Seriously.
Bath and Toiletries
You won’t be able to spread your things out in a shared dorm bathroom, so bring the things you need and something to carry them back and forth from the bathroom in.
- Bathroom caddy
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and anything else—retainer?—that you use regularly
- Hairbrush, comb, your hair products of choice, and styling tools (blowdryer, curling/straightening irons, bobby pins, hair elastics, etc.)
- Body wash, shaving gel/cream, razors, deodorant, and nail scissors
- Facewash, moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup
- Two or three bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths
- Bathrobe (you don’t want to have to get fully dressed just to go down the hall to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and while you could just risk it in your skivvies, we strongly suggest a robe.)
Obviously, you’ll want to bring any medications you take, along with a prescription for a refill when you run out (or a plan to have your doctor call in a refill). It’s also good to know ahead of time what to do if you miss a dose. There are a few over-the-counter things you might want to have on hand as well:
- Pain reliever/anti-inflammatory (Ibuprofen, Tylenol—whatever you like)
- Cold/allergy medicine/decongestants (you can always purchase this later, but you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible cold and nothing on hand)
- Visine (whether you think so or not, you may find yourself needing this)
- Band-aids and antibiotic cream
- Contact lens solution and case (if you wear contacts)
Since your bed will also probably serve as living room and study space, you’ll want it to be comfortable, functional, and nice to look at. Don’t buy the first cheapo off-to-college-sheet-and-comforter set that you see—they can be scratchy. Bring the following:
- Two sets of soft sheets and pillowcases (we’ll leave thread count up to you, but make sure that you’re buying the right size—many dorm beds have extra-long mattresses).
- A duvet with a washable cover
- A mattress pad
- A mattress protector (Other people slept on that mattress before you. You don’t know them. A barrier is not a bad idea.)
- A few throw pillows for when your bed is doing double-duty as your couch.
- A reliable alarm clock
- Earplugs and a sleep mask are optional, but can come in handy if your roommate unfortunately turns out to be a loud night-owl.
Your under-bed space will probably be your best bet for storage in a small room, so plan ahead. Buy:
- Bed raisers (blocks that go under each leg of the bed, and give you extra storage space)
- Under-bed storage boxes
- Storage for on top of your dresser (jewelry boxes, stackable boxes—whatever suits your needs)
You’ll probably be eating most of your meals in dining halls, but it’s nice to have some things in your room, too.
- Mini-fridge (you may be able to rent one through the school)
- Hotplate (if it’s allowed by the school—they can be a fire risk)
- A few bowls, spoons, forks, knives, and cups, and a sponge and detergent to wash them with
- Paper towels (they’ll come in handy)
- A water filter (like a Brita)
You can buy the actual food when you get there, but here are some classics, and some new ideas:
- Top Ramen (Your father probably ate it at college, and maybe his father before him. It’s a tradition. It’s also kind of gross.)
- Cereal and milk
- Fruit (apples last a long time)
- Nuts (almonds, if we’re being healthy about it)
- Mac and Cheese
- Peanut butter (good on apples, good on bread, good straight out of the jar!)
- Protein bars (they last forever, so as long as you eat them before you graduate, you’re probably ok)
Your room is your new home, so don’t forget to bring things to make it feel that way. Posters, photos, wall-hangings, rugs, a fan, mirrors, white boards…go all out. You may also enjoy bringing the followings things, for entertainment both in and outside of your room:
- TV/DVD player (unless you plan to watch both of your computer)
- Sound system you can plug your iPod into
- Gaming system (Gamers beware—this is a major time suck. Don’t let it eat you alive.)
- Digital camera and photo paper
- A vacuum cleaner, and some cleaning supplies (We know that doesn’t sound super fun. But you won’t want to have people over if your room is disgusting.)
- Baseball glove
- Hiking boots
- Camping chair for reading on the quad
- Water bottle
The most important thing you’ll want to have for your study space is a computer, preferably a laptop. Your school library will have computers, but it’s very hard to do without one of your own (preferably a sturdy one, with a good carrying case). A printer is a great thing to have in your room for smaller print jobs and emergency paper-due-this-morning situations, but your school will probably have a good way for you to print stuff out, when you need to. Optional but useful computer accessories:
- Extra power cord
- Extra phone charger
- Thumb drive/flash drive
- Ethernet cable and possibly a wireless router (if your school doesn’t have wireless internet)
- Printer cable, paper, and ink (if you’re bringing a printer)
- Compact speakers
- A lock to lock your computer to your desk
You’ll be getting lots of books and pieces of paper, so it’s good to have some plan for how you’re going to keep track of them. Bookends help you make a bookcase out of any shelf. A file box with hanging folders, one per class, is not a bad option, and a folder for each class to go on your bookshelf when it’s not in use is also helpful. Other things for your desk/study space:
- A desk lamp
- Pen and pencil holder
- Pens and pencils
- Paper clips
- A stapler and staples
- Staple remover
- Three-hole punch
- Sticky notes for flagging things you’re reading and for leaving passive-aggressive notes for your roommate (just kidding about the passive-aggressive part…though sticky notes do work well for that.)
- Sharpies (these just seem to come in handy, like duct tape)
- Power strips/extension cords/surge protector
- Batteries for everything battery-powered that you’re bringing
There are also a few important cards you’ll need, and documents that you should remember to bring, and stow safely away in your desk somewhere:
- Your driver’s license or state ID
- Your health insurance card
- Your social security card (you will rarely need this, and you should keep it locked up somewhere, but some states require it when you apply for a license, and some jobs might need to see it before they hire you.)
- Health records
Last of all, remember that your desk is also going to serve as your dining room table, and your entertainment center. Do yourself a big favor, and get a rubber keyboard cover. They’re cheap…much cheaper than replacing your computer when a drink gets spilled on it…which it will.
So, this was a loooong list. It may feel like you’re packing for the apocalypse, but don’t worry. If you forget something, your parents will probably be happy to send it to you (if you ask nicely), and they might even use it as an excuse to visit you. So, depending on whether or not that’s something you want, pack with care!