The Ultimate Survival Guide to Packing for College

guide packing for college

Leaving home and heading off to college is exciting. It’s also overwhelming and a bit terrifying. When you’ve never lived on your own before, knowing what you need to bring with you isn’t always easy. Since those “broke college student” stereotypes tend to ring true, running to the store and buying the things you need may not be possible. And if you are going to school on the other side of the country, forget about having Mom or Dad bring things to you when you need them.

Don’t panic.

Packing for college is intimidating, but it isn’t impossible. Take a deep breath, grab a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage, and keep scrolling to discover our ultimate guide to packing for college.

BEFORE YOU START PACKING

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Before you start filling your bags and loading down your car, take some time to figure out what you will actually need. Check your college’s rules to find out about any restricted items, and make sure you know what your living quarters are like. If your dorm doesn’t have any sort of kitchen, for example, you don’t need to worry about packing up things like mixing bowls and small appliances.

Get in touch with your roommate(s) to determine who is bringing what. If you are sharing a single room, there is no reason for both of you to bring a TV, microwave, vacuum cleaner, etc. Coming up with a solid plan ensures that you won’t end up with multiples of the same thing which can, of course, save you a lot of frustration, room, and money.

student moving into college dormitory

Make sure you have the right supplies for packing. Move-in day is usually pretty hectic, so it is smart to use the right moving supplies to make the process as simple as possible. Boxes and large storage bins work well. If you use clear bins, you will easily be able to see what each one contains without opening them. When using regular cardboard boxes, be sure to use ones that are sturdy and won’t fall apart while trying to carry them into your dorm or apartment.

Write your name on every box, container, bag, etc. You may want to consider adding your room number, too. This helps ensure that your stuff will find its way back to you if it gets lost in the chaos.

START WITH THE ESSENTIALS

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When you are ready to start packing, think about the items you use every single day, and start there. Make sure you have personal care items like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, razors, toothbrush, and toothpaste, etc. Bring enough to ensure that you won’t run out anytime soon, but don’t go crazy on stockpiling. You probably won’t have a lot of storage space at school, and you don’t want to waste the limited space you do have by filling it with 17 bottles of body wash. Don’t forget your glasses, contact lenses, and solution, etc.

 

Pack prescription medications and documentation to ensure that you can transfer them to a pharmacy that is close to your school. Alternatively, switch all your prescriptions over to mail order, and update the mailing address to your address at school.

Make sure you have your driver’s license, health insurance card, passport, student ID (if it has already been issued to you), copies of your birth certificate and social security card, and any other important documents you can think of. If you are bringing your car with you, make sure you have the registration and insurance card.

red school bag with supplies

In addition to packing your phone and computer, make sure you have any necessary accessories like cables, a charger, a mouse, and headphones. While a printer may not seem like an absolute necessity since you will have access to one in the library and many professors require students to submit assignments online, it never hurts to have your own. Something like a quality all-in-one printer and HP ink allows you to print, scan, and copy from the comfort of your dorm. And when you have your own, you never need to worry about the library not being open.

If you do decide to bring your own printer—which we highly recommend—make sure you pack extra printer ink cartridges. Trust us, few things are worse than running out of ink right before the deadline on an important project!

Figure out what clothing you will need between now and the next time you return home and pack it. Since you’ll likely be dealing with limited space, creating a capsule wardrobe is a great way to ensure that you have everything you need without requiring you to pack a tiny closet to bursting.

Bring shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, etc. that you can mix and match to create a multitude of different looks, and pack enough socks and underwear to get you through about two to three weeks to avoid needing to do laundry constantly. Take into account things like professional networking events, outdoor activities, fraternity/sorority events, etc., and pack accordingly. Don’t forget about outerwear!

STOCK UP ON OFFICE SUPPLIES

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The campus bookstore should have everything you need in terms of office supplies, but they will probably cost a lot more. Save yourself some money by purchasing essentials like pens, pencils, dry erase markers, sticky notes, tape, etc. before you head to college. You may also want to invest in a dry erase board and/or bulletin board, push pins, and a stapler and staples. Don’t forget about scissors, a ruler, highlighters, index cards, notebooks, and binders.

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If you have access to class syllabuses prior to the first day of class, check them to see if there are any specific supplies listed that you may need. Invest in a high-quality backpack, and use it to transport all of your office supplies to campus.

When you’re shopping for a backpack, opt for function over fashion. Heavy backpacks can cause serious back injuries, and they’re a major cause of back and neck pain for students of all ages. While you may be stuck hauling around a lot of weight on a daily basis, choosing the right backpack can help mitigate the damage.

Look for one with wide, well-padded shoulder straps, and make sure they are adjusted properly so that the pack rests flat against your back. A padded back is another nice feature that helps provide a degree of protection from sharp or hard objects inside the bag.

LOAD UP ON LINENS

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Okay, maybe you don’t need to “load up,” but you do need to make sure you have enough linens to ensure that you are not running out constantly. Start with your bedding. College is exhausting, and you need a comfortable place to unwind and rest, so it is important to bring the right bedding with you. The bed in your college dorm has been used by a lot of people over the years, so bringing a hygienic mattress cover is never a bad idea.

Since these beds often are not particularly comfortable, invest in a decent mattress topper or pad. Buy one that is decently thick, and it will make just about any mattress feel amazing.

laundry filled with white linens

Next, you will need sheets, a comforter or blanket, and pillows. Pack two sets of sheets to ensure that you will have a spare set if the set that is on your bed needs to be changed. You can get away with bringing just one comforter, but it may be smart to use a duvet with a replaceable cover rather than a regular comforter. If you go this route, you will be able to remove and launder the cover as needed without needing to wash the entire comforter. Pack a couple extra throw blankets, too, for chilly nights.

Bring the pillows that are on your bed now, or purchase some nice new ones. Whatever you prefer, just make sure that the ones you bring with you are comfortable and that you have enough pillowcases for them. You may want to pick up a couple of throw pillows, too. They are mostly decorative, but they will serve as functional pillows if you need extras in a pinch.

Don’t forget about bathroom linens. At the very least, you will need towels and washcloths. Three or four towels and six washcloths should be plenty. Purchase ones that are designed to dry quickly so you can use them a few times before washing them. If your room has its own bathroom, you will also want to pack a shower curtain and liner and bathmat. If you will be using a community bathroom, a nice bathrobe is a must-have for those trips from your room to the showers and back.

BOX UP LAUNDRY AND CLEANING SUPPLIES

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Start with an ergonomic laundry basket or hamper. Keep in mind that your dorm may be a considerable distance from the laundry room and pick something that is easy to carry. Make sure you have laundry soap, stain remover, and fabric softener. It’s also a good idea to pack a small sewing kit and safety pins to repair damaged garments. Bring a lint roller as well.

laundry in cardboard box

The exact cleaning supplies you’ll need will vary depending on what your dorm is like. If you don’t have your own bathroom, for example, you probably won’t need to worry about bringing your own bathroom cleaning spray. In general, though, you should bring an all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, fabric refresher spray, air freshener, dish soap, sponges, and a duster. Paper towels, plastic storage baggies, and dusters are good, too.

MISCELLANEOUS MUST-HAVES

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Since space is limited in most dorms, we recommend bringing bed risers and an under-the-bed storage container. A small tool kit is smart, too, and you should always have a well-stocked first-aid kit.

In addition to your prescription medications, bring pain medicines like Tylenol or Advil and cold medicine. Vitamins and supplements and immune boosters can help keep you from getting the illnesses that often spread through college dorms. It is also a good idea to have some indigestion medicine, menstrual pain reliever, and allergy medicine on hand.

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Pack extra batteries for your mouse and any other battery-operated devices. We also recommend a decent surge protector to plug your computer and other important electronics into. Make sure you have a case for your laptop, a spare charger for your phone, and a good set of headphones or earbuds.

College dorms aren’t known for being quiet, so having some earplugs could mean the difference between a sleepless night and much-needed rest. A small fan or white noise machine will also help drown out chaos in the corridor and allow you to sleep.

Make sure you have something to do in your downtime. Bring a few books and movies along with a deck of cards and a couple of board or card games. You may also want to bring a gaming system or supplies for one of your favorite hobbies. Having something to do when you aren’t busy with schoolwork helps lower stress and can make you feel more comfortable in your new environment.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Heading off to college is scary, and trying to pack everything you need can feel overwhelming. The most important step in making sure you pack the right stuff, though, is simply taking a close look at what you use on a daily basis. Make sure you have all of those items with you, and you will be fine.

table with stationery unpacked from box

Before you pack, check with your school to find out what is included in each dorm room and to learn about any prohibited items. Most dorms, for example, ban students from bringing candles, as they pose a serious fire hazard. Your school may also have a specific list of items that they recommend, which can be extremely helpful.

Don’t forget to talk to your roommate(s) to avoid bringing duplicate items, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you have any concerns. Starting college and living on your own for the first time is a huge life change, and a bit of anxiety is natural. By following the tips in this guide, however, you can survive the packing process and thrive at college!