College Move-In Day – Everything You Need to Know

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Originally published July 1, 2019 and updated March 24, 2023.

As a mom who has moved 3 of my children to college, I know how daunting college move-in day can be. As a military mom and professional organizer, I look at moving as a challenge to figure out and solve. These 40+ tried-and-true tips will make college move-in day a breeze (or as close to easy as it can be) for college students and parents.

I’ve moved them into different colleges and different styles of college dorms, more than ten hours away from home, and I’ve done it by myself seven times. I have extensive dorm move-in day experience on my resume now.

girl smiling in front of packed car with sign behind saying "welcome freshman", and packed trunk.

Who knows whether it’s my 25 moves with the military, my experience as an Air Force Transportation Officer (loading cargo and passengers on aircraft) or my professional organizing experience, but I enjoy the moving challenge of college move-in day and finding the best way to do it.

College Move-In Day


Join the Facebook Group for your College or year

This is a great way to start meeting other new students and making new friends. You can often find a roommate in these groups, which is particularly helpful in your freshman year and for first-year students.

Confirm Housing assignment

Confirm the incoming student’s room assignment and roommate assignments if you haven’t heard by the middle of July.

Most school’s have you check the housing portal for this information.

Check to see if residential students are assigned a specific move-in date and time or if you choose your own. You may also be an early arrival requests process if needed.

Review the college’s recommended packing list. It’s also a good idea to review the prohibited items list. You may be surprised by items that are not allowed by the residence life staff.

Pack Smaller Lighter Boxes or Tubs

You might think having fewer boxes means fewer trips from the car to the dorm or apartment, but trust me, you’d rather have more lighter boxes than fewer heavier boxes. Lighter boxes give you flexibility.

For more details on packing for the move, check out my Dorm Move-In Day Tips.

clear storage bin packed with clothing next to 2 stacked white boxes with handles.

Identify Every Item

Some colleges have a drop-off spot with squads of (overly) helpful older students to unload your items and carry them to your room. They mean well, but sometimes your box or item will be misplaced or confused with another student’s belongings. You don’t want the stress of trying to find your one box among the tens of thousands of boxes and thousands of stressed out families. Use removable brightly colored tape to identify every single item. Write key identifying information:

  • Student’s Name
  • Dorm Name
  • Room Number
  • Cell Phone

I share 70+ tips specific to dorm move-in day.

car trunk filled with boxes, bags and bins for moving.

pack Your Car for Easy Unloading

Unloading is a chaotic time. Often the university will have staff hurrying you along to unload your car and then move out of the unloading zone. Take time to consider how you pack your car so that it will be easier to unload in the midst of move-in day chaos.

Arrival and Check-in

Many college provided detailed instructions for what to expect on move-in day. Familiarize yourself with the school’s moving process rules and with the college map, including the nearest parking lot to the residential building.

There may be different procedures for early arrivals, so check for important information and differences.

Plan Your Arrival Time

Consider your college’s move-in day schedule and the student body of the school.

  • Do you have an assigned move-in time?
  • Is there parking space in front of the dorms or will you have to park somewhere else?
  • Will most people be driving from their home the day before or driving on move-in day?

If you are able to move in anytime you’d like, it’s best to move in at the very beginning of the scheduled time. You should even show up 30 to 45 minutes early so that you can start moving in if they’ll allow you. If there are two move-in days.

It also works well to move in at the end of the first move-in day. The rush of eager families moving in the first day is gone and the second day rush hasn’t started yet. If you are assigned a move-in time slot, ask the residential life office if they can give you any advice.

Consider Parking and Traffic Patterns

Take a few minutes to check out maps of the campus and the town or city surrounding the campus. There will be hundreds and even thousands of cars filled of nervous people who don’t know where they’re going. Mapping out your driving route and your preferred parking will make the start of the move-in process less stressful.

Check-in Procedures

Check the college website and any emails or communications for the check-in procedures for:

  • Obtaining student ID card
  • Obtaining dorm keys or apartment keys
  • Signing up for a laundry cart to move your belongings
  • Attending any required events

Be sure to have any required documentation for check-in procedures easily accessible.

Be Prepared to Wait

 No matter what time you arrive for move-in day, plan on waiting. Waiting:

  • for traffic onto the campus
  • for traffic onto the road for the residence hall
  • for traffic into the loading zone area or parking area
  • for a parking space to open up
  • in long lines to sign in
  • in line for luggage/laundry carts
  • in line for the elevator up
  • in line for the elevator down
  • in line in the hallways as too many luggage carts pile up
  • in the room trying to fit too many roommates’ stuff in too small of a space
  • for your student to decide where to place items

Bring your best stress-free attitude. Take a deep breath and know to depths of your core that this will be an incredibly stressful experience. Getting impatient, upset or frustrated is not going to help. You don’t want your last hours with your child or your parents to be marred by your stress. 

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Bring Helpful equipment with You

Depending on your dorm room or apartment and what items you’re bringing, you’ll need different equipment and tools. Plan ahead so that you have what you need. Don’t add to the stress of the day with a gotta-find-a-store-and-find-parking-and-fight-all-the-other-stressed-out-parents-to buy-a-(fill in the blank)-to-fight-your-way-back-to-the-dorm-to-fight-for-parking-to-wait-for-the-elevator-to-give-up-and-take-too-many-stairs experience.

Collapsible hand truck (from Amazon)- You’ll end up toting boxes (even those light-weight ones you packed) much farther than you expected. And possibly up way more stairs than you ever expected.

silver and black moving hand truck.
  • Bungee Cords – These will secure your items to the hand truck and in the luggage cart. 
  • Toolkit – Be sure to pack key tools that you may need. 
  • Rubber Mallet – If the height of the dorm bed can be adjusted, a rubber mallet makes the job so-oooo much easier (ask me how I know). 
  • Tape Measure – You’ll need this in case you have to make an emergency run to purchase a shelf or other item for the room. 
  • Command Hooks – You’ll find 101 ways to use Command Hooks in the dorm room. Purchase several variety packs in different sizes. You’ll always be able to use any extras next year. It’s so much easier to bring them with you than to try to run out to a store on dorm move-in day. 
  • Disinfecting Clorox Wipes
  • Paper Towels

Bring Cold Drinks – College move-in day is in August or September. It’s hot. You’re doing lots of physical work. You’re stressed out. And now you’re thirsty. You don’t want the hassle of fighting hundreds (maybe thousands) of other families to find somewhere to get a cold drink. Pack a collapsible cooler with water and other refreshing drinks. 

Plan for Food – No matter what time of day you move in, someone in your group will end up hungry. Just like with drinks, you don’t want the hassle of finding and fighting hundreds of other people to eat. And you won’t want to waste the time in the middle of moving and setting up the room. Bring food with you. Plan to enjoy a meal together later once the move-in chaos is over. 

Unpacking and Settling In

Talk About unpacking preferences

Discuss preferences for help unpacking before you leave home. Despite the fact that their mother is a professional organizer, my children preferred to unpack and put items away on their own.

There will be some items that they will need help with, such as moving furniture or unpacking boxes that will be returning home at the end of the day. They may also need help hanging up decorations and photos on the wall. In the end, follow your student’s lead on the amount of help they want.

three female roommates moving into new home.

Roommate communication

It’s helpful if the roommates communicate about the set up of the room prior to arrival. To consider:

  • Shared furniture purchases
  • Furniture layout
  • Any unique living requirements
  • Refrigerator rental
  • Dividing and sharing closet space
  • Coordinating bedspreads and décor

While move-in day is busy and chaotic, it’s also critical that the student takes time to greet roommates, other students and the resident advisor (RA). Discuss the balance between being friendly and also accomplishing all the pressing and critical unpacking and move-in tasks.

After unpacking is done

Be prepared that there may be a mandatory floor meeting scheduled by the RA for the afternoon or evening. Your student doesn’t want to miss the meeting, so plan for that possibility.

Consider taking time to locate the nearest dining hall, the bookstore and any other pertinent buildings. Take a campus map to help the student begin to feel comfortable and get oriented. It’s a good way to reduce the student’s anxiety about a new place and is a more relaxing time to spend together before parents leave. Consider looking for:

  • Gym
  • Office of the Registrar
  • International Students Office
  • Transfer students office
  • Student Center
  • Buildings for the first day of classes
  • Health clinic
  • Other dining halls
  • Other freshman

Helpful Tips for Parents on College Move-In Day

Remember This Is Your Student’s Experience – Make gentle suggestions to your student but follow their lead.

  • Try not to bring additional family members. More people will had to the stress and will make the already small new dorm room even smaller and difficult to set up.
  • Let them lead the way.
  • Have them sign in.
  • Allow them to talk to staff members and ask questions.
  • Let them walk into their room first.
  • Let them make decisions on where things go in their room. This will be their new home and they should start their college experience by setting up.
    • You may suggest, for example, that the room would function better one way, but if your student doesn’t want that then don’t push it.
  • Don’t make a scene or embarrass your child. You will be leaving in a few hours, but your student will remain there for 4 years and cares about making a good (not embarrassing) first impression. 

Be Polite to Other Parents (no matter how selfish or clueless they may be)  No matter how frustrating other parents are, be polite. Say it with me, “I will be polite to everyone (no matter how annoying, arrogant, clueless or just downright ******* they are).” Again, you will be departing in a couple of hours and your student will remain there. Alone. Don’t leave your student to be known as the one with “those parents.” Let the student of the annoying parents be the one with “those parents.”

Plan How to Say Good-bye – Talk with your student before you leave home or during the drive there. Look at the schedule and discuss when would be the best time for you to depart. Discuss whether you’ll say good-bye in the room or at the car. Consider having a code phrase that your student can tell you when it’s time for you to go. Discuss and plan and then be prepared to be flexible. If a group of hallmates stop by and invite your student to head out to lunch or an activity, be ready to change your goodbye plan. This time is about your student. 

Know When It’s Time to Go – Your student may hesitate to tell you it’s time for you to go or use your code phrase. She won’t want to hurt your feelings. She’ll be ready for you to go so she can start her new adventure and at the same time want you to stay just a bit longer. You’ve known your child for 18 years, you know when it is time for you to go (even if you’re not ready to leave). It will never be easy to say good-bye and leave your baby all alone in a strange place with bunch of strangers. Dragging it out won’t make it any easier. Trust me, I know. 

stack of envelopes on white table.

Leave A Note or Send a Text Later – While your student is eager to start their new adventure, they’ll miss you. It’s important to give them concrete reminders that you love them, support them, are proud of them and there for them. Leaving a card with a loving, supportive note for them to find after you leave is a nice surprise that shows how much you care. A quick, supportive (not smothering) text is a next best option. 

Look Forward to Parents’ Weekend, Thanksgiving or ChristmasIt will be tough to drive away and leave your baby in a strange place without you. I had to sit in the car and fight the overwhelming (and doggone irrational) urge to just live in my car there a block from her dorm for the next four months until I could bring her home for Christmas. Remind yourself that Parents’ Weekend or Thanksgiving or Christmas (for those of you with a really large geographic separation) is not that far away. Start making plans for ways to make that time with your baby special for them. Start planning fun and creative college care packages you can send.

More Tips for College Life

Top Tips for College Success – Everything you need to know to make the most of student life, the academic year and fostering lifelong learning.

courtyard in front of large stone college buidling

Tips for the Best College Shower Caddy – 60+ tips for the best shower caddy in college and top product suggestions to make dorm life easier whatever the bathroom situation.

Shower caddy filled with supplies, stack of wash cloths and text overlay.

College Care Package Ideas – 47 creative college care package ideas to make college life even more fun.

collage of 4 colorful care packages.

Resources and Support

See all my tips, ideas, printables and care packages in the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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One Comment

  1. While moving my daughter into the dorm apartment for her internship this summer, it was hard to remember that it’s her experience. I tried to help, but quickly found out, it was better to let her tell me what she needed help with, than for me to just start helping.

    I also should’ve been more polite to the other interns. My daughter is only 20, and wouldn’t drink anyways, but the other girls are older and had a lot of alcohol. I reminded them of the rules they signed about not having alcohol around someone under 21. My daughter asked me to not talk the rest of the time because I had made it uncomfortable for her around her roommates. I should’ve just let her handle the situation on her own.

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