How to Pack for College

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So-ooo, you have a child going to college. Congratulations! Now it’s time to pack your baby and his or her necessary items up. Packing is always a little overwhelming and even more when your baby is leaving the nest. No worries. Here is everything you need to know about how to pack for college from a mom that has sent her two babies much too far away from home for college.

collage of woman in front of building with "welcome freshmen" sign, and stacked boxes.

I’ve packed two of my babies’ belongings for college. Both of my babies proved that they received the travel and adventure gene from me by choosing colleges 10+ hours away from home. Moving them that far was not an easy matter. It took planning, preparation and packing know-how. These packing for college tips were invaluable to our ten successful moves to and from college

How to Pack for College

Packing the Necessities

 The first item of business is to decide what must go with you and what is not a necessity. Remember that college dorms are usually closer to the size of a walk-in-closet than to your current bedroom. Loading up on all those shoes, games or books may not be the best use of your space.

What is deemed a necessity does vary from college to college and person to person, so instead of giving you a list of must-have items, we giving you a method to determine your own unique must-haves.

  • Make a list of everything you want to bring.
  • Review the list and identify everything that you use every day.
  • If you use the object on a daily basis at home, you should pack it.
  • If you use the item less than once per week, seriously consider whether you should take it with you (to your ridiculously tiny dorm space).
  • You’re not going to college in the wilderness. Even the most remote college will have stores available on and around campus. And, of course, there is trusty Amazon available.  You’ll be able to buy anything at college if you find it is something that you truly cannot live without.

To help you evaluate what is a necessity for you, create lists of items by categories:

Pro Tip: It’s important to realize that you may not be located on the first floor.

  • Make sure items will fit on a small elevator.
  • Be prepared to carry everything you take a long distance and up several flights of stairs. Often there are 20 minute or longer waits for elevators on move-in day. Oh, and dorm elevators are notoriously unpredictable. Yes, it may even break down on move-in day. 

Plan and Start Packing Early

Do yourself a favor and allow ample time to plan, shop and pack. Moving is stressful enough and sending your baby away to college is very emotional and stressful. Reduce the total stress load by giving yourself plenty of time to plan and pack. Starting at least a week or more out will give you time to organize and remember anything you might have forgotten.

The other major reason to allow plenty of time for planning and packing before moving to college is to get in contact with both the dorm and your future roommate.

  • Find out what amenities are available.
  • Is there is a shared refrigerator available?
  • What is the bathroom situation. Will you have a bathroom in your suite or will it be located down the hall? This is important because it will change the amount of space you have for toiletries and whether you need a shower caddy. Check out my 5 tips for the best shower caddy in college.
  • It’s important to coordinate appliances, electronics and extra furniture with your roommate. What will he or she be bringing. To allow for more space in your dorm room, it makes sense to to share appliances and other items when possible.

ProTip: Obtaining a physical map of the building prior to packing is often what professional office movers do and it works for college students, too.

  • You’ll know where the elevator and stairs are located in the dorm.
  • You’ll know how far down the hall your room is from the stairs and elevator.
  • You will know where the laundry room is and how far it is from your dorm room.
  • You may be able to identify if there is a public, shared refrigerator and how far it is from your room. Who wants to go down three floors just to get their water? Better to bring that refrigerator.

Organize for College Packing

Organize your items by the groups you created earlier:

stacked white boxes with orange labels of contents.

If you pack by categories, your unpacking much easier . You’ll be able to prioritize what to unpack first. What you need help setting up before mom or dad leaves. Packing by categories also ensures that your potato chips don’t make your brand new bed sheets smell like snack food.

ProTip: Make sure that when you pack liquids you:

  • Take off the lid of the bottle. Put plastic wrap or a ziploc bag over the opening of the bottle. Put the cap back on screwing it over the plastic wrap. This provides a DIY double seal.
  • Or place liquids in a seal top bag.

Get the Right Equipment for College Move-In

If you want to walk into college and look like a pro (and probably make more friends than anyone else) make sure to bring a portable, folding hand truck.  Not only will it save you a lot of hassle, back pain, sweat and stress, but it will save you a lot of time that you can use getting to know your environment and new roommates.

The other equipment that you should definitely get are good moving boxes. You can buy plastic bins, but remember that you aren’t going to have a lot of space to put them in your new dorm. Cardboard boxes can be recycled and therefore provide more space in your room. The best way to get them for free is to ask on social medial or by going to retail stores, supermarkets and office supplies stores.  My favorite packing, moving and storing shoes hack all starts with a free box. 

We have found bankers boxes  to be the best boxes for college move-in day. They:

  • Have handles.
  • Are stackable.
  • Are small enough that anyone can carry them fully loaded.
  • Can be unfolded and stored under your bed.
  • Can be stacked and used as storage and a nightstand in your dorm room.

You may want to use several plastic bins to move your bedding. The plastic bins will better protect and keep your bedding clean during the chaos of college move-in day. Be sure to find bins that have deep, comfortable handles. Trust me, those handles make a big difference when you’re carrying a heavy bin seemingly miles from the car to your dorm room.

Make sure that you use only clean and dry boxes. Check reused boxes well for dampness, mold, dust and pest infestation. 

ProTip: Invest in good packing tape. This ensures that you won’t have any boxes bust open. The last thing you need on moving day is to have everyone watch as the contents of your life spill out on the street.

boxes, bags and items packed in an open car trunk.

Moms and Dads should check out my dorm move-in day tips for parents.

How to Pack Electronics and Office Supplies

It may be easier to purchase some office supplies and electronics when you arrive on campus. However if you already have what you want and need to pack it here are some tips from pro office movers:

  • Leave everything in its original packing if possible. The original packing is usually the safest. If  you don’t have space to store the original packing box, send it home with mom or dad, if you can.
  • If you don’t have the original packaging, consider purchasing a shipping kit from your local post office for any laptops or tablets. These are the very best packing material for laptops and will be handy if you ever need to send it out for repair. The only downside is that they can be rather bulky for storage. 
  • Keep electronics organized. Pack cords and remotes with the device. Color code items and parts that plugs in and also take pictures of it before taking it apart.
  • Label all cords and accessories so you know what they go to when you unpack. This also helps reduce cord confusion (and arguments) with your new roommate.
  • Be wary of transporting electronics in extreme temperatures. Be sure that if you are traveling by car during extreme temperatures, that you take steps to ensure that these boxes are not exposed to extreme heat.

ProTip: If you are packing an office lamp, be sure to take the bulb out of the lamp and pack it in a separate box. This will not only spare you from having to buy an extra light bulb, but also prevent shattered glass slivers.

How to Pack Appliances for College Move-In

If you are bringing larger appliances to college, take the time to prepare and pack them well.

Packing a Microwave

  • Clean the interior well.
    • Place a cup of water in it and microwave for about 40 seconds.
    • This will create steam that will help loosen any splatters or spills.
    • When it is done,  wipe down the inside well with a cloth.
  • Remove the glass tray and wash it well.
  • Collect all loose parts, wrap them in newspaper or bubble wrap and place them in a box. Label the box so you don’t lose them!
  • Secure the cord to the back of the microwave with packing tape.
  • If you have the original packaging, that would be ideal, but if not just find a box that will fit the microwave snugly.
  • Line the box with crumpled newspaper, packing peanuts or packing paper.
  • Bubble wrap the microwave and secure it with packing tape
  • Place the microwave in the box and fill any remaining space with crumpled newspaper or other packing material.

Packing a Refrigerator

  • Empty and defrost the fridge. Be prepared that water may leak out under the fridge
  • Tape the cord to the back with packing tape.
  • If you’re in a rush, you can defrost the freezer by heating it with a hair dryer or placing bowls with very hot water in the freezer.
  • Clean and dry the interior well.
  • Place crumpled newspapers in the fridge and freezer to help absorb smells.
  • Vacuum the back of the fridge, under the fridge and the coils.
  • Secure the doors shut with bungee cords.

ProTip: Be sure to pack the fridge upright to prevent oil from leaking.

Take Advantage of The College’s Offerings

Colleges know the ins and outs of dorm move-in on their campus better than anyone and are there to help you along the way. Check the college website and Facebook group and be sure to ask questions.

How to Make More Space in Your Dorm Room

It’s no secret that college dorm rooms are tiny. but those ridiculously small rooms are part of the college adventure and they are what you make of them.

Make more space in your dorm room.

ProTip: If you choose to use storage bins, consider using moving boxes to transport your items and then purchase storage bins once you arrive. This allows you to measure the exact space that you will have under the bed or in your room before your purchase storage bins.

Knowing how to pack for college makes that big day so much less stressful and less physically exhausting. The key to success is starting with plenty of time in advance and planning what you want to take. Just take one step at a time and you will find college move-in day to be a memorable experience.

imposing ivy covered building with title text overlay reading Top College Tips from a parent educator and mom who has sent two children to college.

Check out my Tops Tips for College Success.

Have I forgotten any tips on how to pack for college?

See all my college 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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  1. So many great tips here. The hand truck is super helpful, even if there isn’t an elevator. There can be a long distance between your car and the building if you are there at a busy time. If you can empty the care into a pile and then hand truck it to the building, it saves your back. I have to say, schools are getting better at managing traffic flow. I was so happy that we could rent the micro-fridge in both dorms to save us having to schlep that.

    1. I was fortunate, too, Seana, and able to rent the fridge-microwave combo for both of my girls. Thank goodness since I was the only one there to help load them into their dorm!

  2. I didn’t realize your kids went to college so far away! I’m sure that’s hard. Well, one of my daughter’s friends goes to college in Japan! You really thought of everything to help someone move their child into the dorm. I never even thought about elevators being so busy on moving day! What an awesome post and great resource.

  3. Thanks so much for the post. First time mom of a college student that is moving
    5-6 hours away. It’s gonna be an experience for us and her. Wish me luck!

    1. I so-ooo understand, Felicia. I’ve sent two of my babies 10+ hours away and it still makes me shake my head. For 18 years, I checked out friends houses, who was driving and where they were going. Suddenly, I drive them ten hours away, lock them in a room with people they don’t know and then leave. Doesn’t make sense to this momma. The good news is that they have successfully survived (and so have I) a combined 6 years and that includes a study abroad semester! My thoughts are with you, mom! Your child will be just fine and so will you! 🙂

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