10 Tips to Prepare for College

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Sending your “baby” off to college can be stressful and exhausting both physically and emotionally. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. Preparation and planning is the key. I’ve sent two of my babies off to college now a total of four times. These 10 tips to prepare for college allow me to focus on my babies and spending quality time with them rather than being distracted by the chaos of shopping, packing and organizing for college life and move-in day. Making life easier and focusing on my babies is always what’s most important to me. 

arch in stone college building

I’m a planner and organizer. I have moved more than 20 times myself and worked in logistics and transportation in the military. This all combines to create my drive to organize our college shopping, packing and moving actions. Preparing for college helps save money, time and stress. These 10 tips to plan and prepare for college gives you the time and energy to focus on your baby’s needs and on spending quality time with your baby during those precious weeks leading up to move-in day and throughout the entire year. 

Tips to Prepare for College

1. Focus on Your Student  It’s easy to be distracted by all that needs to be done to send your baby off to college. Take a deep breath and keep reminding yourself to focus on your student, her needs and her wants. Treasure the time with your student. Planning and preparation will give you more time and energy to spend with and actually enjoy with your student. Remember that your student should be your focus during this process. 

red and blue checklist

2. Create a Checklist –  Create a checklist so you know exactly what needs to be done and can plan to accomplish the necessary tasks. Rather than create one huge  all-encompassing checklist, I create many smaller checklists broken out into more specific categories. I use my Basic College Supply List and Back to College Shopping List as a starting point and add the College Technology Shopping List, the 7 Must Haves for College, my basic Office Supplies for College Students list, my DIY College First Aid Kit shopping list and the College Personal Care Shopping List. You can download your own free copies of all of my checklists and tailor them to your student’s individual needs. 

3. Create a Timeline –  Take 10 to 15 minutes to plan your college preparation timeline. Create your timeline together with your student. Start from move-in day and work backwards to make sure you schedule enough time for your shopping, organizing and packing preparations. Identify the date that each item must be accomplished by. Schedule as many tasks as you can earlier rather than later  and schedule extra just-in-case-things-don’t-go-as-planned time into your timeline.  Update your timeline as you gain more information and plans change. 

4. Consider Options for Textbooks –  Have your student gather his required textbook list as early as possible. There are many options for obtaining text books. Student can buy or rent textbooks at the start of classes and sell back textbooks at the end of the semester. Students can also choose to rent or buy either new or used books. In deciding whether to rent or purchase and whether you prefer new or used books, consider your student’s personal study habits and personal preferences. Also consider whether it is a textbook that your student will want to keep for reference. We’ve found that renting textbooks for freshman required courses and purchasing  selected textbooks for upper level courses works for us. 

image of prime student web page

5. Send What You Can Directly to the Dorm –  Study your shopping list and look for items you can order and have shipped directly to your student’s dorm. This will save time and make packing and move-in day easier. Ordering dorm and study items with Amazon Prime Student and your student will be able to have items shipped directly to her dorm room with free two-day shipping. Check out the Amazon Prime Student College Checklist to see what you can ship directly to her dorm and let someone else do the heavy lifting for you. 

6. Write Letters to Surprise Your Student –  Take time now before move-in day to write cards and letters to your student. Hide these cards around your student’s dorm room to surprise him in the first few weeks living on his own. I set up a special table at my daughters’ graduation parties to collect additional cards from family and friends to send to my daughters the first few months of college.

7. Pack with Room Organization in Mind –  Don’t just throw items into boxes. Take the time to pack your student’s items so that you can quickly organize his dorm room as you unpack. Packing items with dorm room organization in mind, makes it much easier to set up the dorm room on move-in day. We’ve used this simple packing, moving and storing shoes tip for both of my daughters’s shoes to make it easy to organize shoes in the new dorm room with no effort. We fold shirts and sweaters using these folding and filing clothes tips so that it’s simple to Pack Clothes for Moving to College

clear storage tub next to 2 stacked white boxes

8. Pack Items in Boxes and Bags with Handles –  Plan your packing containers to make it easy to move items from your car (across miles of campus and up thousands of steps) and into the dorm room. Choose boxes and bags with handles to make it easier to move items on move-in day. Pack boxes light enough that they’re easy for anyone to move. Avoid packing extremely heavy boxes.  

roll of green tape and black marker, with "Jess 321" written multiple times on tape

9. Label All Items –  Many colleges have student volunteers that will carry your items from the car to the dorm room. Take the time to label every box, bag and item so that everything makes it to your room and isn’t mistakenly delivered to the wrong dorm room. Choose a distinctive color of washing or masking tape to make it easy to quickly identify your items (as an enthusiastic volunteer takes off in the wrong direction).  Clearly write your student’s name and room number on each label. Consider adding the dorm name if the drop off zone is near multiple dorms. 

10. Prepare a College Care Package Now – Receiving a notice that you have a package for pick up at the mail room is a college highlight. Plan your first college care package now so that it’s ready for you to mail as soon as you return home from dropping your student off at college. I enjoy making thematic college care packages for my daughters to show them in a concrete way how much we love and miss them. Making a college care package can be easy and fun to do. Check out my college care package ideas for inspiration in creating your own care packages.  

arched wood door of stone buidling

I delivered baby number one at college for her third year and baby number two for her first year of college just this week. The moves went smoothly and we enjoyed the process and time together immensely. I’ll be using these 10 Tips to Prepare for College for the remaining 8 college move-in days I have ahead of me with my three babies. Do you have any favorite Tips to Prepare for College?

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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shoes packed into boxes
navy blue towels and white wash cloths folded and stacked
white document boxes stacked and labeled with orange labels
large stone building with turret

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  1. We found Amazon Prime to be a very worthwhile investment for the college student. Often, especially in the early years, they don’t have cars and are limited in what they can buy. This allows them another option for supplies, and then also the free movies and TV. They do get you in with the 6 month free option, but I am a fan of Amazon Prime regardless, so I think it is well worth the investment.

    1. Everyone I talk appreciates how easy Amazon Prime Student makes college life. Glad to hear you agree, too, Seana.

  2. What great tips! They are all so helpful, like the checklist, boxes and bags with handles and pack with organization in mind, not just throw things in a box (that would be me….). I love that you leave the notes around the room! As a first time student I remember how lonely it was those first few weeks when I was getting my bearings and that would have been a wonderful support system. I will pass this post along to those I know who are going off to school.

  3. This is a great list. After sending 3 of my children to college the only item I think that should take more research is 5- Shipping to your dorm. Find out first where it actually arrives, it could be a mail center across campus. We drove our first student and it would have been easier to bring items with us because we were able to park right out in front of the building. Our cross-country-student made ordering and shipping an absolute must.

    1. Thanks for sharing that tip, Ana. It’s a good idea to consider the distance from the mail room to your student’s dorm room.

  4. These are all good tips. I wish I would have know about Amazon Prime Student. I think I could have saved a lot of money. I love the organization and packing tips you shared.

  5. Our fifth child will be heading off to college in two more weeks! Yikes! I love you idea of hiding the cards in their room. I have never thought of doing that. Love it!

  6. Thanks for the tip that labeling is important to remember when preparing for college. My daughter took a year off after graduating from high school due to the pandemic but would most likely start with college next year. I hope that we can find a good school a lot sooner so that preparations can be done right away.

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