How to Pack for College

Christa Baxter
Researcher & Writer
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Published on January 04, 2022
3 min read

At a glance

Packing for college involves several steps if your parents aren’t hiring one of the best full-service moving companies. First, take only the essentials. Second, find something to put your stuff in. Third, plan on a minimal wardrobe and consider using some of your clothes as packing spaces. Lastly, be familiar with your school’s rules and any items it may provide (like refrigerators and microwaves).


Packing the essentials

Make a list of those items you need to take to college and those you want to take. Pare it down to as few “wants” as possible. Focus your packing list on the basics: bedding, towels, and toiletries. Before packing bedding, confirm the dorm’s bed size and bring two sets of bedding in case one gets dirty.

first day of college
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Bonus!

Download Move.org’s College Moving Checklist designed specifically for students. It even includes things like opening a bank account and meeting your roommates.

Remember that even if you forget something or you miss having something, you can have your parents mail it, you can buy a new one, or you can get it when you go home for break.


What to pack your stuff in

If using one of the inventory sheets we mentioned, make sure you mark the box number on the checklist to make unpacking easier when you are in your dorm. For example, if bedding is packed in box #1, write “box #1” next to “bedding” on your checklist.

Here are the basics

  • Pack in cardboard boxes that can be broken down and recycled or stored for future use. Boxes are also useful if you want to write the number on them for your inventory checklist.
  • As an alternative to boxes, use storage bins.
  • Pack similar items together to make it easier to unpack.
  • Reuse bins to organize miscellaneous items in your college room.
  • Pack your car efficiently by placing heavier items on bottom and build up. Once the larger, heavier items are loaded, place softer items, such as clothing, in open spaces.
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Packing your wardrobe

Choose a minimal wardrobe. You should plan for a tiny closet and only pack for the current season. Bring comfortable clothes and shoes for walking around campus, but pack at least one pair of dressy shoes and one outfit suitable for a job interview, networking event, or a career fair.

Pack a few basic pieces in a neutral color palette so all of your pieces go together. Also pack at least a few sets of workout clothes so you don't have to do laundry after every time you work out. In most cases—unless you’re moving far north—you can leave your winter clothing at home until you go home for winter break.

One time-saving tip when packing your clothes is to keep your clothes on their hangers. Then all you will need to do is hang them in your closet once you arrive at your dorm. To transport them, separate them into clothing types—skirts, shirts, etc.—and place them in garment bags or even garbage bags with a hole cut through the top so the hangers come through the top of the bag.

A space-saving tip (if you prefer to save space over time) is to use Space Bags to pack your clothes, towels, and bedding. These airtight, waterproof, and reusable bags reduce the space your things take up in your suitcase and trunk.

Purchase clothing storage accessories—shoe bags, racks, etc.—for your dorm room to maximize storage. Call the school ahead of moving time and verify whether the college dorm provides clothes hangers before purchasing or bringing your own. If you use Space Bags, you can store those items you don’t need immediately in them—they also protect your items from dirt, mildew, odors, and bugs.


Know what the school provides and prohibits

Call ahead and find out what items the school provides. The dorms may come equipped with a refrigerator and microwave, or not. Think through what electronics you could possibly need while living on campus—a game system for entertainment, a flash drive for class presentations, etc.

Also find out if there are any items you are prohibited from bringing. Drugs, alcohol, and weapons are the obvious exclusions, but your school may also prohibit items such as hot plates, space heaters, and extension cords.

Your school will prohibit very few items, but that's still not a reason to pack and bring everything you own or think you will need.

For example, there is no need to pack school supplies. You can buy them at a office supply store near campus. The same rule applies to anything else you can instead purchase once you are living on campus.

Only pack one season of clothing at a time if you plan to go home on breaks. You can switch out items while you are at home.

Verify with your future roommate what they plan to bring that you can share such as a refrigerator, TV, or microwave. No dorm needs multiple appliances or electronics if you can share one.

The end goal is for you to feel at home even though you are away from home without bringing too much unnecessary stuff. Use the checklists we've provided to help you narrow down what you absolutely need to take, and use our suggestions for packing and organizing.

Efficiently packing for college can alleviate some of the stress you may feel and help you “embrace the change” so you can take advantage of your new world.


Christa Baxter
Written by
Christa Baxter
Christa Baxter has worked as an editor for more than eight years and specialized in moving content for the last three. She leads the Move.org content team in producing whip-smart moving tips and recs. After relocating four times in the last calendar year, she’s got strong opinions about moving best practices. (Just don’t ever pull a Marie Kondo and suggest she whittle down her personal library.) She earned a BA and MA in English with a minor in editing.