What to Pack When Heading to College

Figuring out what to pack when you head to school may seem more overwhelming than trying to get your entire high school career on one tiny admissions application. With a little planning and foresight, however, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it might seem at first.

First Thing to Remember: You’ll Buy Stuff When You Get There

You don’t have to pre-plan for your entire academic year when packing, especially if you’re on a really tight budget. You can buy pens, extra binders, and lots of other things as the year goes on. Additionally, if you aren’t sure if you need to bring a small desk lamp or if the school will already provide one for you, for example, just research it in advance. See if the school’s website says anything. Check out facebook and ask other students. Call the residence life office and ask what’s already in the room.

Keep in mind, too, that you are building a new life of sorts for yourself. Don’t try to duplicate your room at home so much as find things that will represent your time at school.

Lastly, this list doesn’t include all of the things that should go without explaining, like clothes, binders, notebooks, and a backpack. This list is meant more to let you know of things that you might forget to pack and that, if you bring them, just might make your college life a little easier.

The Don’t-Forget-‘Em Essentials

  • Quarters – possibly one of the highest-demand items on a college campus. Grab a roll or two before you go. (Tip: if you run out, ask a fellow student who works as a waiter/waitress.)
  • Detergent and fabric softener – if you buy a big box because it’s cheaper in bulk, make sure you have a way to carry down a little bit at a time. There’s no need to carry 25 pounds of detergent down three flights of stairs every time you need to wash your clothes.
  • Laundry basket, hamper, or bag – Given that space is usually at a premium for college students, this should double as a way to carry your clothes from your room to the washing machines.
  • Febreze – Speaking of that dirty laundry . . .
  • Shower caddy – You’ll most likely need to carry your shower items (soap, shampoo, conditioner, razor, etc.) from your room and back.
  • Shower shoes – The showers at school may not be as clean as the ones you’re used to. Make sure you have something to prevent catching (or stepping in) anything nasty.
  • Robe – Not everyone wants to walk from the shower to their room in only a towel.
  • First aid kit – Something simple will do to help cover up and heal little injuries here and there.
  • Sewing kit – This may seem like a lifesaver when you’re on your last pair of clean socks . . . and your toe pokes through them.
  • Small toolkit – These can be a little hard to find, but are worth the effort. A basic toolkit with a small hammer, screwdriver (with different kinds of tips), wrench, tape measure, and a few other essentials will come in very handy during your time at school.
  • Hangers – It’s no fun to arrive at school with tons of clothes that have to live on your bed or closet floor for the first few days.
  • Cup, bowl, plate, fork, knife, and spoon – One set should work for grabbing pizza late at night, sharing the 2-liter soda your RA bought during midterms week, and eating healthy snacks while studying between meals.
  • Can opener – There’s just no way to get that can of soup open without one, especially when it’s really late and you’re really hungry.
  • Small items for clean-up – Depending on what you prefer, this could be Clorox wipes, paper towels, a rag or two, or a few sponges. But that cup of soda is inevitably going to spill.
  • Keychain – While you can wait to get this until you arrive, make sure it’s on your list. Most students have a keychain that holds their keys and student ID; get a sturdy one that will be hard to lose.
  • Extra-long sheets – Check with your school before buying sheets. Most college residence halls have extra-long twin beds, which are a different size than standard twin beds. You’ll need a specific size of sheets to fit them.
  • Flash/jump/thumb drive – Perfect for printing at the library, saving your work when working with a group on someone else’s computer, and bringing to class for presentations.
  • Laptop lock – Make sure your laptop is as protected as possible, no matter how safe you feel.
  • Power strip with surge protection – Residence hall rooms are notorious for not having enough plugs. Make sure you can safely plug in what you bring.
  • Extension cords – With rooms being small enough already, the last thing you need is to have to move things around just to reach an outlet.
  • Printer paper – You just finished writing your essay, you’re tired, and you want to go to bed. Who wants to spend twenty minutes searching for printer paper?
  • Small fan – Most residence halls don’t have air conditioning and can get pretty hot during the summer. A tiny fan will do wonders for your room.
  • Umbrella – If you’re packing during a sunny day, this may totally slip your mind. But you’ll be grateful for it the first time it rains on campus.
  • Fridge and microwave – Essentials for most college students. Make sure, though, that you coordinate with your roommate before bringing either of these. Additionally, make sure that whatever you bring doesn’t exceed the limitations on what’s allowed in your hall. (You can find out more about size and electricity limits by contacting your campus residence life office.)

Examples from the Don’t-Bring-‘Em List

  • Candles – These are rarely allowed in residence halls, and even on-campus apartments, because of the fire hazard. Even if you aren’t going to light them, they still may not be allowed.
  • A fridge or microwave that exceeds the size and electricity limits for your room or apartment
  • Hot plate – These are also usually not permitted in on-campus housing.
  • Expensive equipment – You may think that bringing very high-quality stereo equipment may make you a popular student on your floor. That may be true, but doing so may also make you a target for theft.

If there are other things you’re thinking of bringing, it’s more important to have a rule for how to decide what to bring with you than it is to worry about what’s-right vs. what’s-wrong. Just use that smart brain of yours to make wise choices.

Lastly, make sure you know how to keep all your stuff safe once you arrive. Who wants to spend all that time packing just to have your things disappear?!