How Do I Pack for College?

US News and World Report

June 1, 2011

While it might not be a strict admissions topic, we have received a surprising number of questions from students asking what they need to bring to college or forever regret leaving at home. Our experts had fun thinking about their own students, and you might never have thought of some of the items they recommend! David S. in Fresno, Calif., asks:

Q: I leave for college in a few months but don’t know what to bring. What should every college student bring with them for academics, social, and dorm life? What does every student kick themselves for forgetting?

A: Leaving for college: packing less and giving more.
Steve Loflin, founder and CEO, National Society of Collegiate Scholars

It’s easy to get sentimental when you start packing for college. The best idea is to pack and then take half of what you have packed and give it to charity. Then pack a few things that you can share—and that will make living easier for you and your roommates. A hammer, pliers, extension cords, and a power strip will always come in handy. A night light is usually appreciated when your roommate is sneaking in late at night. Also, take some storage boxes for under the bed and some over-the-door hooks to hang towels and random clothes. You should also take a clothes hamper (not just a basket) to keep your dirty clothes contained and definitely take some air freshener—which everyone will appreciate once all the roommates are settled and really living in the space. Most importantly: pack your good attitude, flexibility, and an open mind, which will be important to your success and your overall experience.

A: Don’t let packing become an overwhelming task.
Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign

Some key things to remember: you’ll be moving into a small space with little storage and you can purchase necessities as you go. For larger items, like the microwave, refrigerator, and TV, talk to your roommate to see what you’ll each contribute. Or, maybe your university provides rentals. Don’t bring all your clothes at once; swap them with the seasons. You can get by without a computer, but it is convenient to have your own. One thing I would suggest bringing: a bike. It makes getting to class much quicker.

A: Don’t leave home without your academic toolbox.
Dr. Michele Hernandez, president and founder, HernandezCollegeConsulting.com and ApplicationBootCamp.com

While objects like lamps and music are important for dorm life, most of those dormitory items are available locally. Students should focus on the academic tools that helped them be successful students in high school. Bring your Webster’s dictionary, any reference books (thesaurus, AP prep books) that helped you get through difficult courses (online dictionaries aren’t as good), your specialty graphing calculator, index cards, a homework notebook, and a few of your cherished reads to keep you company. Before you leave home, buy a bulletin board and decorate it with your family pictures, messages and contact info from your friends, posters, and anything else that reminds you of home. Finally, pack a small health kit with things like Emergen-C to fight off colds, Tylenol, Advil, cough drops, and tissues—so when you do get sick, you have a mini infirmary already set up.

A: Feel at home away from home.
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise

  • Make your space yours: Dorm Decor offers 35 inspiring projects.
  • Small-space-friendly appliances: mini-fridge, microwave, and personal coffee maker.
  • Imperishable foods: cereal (eat breakfast in, opt for cheaper meal plans), popcorn, Ramen Noodles, and granola bars.
  • Basics: power strips, extra-long sheets, first aid and cleaning supplies, quarters and detergent for laundry, flip-flops, favorite brand toiletries and a shower caddy.
  • College town guides: Zagat for local restaurants; Not For Tourists for supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, etc., and neighborhood maps.
  • Socialize now: Join your college’s “Class of 2015″ Facebook group.
  • Stay connected with friends and family: Invest in a webcam and free Skype account.