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How to Pack for College

Five Methods:ClothingBath and Bed HelpersAppliances and room suppliesStudy Nook EssentialsMiscellaneous Preparation Tips

Leaving for college for the first time is exciting. But knowing what to pack can be daunting. Rather than letting it get you down, keep it simple and focused on the basics to ensure that only what you really need ends up in your freshman dorm room.

Method 1

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    Pack your clothing. Dorm rooms typically have limited space, and usually you cannot bring as much as you could fit in your childhood bedroom. Try to limit your clothing to three weeks worth of clothes suited to the season. Also, it makes moving out at the end of term much more manageable.
    • Focus on ways to make one piece of clothing work many ways. For instance, jeans that goes with nearly everything in your wardrobe is more desirable than a great pair of pants that really only goes with one shirt.
    • Travel packing advice is often a good source of information about maximizing a limited wardrobe.
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    Recommended college clothing. You are working with limited space, but also want to have a wardrobe ready for the freshman mixer, your internship, going to class, and so on. Here are some recommendations.
    • A tailored jacket (both for men and for women) will always be useful as it can serve both casual and dressed-up outfits. It looks polished, layers for warmth, and is more mature than a hoodie.
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    • At a minimum, pack four base items (pants, capris, skirts, shorts), six tops that match at least three of the base items, three warm layers (a sweater, cardigan, blazer, thermal top, etc.), 1 dress (for women) and four pairs of shoes (three casual, one professional).
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    • Use accessories to change the look of your clothes. Think wraps, scarves, ties, bags, belts, jewelry, etc. In this area women are more likely to have greater choices but both men and women can alter the look of an outfit with accessories.
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    • Have a winter coat, but if possible, hold off on bulky winter items.Depending where you go to school, be prepared for unseasonably cold weather. But sweaters, thick sweatshirts, and the like take a lot of room. Many students chose to bring late summer items home during winter break and switch them for cold weather items.
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    Pack at least one versatile formal outfit. Although ideally this is one outfit, it may be two. Be sure one is more conservative (such as for a job interview) and the other outfit is for evening occasions (such as a date). You never know when you will have to dress up for a religious event with a new friend, go to a job or internship interview, or eat out at a fancy restaurant.
    • For women, consider a sheath dress, which can be "dressed down" for a date and with a nice blazer be ready for an interview. Another good combination is a skirt and formal top, which can be mixed and matched within your wardrobe.
    • Men should have one tailored pair of pants, one dress shirt and tie. All of these items also go well with other wardrobe pieces.
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    Take along sports clothing. Always include a swimsuit if you have one, whether or not you swim regularly. And take along whatever sports clothing you use regularly, whether athletic gear or team sports.
    • You may also want to consider bringing some sports equipment. Many colleges have great sporting facilities to use and intramural teams to play on. A tennis racket, football, or cleats may come in handy. Then again, it might be easier to wait until you're there and buy or hire equipment as you determine what sport you'll participate in.
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    Take helpful clothing care accessories. Investigating what will make the most of wardrobe space is never wasted time. Look for things like hanging shoe racks and pants hangers which accommodate five pairs of pants at a time. Vacuum bags can be a great way to store sweaters and other bulky winter items until needed later. And speaking of clothes hangers, make sure that the dorm room has some or be prepared to either take your own or purchase them when you arrive.
  6. 6
    Put together the laundry essentials. Keeping clothing clean might not cross your mind when packing but it's one of the realities of college dormitory life! Here are some suggestions which you can pack or purchase on arrival:
    • Laundry detergent or the more portable detergent tablets. If you prefer eco-friendly or sensitive skin types of detergent, purchase these and label them clearly so that they don't get used by other people if you accidentally leave them behind.
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    • Bleach, if you use it.
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    • Dryer sheets. You do not likely have to pack them, as these are available at any grocery store.Again, if you use them. It's also possible to make your own.
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    • A few rolls of quarters for the washing and drying machines. Quarters are in high demand on college campuses.
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    • (Collapsible) laundry basket, laundry bag or pop-up hamper. If you decide to bring along a laundry bag, decide whether or not a mesh bag will be sturdy enough for the amount of laundry you use. Although strong enough for average loads of laundry, a large amount of clothing could rip the mesh. A thick cloth one could be a better alternative.
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    • A dryer rack. Save money and energy air-drying clothing when possible.
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Method 2
Bath and Bed Helpers

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    Bring your bathroom items because there won't be any waiting for you. Moreover, few colleges have personal bathrooms; on the whole, expect to share and be prepared to make it more bearable by having the right gear. As well as a shower tote, the following items are considered must-haves:
    • Bathrobe. You will likely have to walk a distance to the shower, often in areas like hallways. Bathrobes provide modesty, especially in co-ed dorms. Try to pick easy-to-pack robes in fabrics like flannel rather than bulky, fluffy robes in terrycloth.
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    • Bath towels; bring at least three bath towels so you can wash one while you use the other, leaving an extra just-in-case or as a swim towel
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    • A washcloth or shower pouf.
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    • Shower shoes; rubber flip-flops work well; the floors of community showers can be really filthy, and walking barefoot on one is a certain way to get a fungal infection.
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    • Suction hooks to hang your gear and clothes from––or, get portable, folding over-the-door hooks
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    • Toothbrush case and teeth cleaning items like dental floss, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.
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    • Soap case; keep your soap in a case; liquid shower gel is a nice alternative to bar soap, and it's easier to keep intact
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    • Bar or shower soap, shampoo, conditioner, and any other shower items you use
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    • Other toiletries you consider essential, such as sanitary ware, aftershave, deodorant, etc.
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    Bring two sets of bedding. This is just in case one gets dirty. If you like to read on your bed, a bolster or U-shaped cushion might be an added help to keep you propped up without causing back or neck strain.

Method 3
Appliances and room supplies

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    Discuss with your roommate who will bring what essentials and electronics. No dorm needs more than one microwave, for example. After discussion, make sure you know if you should bring the microwave, hotpot, stereo, TV and mini-fridge you'll both want.
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    Check with your school about what types of appliances are allowed. Some have restrictions about wattage or types of mini fridges.
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    Consider bringing a portable Iron. Portable irons are smaller than full-sized irons, use less energy, and function just as well. Black & Decker X10 or X30 Travel Irons are among the best. Also consider bringing a mini ironing board, although you can either borrow someone else's or rig up alternatives such as a flat board on your bed.
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    Bring a small hair dryer. Another useful appliance is the hair dryer and there are some excellent small, portable brands that work as well as the larger versions.
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    Along with the food appliances, you'll need a few basics like microwave-proof bowls, plates and mugs, utensils and sharp knife/cutting board, appliance-wiping gear, dish detergent, etc. If you're going to be cleaning dishes outside of your dorm room, include a carrying bucket or similar. Other items possibly needed include:
    • An immersion heater
    • Water filtration pitcher
    • A garbage pail and trash bags
    • Plastic baggies––nice to package small odds and ends and foodstuffs in.
    • An all-purpose cleaner––there will undoubtedly be a lot to clean up at school, and an all-purpose cleaner is best because it can tackle multiple jobs.
  6. 6
    Prepare other room supplies that will make life easier. The items below are usually needed most but thought of least, and perhaps sometimes, not at all. They will make life easier, so consider them now:
    • Extension cords, cord organizer, cord cover and extra-long TV cable
    • Tools, such as a hammer and nails, pair of pliers, and both kinds of screwdrivers and screws; these should be the basic set of tools you bring
    • Scissors; you'll always need a pair
    • First aid kit; have the essentials available just in case. Include things like Band-Aids, ace-bandages, bandage tape, antibiotic ointment, and aspirin, etc.
    • A sewing kit; pre-made kits work well, but if you can't find one make sure to have a few colors of thread (black, white, other), a few needles in various sizes, and a small scissors
    • Hand vacuum/dust buster or small vacuum cleaner.
    • A fan; a window fan is a great idea for warmer months and will circulate the air best
    • A flashlight and a nightlight for reading books with––choose a clip-on or bookmark style night light for the least interruption to your roommate
    • Air freshener is a possibility; however, you should check and find out whether your roommate has asthma or any perfume or air freshener allergies––if so, use natural sources, such as making your own reed diffuser
    • Alarm clock, portable––look for the ones that include temperature and humidity readings; travel size is always much more convenient than large ones (and some even double up as a flashlight)
    • A hand truck and bungee cords
    • A college steamer trunk / footlocker / lock box. Lock boxes are essential since you no longer can keep everyone out of your room and from looking at and "borrowing" your things.
  7. 7
    Take along things that you feel will enhance how your room looks but still remain functional to both you and your roommate. A few functional luxuries can make life even more enjoyable. Here are some suggestions:
    • Area rug
    • Tree style floor lamp
    • Poster putty, mounting tape (or squares), and/or poster tape
    • Adhesive hooks
    • Full-length mirror
    • Plastic storage containers.

Method 4
Study Nook Essentials

  1. 1
    Bring things practical things to equip your dorm study area with. Some of these items might be better if they're purchased on arrival––check online for places that are close to campus where you could buy things from with ease. These items include:
    • A desk lamp. Look for one that can clip onto any surface, as this makes it practical for moving around as needed, such as having over your bed at night as well.
    • A bulletin board
    • A dry-erase marker board
    • A trash can (although check to see whether anything is supplied in-room)
    • An ergonomic desk chair seat pad or your own office chair. Pack a comfortable office chair, and send the standard chair home with your parents to bring back at the end of the year. Or, just bring a seat pad to make your chair a bit cushier
    • Take a computer. Frequent trips to the library are a hassle. While a desktop works fine, on the whole the portability of a laptop recommends itself most. You can take a self-assembled stand to raise the laptop to a good level on the desk. Also get a flash drive/memory stick for storage (essential for back-up). If you're buying a new computer, don't pay to have programs installed––most universities will give you Microsoft Office for free. Even if they don't, you can download Open Office, which is very similar, for free at
  2. 2
    Don't be afraid to take too many things at the beginning if your parents are helping you move in. If you're provided with a desk lamp/trash can/etc., it's easier to send the one you brought back home with your parents than to go without.

Method 5
Miscellaneous Preparation Tips

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    Find out how you will be getting around campus. If you're bringing a car, find out where to park and how much it will cost. You may just change your mind, depending on what you find out. If you won't be bringing a car, find out if you need another way to get around campus besides walking. Some campuses are too big to get from class to class without having a car, bike, skateboard, longboard, scooter, etc., although most probably provide some form of shuttle transport which you can avail yourself of.
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    Work out your calling arrangements, and decide what options are cheapest. The following items depend on your phone plans, but you may want:
    • A cordless phone
    • A cell phone
    • Phone cards
    • Answering machine
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    Be rain aware. Have an umbrella and a good raincoat for those days when you need walk in the rain and keep your textbooks dry. If you're in an area with high rainfall, consider waterproof pants as well if you have to walk everywhere. Books can also be kept safe inside a watertight backpack.
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    Bring a digital camera. A lot of great memories will be made at college, and ten years from now you will be glad you brought a camera! If you don't have your own camera, and would rather not fork over the cash for one right now, get a few disposable cameras. They work just as well, although with the cost of getting films processed on top, you're probably likely to find a good digital camera on sale for the same end price.
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    Bring a pocket map of the city you are moving to. If you have a smartphone, iPad, eReader or similar portable electronic device though, simply download maps and carry them around with you at all times.


  • Most dorms have extra long beds. Twin sheets won't fit. Check with your school before buying sheets.
  • Find out if you have bunk beds or singles.
  • Make sure the carpet or rug you bring is machine-washable, in case you or your roommate spill something on it.
  • You might want to bring a lint roller for your clothes.
  • Find out if your roommate is has asthma or is allergic to anything, like air freshener, perfume, or plastic products, and do not bring these things if he or she is. There are plenty of natural alternatives, like opening the window regularly and keeping your socks washed.
  • Bring any study related supplies in easy access containers, such as plastic holders or bags. This makes moving out easier too, especially if clearly labeled.
  • Visit local thrift stores on your arrival. They might have things you need for next-to-nothing prices.
  • Be willing to compromise with your roommate on decoration.
  • If you're planning on bringing any large furniture (such as a couch or futon), make sure there will be space. Also, talk to your roommate to make sure they're fine with it. If you're in the market, in spring there are often seniors trying to sell their used furniture.
  • Find out if there is a move-in team, or if you're responsible for moving yourself in.
  • Talk to someone (perhaps on Facebook, once you've got your e-mail address) who has lived in the dorm you will live in and ask for pointers.
  • Check microwave restrictions. Many colleges and universities regulate microwaves to keep power consumption in residence halls to a minimum. If your school does allow microwaves, check to see if there are any wattage restrictions before you purchase one. Almost all residence halls have a lounge where a microwave will be provided for you. If you don't mind a walk to the lounge to make your popcorn you can save a few bucks (and some room) on a microwave. Have a good dressing gown ready for those late-night snack vigils.
  • Check refrigerator restrictions. Almost all schools allow refrigerators, but many have strict regulations associated with allowable size and power consumption. Refrigerators are very convenient to have in your room and most students bring one to school. Before purchasing a refrigerator make sure to check with your school's Housing Office, or in your new student package to see what is permitted. A great alternative to a refrigerator is a MicroFridge.
  • Bring some strong guys or gals to help you.
  • Check other appliance restrictions, such as hot pot restrictions. Anything with an element that gets hot can be considered a fire hazard and may not be allowed at your school. Hot pots are convenient for heating and/or cooking food, but make sure they are legal before bringing one. If hot pots are illegal, bring a regular pot and use the stove in the lounge to heat your food in.
  • Avoid bringing large furniture if you can help it. You don't know how big the dorm is and how much other furniture there will be. Especially if you have a roommate like most people do.


  • Plan for the unexpected. For instance, it is always a good idea to have a jacket and other cool-weather clothing, even if you intend to going back home for fall break. This avoids a possibly expensive trip to the store for a sudden cool spell!

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