What should be on my college packing list?

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Moving from the family home to student housing, whether it's a college dormitory, an apartment, or a rented house, is part of the learning experience of higher education. It's a lesson in decision making, resourcefulness and creativity. And if you're trying to pack 18-plus years of life into a twelve-foot-square dorm room, it can be a big headache.

What should you take? What stays home? What do you need to buy? To answer those questions, answer these questions first:

  • What's provided? Even the tiniest dorm room includes basic furnishings, usually a bed, desk and chair, and dresser. Other items, like a microfridge (a combination microwave oven/refrigerator-freezer), might be available for a fee. You can sometimes check out cooking equipment from the residence hall front desk. The school's office of student housing can tell you.
  • If you'll be sharing off-campus housing, agree on what "community property," such as kitchen appliances, each housemate can bring. Also consider a swap-and-share arrangement: For example, your roommate can use your computer if you can ride his bike to morning classes.
  • How much space is available? You may have seen a dorm room during a campus visit. However, don't rely on memory alone to decide whether your bookcase fits in the corner near the window. Instead, get a floor plan from the student housing office. If it doesn't include the dimensions of the room and the standard furnishings, ask and write them down. The information may also be available on the school's Web site. If you're living off campus, measure rooms when looking at rental property. Having space for the things you really want may be worth paying a higher rent for a bigger place.
  • How will you transport your stuff? The simplest and cheapest transportation is Mom or Dad's car and the ever-popular friend with a pick-up truck. If this isn't practical, you might rent a small van or trailer. Make sure you understand all of the terms of the agreement: For example, what charges apply for going over the mileage limit? What kind of insurance is provided?
  • How far is school from your home? If it's just across town, you can leave less-used things at home and retrieve them as needed. Moving cross-country, on the other hand, might mean a take-with-or-do-without decision.

With those guidelines in mind, take a look at some useful, if not essential, items for your list on the next page.