What should be on my college packing list?

What are the essentials for college? See more college pictures.
What are the essentials for college? See more college pictures.
Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

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.



Personal Items

This list is probably your longest, and your biggest challenge space-wise. Plan and prioritize to decide what to bring from basics, such as:

  • Clothes and clothing care items-- If space is a concern, think seasonal: Pack only what you'll need for fall, winter or spring. You'll want a bathrobe and flip-flops if you're sharing a shower. Extra socks and underwear will tide you over between laundry days. Detergent and a laundry basket or hamper are other basics. (If you'll be using a laundromat, start hoarding quarters now.) A sewing kit, compact travel iron and tabletop ironing board are useful when appearances count.
  • Kitchen items -- Choose lightweight, durable plates and bowls. Add items needed to fix and serve food, like pots, ladles, freezer- and microwave-safe containers, and, above all, a can opener. Keep in mind your own cooking skills and schedule, whether you're on a school meal plan, and what cooking facilities are available. Refrigerators and microwave ovens are usually allowed, but learn the size and power limits.
  • Toiletries -- It's time- and stress-saving to have things like shampoo and toilet paper on hand when you move in.
  • Bed sheets -- Dorm beds typically take extra-long sheets, which you can buy online or through the school.
  • Room decorations -- This is your chance to cheer yourself with reminders from home or create a new identity. (Just don't bring anything you don't want new roommates to see.) Plants add color and recycle the air. Calendars can be amusing, inspiring and practical.
  • Cleaning supplies -- A dorm needs at least furniture polish and rags for dusting. For a house or apartment, bring cleaners, buckets, brushes and mops.
  • Car care needs -- Keep emergency supplies, especially if you're living far from home: extra coolant and motor oil, flares, an aerosol tire sealant and inflator, nonperishable snacks, and bottled water. If needed, also pack a blanket and collapsible snow shovel.

Of course, chances are you'll be be studying in college, too. What are some important school-related things you should bring?


School and Study-related Items

The pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, index cards, highlighters, and other school supplies you've been buying for the last 12-plus years are just as necessary in college. To cope with situations particular to college, you might add:

  • A tape recorder for reviewing class lectures
  • A mini stapler (and staples) for those term papers finished at the library or lab on the way to class
  • Binders for all the papers you'll accumulate
  • Book covers to keep books clean for resale
  • Class-specific supplies, from sketch pads for art class to safety goggles for cabinet making

Higher education is an increasingly digital world. If you don't already have a computer or laptop, you may be required to buy one. Different majors or departments may require specific hardware and software. Check with the school's Office of Information Technology. Other computing needs may include:


  • A flash drive (memory stick), since you may be using several different computers
  • Wireless cards or adaptors to connect to the school's network
  • Extension cords, power strips, and surge protectors to share outlets with roommates
  • Security devices to protect your computer and data -- college campuses offer plenty of places to lose a laptop. They're also a favorite target of thieves. Cable locks, encryption software, and a GPS tracking device can save you money and anxiety.

Besides relieving stress, fun and games let you get to know your roommates and neighbors. At the same time, you should respect their need for privacy and quiet. Some of these items can fit the bill:

  • Group games -- card and board games are good choices. New players can learn the rules without fumbling with unfamiliar electronic gizmos.
  • TV and DVD player -- buy headphones to keep the sound from inconveniencing your roommate.
  • Hobbies -- if you're skilled at a sport, handicraft or musical instrument, by all means bring the needed equipment.

For lots more information on preparing for college, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • FamilyEducation.com. "Packing for College: Take It or Leave It." (Feb. 1, 2010)http://school.familyeducation.com/college/college-prep/56297.html
  • Heet, LaRita. "Protect your computer -- and identity -- on campus." Creditcards.com. Aug. 25, 2008. (Feb. 1, 2010)http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/protecting-against-identity-theft-on-campus-1282.php
  • University of Arizona. "Things to Bring to Your Residence Hall." (Feb. 1, 2010)
  • University of Indiana. "Wireless Internet Access." (Feb. 1, 2010)http://www.indstate.edu/oit1/userservices/wireless
  • University of California-San Francisco. "Police Report Several Laptops Stolen on Parnassus Campus." UCSF Today. Nov. 6, 2009. (Feb. 1, 2010)http://today.ucsf.edu/stories/police-report-several-laptops-stolen-on-parnassus-campus
  • Western Illinois University. "Residence Hall Room Furnishings." (Feb. 1, 2010)http://www.student.services.wiu.edu/uhds/prospective/furnishings.asp
  • Western Illinois University. "What Not to Bring." (Feb. 1, 2010)http://www.student.services.wiu.edu/uhds/prospective/moving.asp#bring