Packing For College – What to Bring, What Not to Bring and How to Save Money


As a mother who has packed 3 girls off to college, I’ve learned a bit along the way and thought it might be helpful if I passed along some tips to help other parents avoid a few of the rookie mistakes we’ve made.

Whether your kid is the type who starts packing months before they leave (I had one of those) or one who waits until the night before, and then tries to pack in the dark during a blackout…

True story! One of my girls did this and went off to school with a lot of mismatched shoes.

… it’s easy to over buy and over pack. You can avoid a lot of headaches and wasted money by following a few guidelines:


  • Appliances – Before buying any of the big stuff: refrigerators, microwaves, or toaster ovens for example, check in with the school’s office of residential life or student housing to see if any of these items are prohibited or otherwise restricted. Microwaves and Toaster Ovens, and even certain hairdryers, sometimes have wattage or amperage limits to avoid stressing the dorm’s electrical system. If students are permitted to bring appliances, I suggest they check in with their roommate(s) so that they don’t all show up with similar items they might be better off sharing.
  • Printers – Many printers (laser, in particular) have high wattage requirements and some schools discourage bringing them. Many colleges now provide printers in common areas and libraries with either free or very low cost per page printing rates, so it’s good idea to check with your school. Digital submission of papers and assignments are increasingly common, which may further lessen the need for a personal printer.
  • Air Conditioners – may be allowed with a doctor’s note but at many campuses this varies from dorm to dorm, so know the name of your child’s specific housing assignment before contacting the school.
  • Rentals – Colleges or authorized campus organizations, often have attractive rental options for items like refrigerators, air conditioners, area rugs and even couches. This is often a good way to save money and avoid moving.
  • Alarm Clock/Radio Nope! Most kids use their cell phone or iPad as clock, alarm and music.
  • Extension Cords/Power Strips Yes! Think about getting an extra-long extension cord and a power strip because the nearest outlet may be on the other side of the room.

Storage and Storage Space

Many school websites provide photos, floor plans and video walk-throughs of the various dorm rooms on their campus. These can be quite helpful in determining exactly how much – or more likely, little – in-room storage space is available. This can vary from dorm to dorm, so knowing the name of the specific housing assignment is helpful before calling or going on line.

A couple of things to keep in mind when packing:

  • Traveling by Air – Hard luggage takes up storage space. We used soft, duffel bag style luggage, that can double as a laundry bag and be easily stored in dorm rooms.
  • Traveling by Car – Soft luggage (or even heavy-duty trash bags) fit more easily into a car’s nooks and crannies. Soft luggage can double as a laundry bag and stores easily and trash bags can be tossed out after the move.
  • A small suitcase or duffel is handy for weekends home or away.
  • Invariably there is far more stuff to take home at the end of the year than you started with.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
and other thoughts about Dorm Essentials

There are lots of lists out there outlining what to bring, but here are a few things you might not think of:

  • Mirrors – Many schools will indicate if rooms have mirrors or not. If not, and you plan to bring one, plan on buying an over-the-door hanger/hook since drilling holes is generally prohibited and adhesive strips probably won’t last. It’s also, a good idea to coordinate with roommates on this and share the mirror.
  • Mattress Pads – Mattress Pads are usually a worthwhile investment. Most dorm mattresses are flimsy foam pancakes encased in slippery vinyl.  A foam mattress topper can make a big difference in comfort.  Try to find one that doesn’t smell like rubber hose, or give it some time to ‘air out’ before you leave for school.
  • Desk Lamps – If desk lamps are not provided I recommend bringing one. It cozies up the room and avoids the harsh glare of overhead fluorescent lights. It’s imperative when rooms are shared and one student wants to work while roommates sleep.
  • Night Light – Get one of those little ones that plug into a wall outlet. Rooms can be quite dark and this helps avoid stumbling around during the night.
  • Toolkit – A little toolkit with small hammer and changeable head screwdriver will be quite useful. Apart from the hammer a good multi-purpose Swiss army style all in one knife/tool with can opener can provide most of what will be needed at one point or another. Scissors are useful, too and I usually try to remember a roll of scotch tape and duct tape.
  • Utensils – Bring a bowl, spoon, fork and microwavable mug but leave the good silver at home because you are unlikely to see it again.
  • First Aid Kit – At a minimum, pack Aspirin, Tylenol, Advil (or equivalent), Neosporin, and some band aids.  Good kits are readily available but usually are filled with gauze (what is that for anyway?) and don’t have enough Band aids for all the blisters from the new shoes or intramural sports teams.  I think it’s probably less expensive to just bring the things your kid really needs and skip the rest.

Good luck in getting the kids off to school!   If you have any great ideas or tips to share, please send them to us at and we’ll try to include them in our next column.

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