A Practical Packing List of Things to Bring to College

Things To Bring To College

A Practical Packing List of Things to Bring to College

Published December 21, 2019

Things To Bring To College

Well, summer is in full swing, and most high school graduates have been vegging out for weeks. (Notice I didn’t say “Seniors,” because they abandoned that status the second the tassels moved over.)

You know what I’m talking about… sleeping in til noon, raiding your pantry and inhaling everything in the fridge, binging on Netflix, and hanging with their friends at the beach, movies, or mall.

But all that will soon come to a screeching halt, and you won’t have to Febreeze the couch every day! When is that day you ask? Move-In Day.

So if your precious child is moving off to college, CONGRATULATIONS!

You’ve likely finished final tours, maybe a summer session, and endured overnight orientation. Hopefully, they have met their roommate and received valuable preparation materials.

What’s highly unlikely is that they’ve read the supplied “What to Bring” list. Why? Because school is out, and no one wants to read that big packet of useful information the college provided to help prepare them for this next adventure.

Before You Pack For College

Don’t Procrastinate. Plan Early.

Ohh no!… They are likely going to wait until a few days before move-in to even think about what they want to pack.

And trust me: the longer they wait, the more they will overpack. Why? Because their minds will be racing to not forget anything, so they’ll pack everything.

Or they don’t care and will take the bare minimum. We can all hope the latter applies to us as most classes start around Labor Day.

Maybe you’ve already been thinking ahead and started shopping. But don’t go crazy and overthink what they need to take, because then you’ll need to rent a trailer hitch.

My son is off to college this fall, and I actually started preparing last Christmas when the door busters and online retailers had crazy deals plus free shipping.

Our list is complete and ready to be loaded. So I thought I’d share some recommended places where you can get practical items for the best prices.

5 Belowsupplies, décor, fun stuff
Amazon   almost everything 
Bed, Bath Beyond quality bedding, linens  [USE COUPONS]
Boscov’s  almost everything
Christmas Tree Shop furniture, décor, storage, snacks, misc. [USE COUPONS]
Dollar Stores  supplies, storage, cleaning, toiletries, misc.
Kohls     bedding, clothes, shoes  [USE COUPONS]         
Marshalls bedding, clothes, shoes, décor
Ollie’s Bargain Outletsupplies, storage, cleaning, snacks, toiletries, misc.
Target   almost everything
Thrift Stores décor, storage, furniture, clothes
Walmartalmost everything

[Check our list of dorm room essentials, curated by ‘been there, done that’ parents from our Paying For College 101 group.]

Everything Doesn’t Need To Be New

It’s perfectly ok to not want to buy everything new. After all, the big bill is due soon, and you can save a lot by shopping in your own home.

Really, let them take the stuff they already own. (That way you can get new stuff when you repurpose their old room.) This could save you hundreds of dollars.

Traditionally, new students bring way too much to their dorm rooms. Remember: they aren’t moving out for good (yet), just a few semesters at a time.

So, depending on how far away the campus is, there’s no need to box up their entire childhood. Just pack the basics for now, and bring up change of season stuff on family weekend.

It’s so easy to overpack and overspend, but let me encourage you that there’s plenty you want to leave behind. Remember: the rooms are generally smaller than what they may be accustomed to.

What Do I Need to Bring College Checklist

What To Pack In

Suitcases or trunks aren’t the most practical. It’s best to use rolling duffle bags, backpack-style recyclable totes, sack-style durable bags, and Rubbermaid-type storage totes. These can all be easily stored inside one another until it’s time to move again.

Here is my essential, categorical list to pack practically:


Keep clothes to a minimum because wardrobe, closet, and dresser storage is limited.

  • favorite tops & bottoms, consider seasonality
  • undergarments & accessories
  • at least one dressy/professional outfit
  • assorted occasion shoes

Bed & Bath

School-sponsored value packs tend to not be the best quality. Invest in durable linens.

  • XL twin sheets, blanket, or comforter
  • mattress pad
  • pillows
  • towels, wash cloths
  • shower caddy


Keep this chore simple! There’s no need to measure or carry heavy bottles. Use bags to sort whites and darks.

  • 2-Carrying bags (instead of basket)
  • detergent pods, fabric sheets
  • mini steamer (instead of iron/board)
  • Downy wrinkle releaser


To maximize space, use every inch available: under beds, over doors, and use closet organizers. Anything with compartment areas is great.

  • hangers
  • stackable storage crates, bins, or shelving
  • hanging organizers for the closet: clothes, shoes, accessories
  • hanging organizer for the bathroom with clear pockets: grooming supplies, hygiene, first aid, etc.


Personally, I don’t recommend bringing a TV or video games freshman year. It’s a distraction and temptation to waste valuable time. Plus, most can use their other devices for entertainment.

  • cell phone, charger, case (use as alarm clock)
  • laptop & charger
  • power strip with surge protector
  • extension cords, long cables


Customize your space to personal taste and maybe a reminder of home.

  • pictures/posters
  • desk lamp
  • rug (if not carpeted)


  • air freshener
  • backpack
  • cleaning supplies/wipes
  • Command strips
  • fan (if no air conditioning)
  • first aid kit
  • journal or agenda (or use calendar app)
  • school supplies: notebooks, folders, pens, pencils, paperclips, tape, scissors, etc.
  • trash can & bags
  • umbrella

Personal Items

A good tip to avoid losing precious IDs is to save a photos of passports, social security, or insurance cards in your phone. For safety reasons, have them keep their phone locked.

  • drivers license
  • school ID
  • lanyard and keys
  • ATM card, cash (maybe credit card)

Things To Consider

These items may be necessary, depending on your student’s need. Confirm with their roommate and consider sharing expense/ usage.

  • coffeemaker
  • mini fridge
  • microwave
  • printer
  • sports equipment
  • instrument
  • bike/scooter/skateboard

So there you have it! And don’t feel the need to drop hundreds of extra dollars either. Remember, your college bill will likely be higher than you expected. Trust me on this one!

There are a lot of unexpected mandatory and miscellaneous fees that go beyond what you would consider to be “tuition.”

You most likely have everything they need right there in your house. And all the dads said “Amen,” while most moms are loading up carts as they read along.

Have a great summer finishing up family vacations!



















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