Five Important Considerations When Packing for College

Packing for college can be both exciting and overwhelming. It takes careful planning and preparation to make sure you have access to everything you’re going to need. On the other hand, the limited amount of space available in most dorm rooms and college apartments means you’ll want to avoid taking items you won’t use regularly.

The following considerations can be very helpful in developing a personalized packing plan for college. 

Transportation

Your mode of transportation can have a significant impact on your packing list.

If your main means of getting around is a bicycle consider bringing the following items:

  • Bike helmet
  • Sturdy bike lock
  • Leg bands for keeping clothing away from bike gears
  • Reflective vest, band or jacket for riding in the dark or in limited visibility
  • Basic bicycle repair kit including extra inner tubes
  • Water bottle and holder designed to fit on the bike
  • A bike rack, basket, bag or pack for increased storage
  • A windbreaker and/or a waterproof jacket

If you’re going to be walking everywhere, here are some items you’ll probably want to bring along:

  • Comfortable walking shoes for every day.
  • Cushioned inserts for shoes.
  • Waterproof shoes and jacket for wet weather.
  • A nice foldable umbrella designed to fit in a bag or backpack.
  • A reusable water bottle.
  • A pedometer of some sort for keeping track of your steps.

If you’re taking a car to college, it’s a good idea to bring along some basic maintenance and safety items (to be kept in the car) such as the following:

  • Spare tire in good condition that fits the car
  • Basic tire changing equipment (jack, lug wrench, ken tool, etc.)
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire gauge
  • Reflective emergency triangles (at least 2)
  • Flashlight & extra batteries
  • Duct tape
  • Bungie cords
  • Pair of work gloves
  • Emergency blanket
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Windshield scraper
  • Multipurpose tool, flat head screwdriver, Philips screwdriver, pliers
  • rags

Climate

As you’re packing for college, think through weather changes over the course of the semester. Is it going to get really hot or really cold before the end of the term? If you plan on going home for long weekends and holidays consider taking out of season items with you to free up space in your room.

When planning for varying weather conditions it’s good to think in terms of layers. Multiple layers allow for flexibility. A single coat or jacket may be too warm in moderately cool weather but not warm enough in truly cold temperatures, leaving you either sweating or freezing except on those rare days which fall within the garment’s ‘sweet spot’. The following basic items are great for dealing with fluctuations in temperature:

  • Base layer top (usually made of wool or synthetic fabric which whisks moisture away from the skin while providing insulation from the cold).
  • Middle layer top (fleece jackets are a great option because they trap in heat while maintaining breathability).
  • Outer layer top (waterproof, soft shell jacket to protect against rain or snow and wind).

If you are in an area with extreme cold weather and/or high levels of precipitation, be sure to include the following as you’re packing for college:

  • Waterproof boots
  • Snow boots (provide warmth and traction as well)
  • Thin insulating pair of gloves
  • Heavier outer gloves
  • Cold weather hat
  • Scarf

Comfort

While most dorm rooms and college apartments have a small desk, much of the time you are in your room you’ll likely be sitting on your bed. A lot of student beds don’t have headboards so I recommend a seated bed pillow like the one’s shown here (available at Walmart).

Another purchase to consider when packing for college is a foam mattress topper. The reasoning behind this is twofold. Reason number one is that you have no idea how comfortable (or uncomfortable) your bed is going to be. It’s not likely to be top of the line.

The second reason for using a foam mattress topper is that no matter how comfortable your bed is, it is likely to have been used by any number of students before you which means it’s probably not in the most sanitary condition. With a mattress topper, you can be certain you are the only one who has slept on it.

Since mattress toppers are a bit of an expense and also rather bulky, you may want to wait until you get to school before deciding on whether or not to use one. If you decide to buy one in advance, be sure to check with your dorm or apartment complex as to what size you will need. Most college dorms use extra-long twin beds.


On a more personal note, comfortable shoes are a definite must. Even if you ride a bike or drive to campus you’re going to do a lot of walking between classes and elsewhere. Depending on how close you live to campus and how far apart your classes are, you could easily be walking five miles a day.  Flats may be cute and fashionable, but they provide very little support for your feet when you’re tramping everywhere.

Speaking of shoes, many young ladies have extensive footwear collections. Think about space as you're packing for college before bringing the entire collection. Do you really need a set of high heels to match every outfit, or can you get by with a couple of versatile pairs?

Practicality

When packing for college practicality should be an important consideration. Limited space means you’ll have to be discriminating about what to take and what to leave at home. Consider some of the following suggestions.

  • Instead of DVD’s download movies to iTunes, subscribe to Netflix or get Amazon Prime for Students.

Prime Student offers a free six month trial followed by 50% off Amazon Prime for as long as you are a student (up to four years). It includes all the benefits of Amazon Prime (free shipping, unlimited streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows and access to unlimited photo storage). In addition, there are numerous exclusive discounts and deals for students. You also get access to Twitch Prime. Click here to begin a free trial of Prime Student*.

  • Instead of a stereo system that takes up tons of surface area, invest in a simple blue tooth speaker for your phone.
  • Instead of bringing a lot of bulky books (which you probably won’t have time to read), download your favorite books to an e-reader or subscribe to an audio book provider, such as Audible*.
  • Instead of bringing a television, plan on watching movies on your laptop.
  • Instead of packing a personal printer which will eat up the majority of your desk space, plan on utilizing one of the printing labs on campus. This will save you money as well as space since printer ink is expensive.

Living Arrangements

Whether you’re living off campus in a college apartment with 3-5 other students or bunking with a single roommate in the dorms on campus, your living arrangements should obviously be taken into consideration when packing for college.

Some colleges require freshmen to live on campus. They may even require freshman to purchase a campus meal plan. Even if this is the case, it’s a good idea to have a set of easy to rinse and reuse plastic ware for those occasions when you decide to order in or you just want to snack in your room.

If you’re living in an apartment, you’re going to need a basic set of dishes and cookware, but that’s all you need. It’s tempting to go out and buy all sorts of stuff to outfit your first apartment as you’re planning and packing for college, but it’s unnecessary and even unwise. Mom’s hand-me-downs will do just fine. Much of what you take with you will mysteriously disappear in an apartment full of roommates. What doesn’t disappear will take a great deal of abuse.

Before packing appliances (mini fridge, coffee maker, microwave, etc.) check with campus housing or your apartment complex.  Some or all of these items may be provided. They may also be prohibited. Assuming the items you wish to bring are allowed, the next step is to coordinate with your roommate to see what he/she is bringing. It is a waste of space and money to double up.

Good Luck Packing for College

Packing for college requires a little planning, a little research, and a lot of discipline. While you will not be able to fit everything you own in your half of the dorm room, you will most likely not miss the excess stuff once you are settled into your new lifestyle.

Recommended Reading

For more information on getting organized for college, check out these pages.

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