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7 College Dorm Packing Tips From the Pros

SO much to pack…TOO much to pack? HELP! Here are several key college dorm packing tips for students and their parents.

College Dorm Packing Tips From the Pros

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Today’s post is a guest post from Hélène Tragos Stelian.  Hélène is a mom to twin daughters who are leaving for college in the fall. She is the author of 3 books, including Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack and is a contributing writer to Huffington Post. She also mentors first-generation, under-resourced Chicago teens on the college application process. Hélène founded Next Act for Womento share stories of midlife reinventions and is a professional transition coach, working primarily with women in midlife who feel stuck or lost, often as a result of an impending empty nest—she’s been there!

Welcome, Hélène, and thank you for your timely post!

7 College Dorm Packing Tips From the Pros

Have your piles ready? Wondering how you’ll fit everything into your car? Check out these essential college dorm packing tips from those who’ve been there before you.


Label everything. Assume that many students will have similar items; how will you claim yours? Phone charger, anyone? Use a Sharpie for hard goods, a laundry marker or iron-on name tags for clothing, adhesive labels for charging cords, and decorative stickers for laptops.

Ship ahead. If you’ll be taking public transportation to school, you’ll be very limited in what you can take along or might incur expensive fees for additional luggage. Consider shipping boxes of goods ahead of time to your campus address. Or, to avoid long lines at the campus post office and if you’ll have use of a car, ship these boxes to a UPS or FedEx facility near campus.

Pack the car efficiently. If you’ll be driving, you’ll want to maximize the space. Fold down rear seats. Fit small/soft items in gaps between other items. Cushion breakables with clothing and bedding. Fit items inside all containers, like your under-bed storage bins. Remove new items from their boxes—just be sure you plan to keep them. Put all your hanging items on their hangers, cinch the tops of several hangers with a rubber band, then use a tall garbage bag as a garment bag to protect your clothing from dirt (use a cinch-type trash bag and cinch it at the top just below the hook of the hanger). Use the bags for trash as you unpack. Pack a small bag for overnight stops and make sure it’s easily accessible. (Bonus Tip: Use the backpack your student will use in college)

Leave your valuables behind. With the exception of a laptop and phone, a college dorm is not the place for expensive jewelry or watches.


Pack your entire wardrobe. If you’re planning on coming home for Thanksgiving, leave the majority of your winter wear at home and pick it up when you visit. Or if your parents will be visiting, have them do the honors. These visits are also a good opportunity to bring or send home items you’ve now realized you don’t need.

Pack anything you can buy or pick up near campus. Think toiletries, over-the-counter medications, kitchen items, study supplies, etc. When it comes to essential items that may run out (like the correct size dorm room mattress pads or cooling fans), register online at stores like Bed Bath & Beyond or Target and they’ll have your items waiting for you to pick up at a local store near your college.

One exception: You may want to buy and pre-wash at least one set of bed sheets and towels at home (this removes possibly harmful chemical residues) then pack them in your bags—you don’t want to have to worry about laundry when you’re moving into your dorm room.

Pack or ship items in large trunks or suitcases. You will have nowhere to store Instead, pack goods in small carton boxes that can easily be carried up several flights of stairs to your dorm room (don’t expect an elevator!), and recycled after unpacking. Don’t forget to mark all boxes clearly.

For more college dorm packing tips, check out Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack.

You may also like 5 Easily Forgotten College Dorm Essentials

7 College Dorm Packing Tips From the Pros

Practical Resources include:

A step-by-step list of things to do, from decision to move-in day, such as:

  • Booking hotel rooms ASAP for parents’ weekend
  • Securing scholarship money to close financial aid gaps
  • Understanding your health plan options and HIPAA waivers 

The life skills every student should learn before leaving home, including:

  • Staying safe and handling a medical emergency 
  • Managing expenses and staying on a budget 
  • Handling common roommate problems  

The most comprehensive college packing list, for every category, featuring:

  • Dorm life essentials and what’s a waste of money
  • Extensive product information and reviews
  • Packing and move-in day tips to ensure a stress-free move 

Hundreds of resources, with links at your fingertips, including:

  • The best stores for college dorm shopping, with tips on student discounts
  • Where to buy, rent, and sell textbooks so you never pay full price
  • Great books, websites, and blogs for both students and parents
BONUS: Get your FREE download of my 10 BEST COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP TIPS that will show you how to find and win more money for school >>

Do you have any college dorm packing tips to share? Please add them to the comments below!

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