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Tips for a hassle-free move to campus

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By Evanne Montoya

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High School Parent | College Parent

Packing for college should be fun, not stressful. You and your student can be organized and efficient — here’s how!

Do your prep work.

  1. Start by printing out the UniversityParent’s Complete 1st Year College Packing List.
  2. Check the school’s housing website to find out room/furniture dimensions. Most colleges provide a basic packing list plus a list of what items are not allowed in the dorm.
  3. Encourage your student to contact her roommate(s) to coordinate on larger/shared items. (See list of items to coordinate with a roommate here.)
  4. Know your climate! Temperature and humidity/dryness may be different from what your student is used to, and seasons change fast in some parts of the country.
  5. Take stock of what your student already owns and what she needs to acquire. Grandparents can be a great source of high quality, lightly-used linens…ask if they’d like to contribute.
  6. Assemble suitcases and boxes, being realistic about what will fit in the car (or can be comfortably carried on the plane, train, or bus).
  7. Make your travel arrangements early, especially if you will be booking a flight, reserving a rental car, and/or staying in a hotel. I suggest arriving the night before move-in to get an early start on move-in day itself. Plan to have your son or daughter stay in the dorm while you stay in the hotel the night after move-in; that way you will have an idea of there is anything he or she is missing before you leave town.

Buy bulky or hard-to-carry items there.

Hangers, comforters, mattress pads, printer paper, and even toiletries are great candidates. Worried that something might not be in stock? Order ahead for in-store pickup in your student’s university town. (Check our our complete “Bring or Buy?” list here.)

Less is more.

Remind your student that space is extremely limited in freshman dorms. She should start with enough clothes for about two weeks. Two towels are plenty for most students. It’s fine to bring a few favorite books, DVDs, or games; she can also exchange with friends, check things out from the residence hall, or go to the school or local library. (More items not to bring here.)


Be sure to check out our Ultimate College Packing Guide, and find more great move-in day survival tips here

Transport items in stages.

Having a hard time convincing your student she doesn’t need 40 books or two closets worth of clothes? Suggest that she pick a few items to bring now and grab others next time she’s home. This lets her feel that she’s not really leaving things behind, and gives her some time at school to see if she truly needs them (or if they’ll even fit in her room). This makes sense for seasonal items, too — she can bring one warmer jacket and leave the heavy-duty winter clothes at home until Thanksgiving.

Pack smart.

  • Leave no space unfilled — Stuff socks into shoes and boots, cushion breakables with sweaters, and plug gaps with rolled-up T-shirts.
  • Balance weight — Put heavier items into smaller boxes and suitcases (you may have to carry them up stairs on move-in day).
  • Keep important items easily accessible — Suggest that your student pack an extra outfit or two and any valuables in one bag that gets put on the top of the pile (in case she doesn’t have time to unpack everything the first day).

Take breaks.

If tensions start to rise, take time out and do something fun together. You’ll be more productive when you return to packing, and it’s a chance to make a few more memories with your student before the school year starts.

Don’t forget about yourself!

Make sure to pack the items that you will need as well. Bring a folder with any move-in day/parking information the university sent, along with a campus map. Take a camera, snacks, a water bottle, and comfortable shoes. You’ll want a family photo to leave in your student’s dorm room, and perhaps a little extra cash. Include a notebook for recording contact information for your student’s roommate and family, your student’s mailbox number, and a shopping list or “ship-from-home” items that you discover throughout the day. (Our Guide to Supporting your Student’s Freshman Year is available on Amazon and includes note-taking space along with great move-in tips.) Don’t forget the tissues!

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter for additional tips and advice to help your college student succeed.  You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our College Parents’ Facebook group.

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