College packing tips by students for students

Important Packing Guidelines from Experience


Going to college is an exciting experience many embark on after high school. Leaving the nest means packing belongings for a new home. Given that students cannot bring everything, what are the dorm essentials? How much is too much to bring? While many websites offer helpful tips and checklists, it is often best to ask those who have most recently experienced college. 

Liana Hardy, a senior at Georgetown University, found many of the basic items necessary, while the miscellaneous items were not as popular.  

“I had a shopping trip a little bit before I packed and I got sheets and a comforter,” Hardy said. “I also got an extension cord and an extension outlet, which was really helpful to plug all my stuff. I bought a lambda alarm clock that I never used. I don’t know why I brought an alarm clock, I use my phone.”

Having a solid organizational system is essential . It is often nice to have options to choose from later but be careful about bringing too many resources. 

“I bought all these cubby holders,” Hardy said. “I don’t really use those, but I bought a big plastic container for clothes and shoes that I use. I bought way too many shoes. I only wear running shoes and sneakers. I brought a ton of running clothes, but I don’t use them.”

Being closer to home can often be advantageous and allow  for more flexibility. 

“There was definitely a list that they sent undergrads,” Hardy said. “I feel most things are helpful. There are some things I didn’t need. I had an easier situation because [my] home was 10 minutes away. I didn’t really use any folders, I used one notebook because not a lot is on paper, a lot is online now.”

Some students may find it important to decorate their rooms, particularly based on aesthetic online photos. 

“I printed all these photos,” Hardy said. “I used them my first year, and then when I got older I just got too lazy to hang them so I don’t bring any decorations anymore. I brought a lot of decorations to make my room aesthetic. I do remember going out and buying all these cute things.”

The lack of space may be the biggest change for students, and it is something that students have to consider with the number of items they bring. 

“The dorm was much smaller than and I think the first year dorms at Georgetown are pretty small compared to other college dorms, so there wasn’t a lot of space for stuff, sometimes less is more,” Hardy said. “I brought a ton of clothes freshman year. I pack only the clothes I think I need. I probably wish I brought less stuff because I had to drag it all home. I brought all these plants and they died.”

Camilla Sigmund, another senior at Georgetown, comments on her college packing system. Unlike Hardy, she came to Georgetown from California, so she has a less flexible experience.

“I brought an extra pair of sheets and pillowcases,” Sigmund said. “There were times where it was super difficult to do my laundry, specifically freshman year because all the machines would break down. It was nice to change my sheets without having to wash them all the time. The other thing I’m super glad I brought is a big laundry basket.” 

Students should be realistic about how much time they have during the day. To ensure downtime and fun, join a club or class to pursue these interests.

“I definitely brought too many art supplies,” Sigmund said. “For some reason, I thought I was going to have a lot of spare time to indulge in being artistic. I stopped to think about the fact that if I want to be artistic, I could take an art class or go to university.”

When students go to an out-of-state school, not to mention across the country, they may find that it is important to keep things in mind in terms of considering the packing list. 

“I didn’t have a winter coat,” Sigmund said. “I never needed one before I came here, so trying to coordinate with my mom to send me a bunch of winter clothes was totally awful. I didn’t realize that it was gonna get cold so quickly. I thought I would have more intermediate time between 80 degrees and 40 degrees, but that wasn’t really the case.”

It is crucial to set clear boundaries for space conservation, even though the rooms allow for simple easy space separation. 

“The division of space is pretty clear that you get your closet, your desk, and your bed, which is where most people store their stuff, whether that’s like boxes and bins or their suitcase,” Sigmund said. “We had the space that was surrounding the objects that were ours. The rooms are so small though, if you have any big items, you kind of weirdly shove them into places.” 

 It is important to cover the essentials for everyday items, though it depends on the student’s activities. 

“Have two everyday shoes, maybe a pair of flip flops or sandals, one fancy pair of shoes because you will weirdly have a fancy night or whatever, and then your running shoes,” Sigmund said. 

A different college experience that comes with a dorm is doing laundry. Since this no longer involves a household washer and dryer and costs money, students may find themselves having to do laundry less. 

“Most people are doing laundry less than you’d expect,” Sigmund said. “If you live on campus, you have to pay every time you do laundry, so it’s also a budgeting thing with the amount of money that comes with each plan. For me, I usually do laundry every nine days. I would say the typical person does it probably at most once a week and more likely around every 10 days,” Sigmund said.

Margaux Reppert, a junior at the University of Virginia and alumnus of the school, recalls packing lots of essentials. 

“So many clothes! School supplies, pictures from home/other decorations, a lot of variety of shoes,” Reppert said.

Going to college means being around more people, which means students are more at risk when cold and flu season comes along. 

“I didn’t realize that living near so many more people would make me get sick a lot more often,” Reppert said. “Packing basic cold and flu meds is really important and I underestimated that!” 

While packing for essentials is important, it is  important to not overdo it because of the limited space in the dorm. 

“I definitely overpacked on T-shirts,” Reppert said. “I didn’t realize how many free T-shirts I would get until my drawers were overflowing and I had to send some home with my parents when they came to visit!” 

Finding ways to save space in the dorm is very important to packing success. 

“I definitely got good at being efficient with my space,” Reppert said. “I never used to use storage under my bed at home, but in my dorm room, I lofted my bed and was able to put my drawers and a bunch of other storage-related things under there. It made all the difference.”

It is often helpful to have handy items to set up a good living and study area.

“I used my lap desk so often during my first year,” Reppert said. “I used it to do homework while sitting on my bed when I was tired of being at my desk…you should try to find one! Also, I recommend finding a collapsible laundry basket since it folds down on itself; it takes up way less room and makes storage much easier.” 

Eric Dunham, a senior at the University of St. Andrews, who graduated from the school in 2019, brought many housekeeping supplies with him. 

“When I was packing for college, honestly, the main thing that I had was home stuff like housekeeping supplies, bed sheets, cleaning things, like shampoo,” Dunham said. 

Packing for college can be a significant adjustment as you are thinking long-term.  

“I think college was my first time leaving home for a long time, it was still summer when I was leaving, but I had to bring my winter clothes because I wasn’t going to be able to come home for winter time.”

Bringing sentimental or homey items with you can be very helpful. 

“Something that I wish I had packed, and it sounds stupid now, but I definitely wish that I had packed like a stuffed animal or something more fun because I kind of went off with the intention of changing myself and starting a new era and a new life,” Dunham said. “I think [I wish I brought] some more sentimental things. I went without pictures of friends from home printed out. I wish I had more printed-out pictures of my Arlington friends.”

“Honestly, I’m content with everything that I have,” Dunham said. “I thought that I was pretty prepared.”

Not only do roommates have to coordinate space, but it is also important to set up routines. 

“Luckily, we had ample space to pack everything and we each had our own wardrobe which was good,” Dunham said. “Just in terms of the space differences, roommates were hard, but that was just in terms of having to coordinate lights on and lights off times and quiet times during exam periods and all that, but in terms of spatial differences, I’m lucky that we were each able to decorate our own sides.”

It is important to remember to think of many occasions and what may be required during those times, as college is not  just about attending class. 

“I wish I had packed more decorations, I think I’ve already said about the pictures, but like my roommate had posters,” Dunham said. “I kind of wish I’d had stuff like that. Another thing that I wish I had packed are small bags, like a tote or a drawstring bag because it was just my backpack which made it hard to go on day trips or fun outings with people without bringing my whole backpack so definitely, a small bag, a purse, or something like that.

As a reminder, common items can often be found in local stores, so forgetting an item does not mean a catastrophe. 

“I mean, the main thing for anything related to packing for college or moving to a college, there’s going to be something that you can probably purchase,” Dunham said. “I forgot to bring pillowcases and it’s not like there’s no pillowcases in my college town, so I was able to just go to the local supermarket and get some.”

“Don’t get too nervous about it, usually home isn’t too far away, and if home is too far away, or you’ll be able to call home and you’ll be able to figure out, we’ll be able to figure it out like buying something, there’s always going to be supermarket wherever you are,” Dunham said. 

Important Note: A popular store for dorm supplies, Bed, Bath & Beyond, is closing its stores. Open this link for more information: