Plan for College | What to Pack For College

Get the suitcase out and pack for college!

Plan for College | What to Pack For College

Plan for College

You’ve done the research, chosen your school, worked out how to pay for it. Now comes the exciting part — plan for college packing!

What to Pack for College

Standing in your bedroom, it may seem impossible to know what to pack for college.  But, dorm rooms tend to be small, with compact closet and dresser space, so wise choices are key to a comfortable setup. Review this list to help with your college packing!


Proximity from home is a big factor in packing your clothing. If you’ll be making routine visits, you can easily swap your clothing as need arises. If you’ll be away for the semester, you’ll need to pack a wider range of options.

If you’re moving to the land of sun, go light on sweaters and jeans. Moving to a cooler region means you’ll be packing away tank tops and shorts sooner than usual. Read up on the region and pack accordingly. When figuring out your outfits, remember what else you’ll do besides classes:  jobs, sports or fitness, religious services or interviews.

In new, unfamiliar surroundings, you’ll want to feel like yourself, so stick with what you like to wear, and bypass those questionable items. Don’t forget your comfy slippers or well-worn sweatshirt; you’ll welcome them during late night study sessions. A favorite T-shirt or two from high school is fine, but don’t go overboard, suggests Baylor University ( graduate Sarah Beth Zwernemann

“You’ll be starting a new beginning, so leave things like high school letter jackets and high school class rings at home. You can fill this new space with college mementos,” she shares.

What to Pack for College Room Set-up

Upon arrival, you’ll want to quickly turn that empty little dorm room into a comfortable, functional home. That means bedding, appliances, toiletries and other essentials.

Knowing about your room will help you plan, says Rebecca Daniels, coordinator for communications in the Office of Residence Life at Syracuse University ( “Many universities have set up (website) pages where you can view photos of rooms, do a virtual tour and get dimension information. If this information is not online, contact someone in the Housing Office to get details.”

Find out if any appliances are built into the room, as well proximity to showers.  A bathroom down the hall means that you should bring a tote and smaller sized toiletries; a semi-private setup may enable you to leave your supply in the bathroom.

Room planning is also a great excuse to get in touch with your future roommates. “Tag team on the big ticket items, like a mini fridge. If you are trying to match up colors, take pictures of what you like in the store and then send the picture to your roommate,” suggests Zwernemann.

Keep the size of the room in mind when considering extras, such as chairs or extra furniture.

“It may be smarter to get into the space and set up your belongings, and then determine if there are additional items you would need or want,” says Daniels, adding that you and your roommates might find what you want at a local store.

You’ll want some cleaning supplies to keep your room cozy, but before toting large items, find out what is available to you. At some residence halls they’ll have a place where you can check out a vacuum and other big appliances.

Other necessities

At home you can easily reach for those little necessities you need from day to day —antacids, nail clippers or tissues. But, figuring out what to pack for college can be a mystery. Over a week or so, make note of the things you regularly reach for. Don’t drive yourself crazy writing down every situation; just recognize some of your usual ‘go-to’ items.  

Remember those staples that you use without much thought; laundry detergent and basket, cleaning supplies, hand lotion, power strip and extension cords, alarm clock, hammer and nails.

Don’t panic

College planning is not an exact science! You just hauled a trailer full of stuff to your new dorm, your parents are halfway home, and you realized you didn’t bring a single pair of socks. What to do?

Don’t panic. Even if you forgot the most important item, there’s always a solution:

  • Share: Your new roommates are in the same boat, so if it’s an item that’s easily shared, ask to borrow. Just don’t overstay your welcome; make sure you have a plan to get your own item quickly, then wash and return the borrowed item.
  • Ship: Your parents can easily ship your missing items to you. “If it's that important, it can get to you overnight,” says Zwernemann.
  • Shop: Local stores or online shopping can quickly replace what you need.

Moving into your dorm is a big step. You may end up forgetting something you need, or you may end up bringing too much stuff, but that’s part of the experience.  After a few trips back and forth, you’ll become an old pro at setting up your college space, using this guide to what to pack for college!

Debbie Swanson has published more than 100 plan for college articles in national and regional magazines, including Dog Fancy, The Christian Science Monitor and Highlights. Visit her website at


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