What To Buy, Pack and Otherwise Accumulate Before Move-In Day

I found the prep and packing super stressful last summer. I was always on the hunt for the best college packing checklist. I wish I had kept these two things in mind:

  1. My freshman was moving into a two-person dorm room that was assigned four students. She was not moving into her first apartment. The key is survival with a little comfort thrown in. Everything you want to send with your freshman (or that he or she wants to throw in the van) will not fit.
  2. The biggest thing I wish I had let sink in is that your freshman will have access to stores, Amazon, and civilization at college. In other words, if you forget to send him with that special sticky tack for posters, life will go on. He can pick it up at the campus bookstore, local Target or, of course, have Amazon send it within two days


Summer Before College

This category is listed first on purpose. We all know how vital tech is to our kids (and us).

Luckily, your freshman will be on top of all of these items without much input from you.

A note on the iPad Pro. We were super lucky that Ohio State University initiated a program last fall that issued a brand-new iPad Pro, keyboard cover case and Apple pencil to every incoming freshman. Yes, I know....those were baked into tuition somehow! In any event, the iPad Pro is, imho, a powerhouse tech solution. So much so that I bought the exact same set-up for myself. Check with your freshman and see if this might be a good option for your family.

Extra long phone charger

Absolutely critical--dorm bunks can be a long stretch to available outlets and of course they can’t live without their cell phone beside them at all times....



Summer Before College

While these may sound like very first world essentials (and they are), the items on this list will go a long way toward making your freshman’s experience comfy.

Tool kit

Confession: I personally don’t think these are crucial but my freshman would not have had a clue about how to use anything in a tool kit so I didn’t want to unnecessarily exclude this one.

The one shown below would work well, it has just the barest of minimum tools needed.


Hammocks are apparently now "the thing." Here is the best one out there.

Small umbrella

This is a great umbrella-I bought one for my freshman and one for myself! It never blows inside out.

Storage & Organization

It can be easy to forget how little space there is in a dorm room. Kids today in particular are used to their own rooms and limitless space for everything. The adjustment to not only a much much smaller living quarters but sharing that space can be brutal.

Creative storage solutions are a must. I never cease to be amazed at the nooks and crannies my daughter and her roommates discover and utilize to make it all work.

Underbed storage

A must! It’s amazing how much can be hidden away under those beds.

Utility cart to hold kitchen items/food/spare common items such as paper towels, etc.

I like the cart shown because the wheels lock and the baskets are mesh. It comes in other colors too.

Safety & Security

Summer Before College

Adulting Documents

Summer Before College

I know some packing lists suggest bringing every proof of identification there is: social security card, passport, birth certificate, etc. I recommend not sending those. Once your freshman is registered for college, he will not need any of those items. Why chance losing or having them stolen?


This is a category that I tried not to become involved in. Part of the fun of living away from home the first time is making that space what you (the student) want, not what Mom thinks would look cute because she saw it on Pinterest. Also, picking out decorative items together is a terrific roomie bonding activities.

Worrywart note: I have seen some packing lists include candles. NO WAY. I would absolutely not want my daughter to have candles in the dorm room. Up to you and your family (and maybe your freshman’s dorm rules), but I say this is something that can be done without.

Desk Set Up & School Supplies

Summer Before College

I don’t know if we can even still call these school supplies at this age but I am going to anyway. I always loved taking the kids shopping for school supplies back when those lists were made up of items like blunt scissors, glue sticks and crayons.

Let your freshman take the lead on what he or she wants in this category. By now, they have figured out what works best for them. Besides, the campus bookstore will have anything they decide they cannot live without.

I know I'm not the only one *gently* reminding my kid to use a light when reading. This desk lamp was a champ and used daily (at least that is what I'm told by said kid....).

Desk organizer

Could be as simple as a pencil cup or something more elaborate such as a wall-mounted organizer.


I recommend checking to see if your freshman can use library printer--saves packing printer, cords, ink, paper and valuable dorm real estate.

Stamps and envelopes

My kid needed these and didn't have them and there was absolutely nowhere to get them that was convenient.

Bedding & Linen

This was a category that I was much more ambitious with that turned out to be realistic. It was well after holiday break that my freshman broke out the “second set of sheets.” The key here is to get the basics and make sure your freshman’s bunk is comfy. For most, it will be their only real “private” space in the dorm.

Food & Kitchen Items

This is another category where it is easy to get carried away. Send the essentials and let your freshman figure out what she wants to stock in the room. There will be plenty of venues to purchase the college standbys like Ramen and microwaveable mac & cheese.

Plus, virtually all freshmen will be on a dining meal plan so the food they cram into their dorm will not be their main form of sustenance. Don’t sweat this one.

Keurig and k-cups, creamer/sugar as needed (check with roomies)

Despite the abundance of coffee shops on campus, my daughter and her three roomies used their Keurig constantly.


Summer Before College

Few words are as ominous as “college bathroom” but your freshman will survive the experience. Make sure to find out ahead of time whether your freshman will be heading to a private bathroom or (gulp) a communal bathroom. Some of the items listed here are specific to one or the other.


Rather than detail the myriad of clothing options, suffice it to say your freshman should bring the minimum he can get away with. Stay within the season and don’t go overboard.

This category could be 100 items for your freshman or 10, depends on your kid. Bottom line is, make sure your freshman has these areas covered:

Medicine Chest

Truly the only thing you absolutely have to send them with is their prescription medication. You could fill a car trunk with every possible first aid or medicine option but why? If your child gets injured or really sick, she will be heading to the campus medical center.


Summer Before College

Ah, the freshman rite of passage: laundry in the dorm basement. My advice here is to go basic. A place to hold dirty clothes, materials to wash dirty clothes and a place to dry things. Bells and whistles such as laundry starch, laundry softener and the like are merely a pipe dream at this stage.

One tip to remind your freshman about is to keep a dryer sheet (changing out often) in his or her laundry hamper/bag. Their roomies will thank them for this.

Cleaning Supplies

Summer Before College

Be realistic here. Most freshmen are not going to be going to town on the cleaning so you don’t need to pack a ton of items here. If you do, prepare to lug them back home in June...

Mini-vacuum or broom/dustpan combo

Some dorms provide a vacuum at the front desk. My freshman reported that the one in her dorm was “beyond nasty” with eons of freshman dust and crud accumulated within. A stick vacuum is a great option for carpeted spaces.

Check with your dorm to see if your freshman will need or is permitted to bring these items


Rather than detail the myriad of clothing options, suffice it to say your freshman should bring the minimum he can get away with. Stay within the season and don’t go overboard.


Summer Before College

Your freshman is unique and there are certainly items that he or she may want to bring that are not on this list. Chances are, if there is something important to him or her, it’s already on their own mental packing list. Some possibilities are: