How to Pack for College:
Free Packing List & Tips (2020)
Time really does goes by so fast. One moment you’re waving goodbye to your little girl as she goes off to preschool. Next thing you know, you’re sending your kid to college. It’s a bittersweet moment that eventually all parents have to go through. We know that it’s hard to prepare for such moments, but we’re here to the rescue! Well not exactly, but we’ve curated an awesome guide to help you pack your kid for college. These are practical tips that moms and kids transitioning to the college life can actually use!
Three Golden Rules When Packing for College
Before talking about the detailed tips, there are some things you need to know to help you avoid mishaps (like packing unnecessary things)! Remember the three golden rules below when it comes to packing for college:
✓ Dorm rooms have very limited space - Even if a specific dorm room is considered large, your kid will most likely still need to share it with another roommate. Keeping this in mind, packing for college becomes simpler. Remember this so you can avoid packing things that aren’t really necessary, like their popcorn machine or their mini trampoline...
✓ Some items are provided by the school - Most of the time, you don’t need to bring a mini-fridge or study desk. These items are usually provided by the school. If not, they usually rent it out for reasonable prices to students. Research or better yet, ask the school administration which items are provided or can be rented out.
✓ Packing less is the key - With very limited space, packing less is the key. Pack only the essentials. You (or your kid) can buy everything else once settled in. Alternatively, you can mail other forgotten items. But with our guide below, it’s unlikely you will need to!
What to Pack for College + Packing Tips!
Having a strategy is an absolute must when it comes to packing for college. Below, we have curated a simple how to pack for college guide. To make it easier for moms, we have divided the guide into different sections. Let’s try and have some fun! Your kid is growing up after all.
Clothes & Shoes:
✓ Lots of Undies - It’s okay to repeat certain clothes but we can’t say the same for undergarments (eek). Pack at least two week’s worth of undergarments - just in case laundry is a struggle for them at first (or always). Laundry is not the most exciting part of college and might need a reminder or two from the peanut gallery.
✓ 2 Dressy Outfits - For special events, sorority week, job interviews (oh, how fast they grow up). This could be a semi-formal or cocktail dress for girls and a polo shirt or button down for guys. If your daughter or son are planning on joining a sorority or fraternity, make sure they are prepared with a few more dressy outfits for rush week.
✓ Socks / Thermal Socks - Perfect for warming your kid's feet when it gets cold.
✓ Comfortable and Stylish Tops - Pack some casual shirts, tank tops, and long-sleeve shirts.
Pro Tip: Advise your kid to pack clothes that they really use. Your kid can always come home on breaks if they do need to switch out clothes or bring back thicker or warmer clothes. Make sure to pack sleepwear, lounging outfits and workout attire that are casual but good enough to be worn out!
✓ Cozy and Functional Bottoms - Bring some formal skirts, dress pants, jeans / pants, sweatpants and casual shorts and skirts.
✓ Jacket / Sweater - Bring their most trusted blazers, cardigan, jacket, or sweater to keep them warm when going out at night or when it's chilly during the day.
✓ Raincoat - For when it rains. You'll never know what the weather's gonna be like the next day, so it's always good to be ready.
✓ Swimwear - Pack their swimsuits, rash guard, and other outfits for swimming.
✓ Cold Weather Gear - Bring along some gloves, mittens, ear muffs, and snow boots.
✓ Accessories - Make sure to pack their scarves, belts, sunglasses, hats/ caps, and organize their jewelry in this travel jewelry roll.
✓ Shoes (4 to 5 Pairs) - Be practical when it comes to packing shoes. Bring a variety of pairs such as sneakers, sandals and athletic shoes. Also pack one dressy pair of shoes.
Pro Tip: Most dorm rooms have limited closet space. You can use EzPacking Cubes as drawers for your kid’s clothes, specifically for undergarments, shirts and shorts. Simply stack the EzPacking cubes on top of one another (or side by side) and store them inside the closet or under the bed. You save both money (cubes are cheaper than drawers) and space (cubes can be stacked in hidden areas).
Purses and Bags:
✓ Backpack - Spacious enough that can carry all their books and other study essentials, sturdy enough to last them for years, and stylish enough to make them look cool.
✓ Suitcase (Carry On / Checked) - To pack their essentials whenever they go home or travel somewhere with friends.
✓ Duffle Bag - Very ideal as a gym bag because they're spacious and easy to fit into gym lockers.
✓ Everyday Purse - A sling bag, tote bag, or any bag where they can leave their essentials and easily grab and use whenever needed or when going out.
✓ Formal Clutch - A small stylish bag that your daughter can use for formal occasions at university.
✓ Wallet / Coin Purse - To keep cash, credit / debit cards, membership cards, coins, etc.
✓ Grocery Bags - Useful for grocery shopping and running errands.
✓ Adhesive Hooks - Stick on walls or behind doors to hang keys and other things.
✓ Alarm Clock - If their phone's alarm won't wake them, a good old fashioned alarm clock can.
✓ Beanbag / Foldable Chair - Perfect for lounging with friends.
✓ Coffee Table - Put in the middle of the room for books, magazines, beverages, and other things.
✓ Corkboard With Pushpins - Very useful for displaying notes, cards, and photos, or perhaps just a unique wall art for the room.
✓ Curtains - If the dorm doesn't have one, pack a decent one for your kid for some privacy in their dorm room.
✓ Long Mirror - Very handy for checking their outfits out.
✓ Picture Frames / Photos - A photo of the family, their friends, and other important people in their lives.
✓ Rug - A simple floor mat will be fine.
✓ Shoe Rack - To organize shoes and keep them from littering around.
✓ Space Bags / Ziploc - Can be very useful for keeping all sorts of things.
✓ Desk Chair - One that is ergonomic for studying.
✓ Storage Trays / Under Bed Storage - For keeping suitcase, bags and other larger items under the bed that are not used.
✓ Bed Sheets (At Least 2 Sets) - Check with the school about the ideal bed sheet size for your kid’s dorm bed (normally twin size). Bring at least two sets of bed sheets (along with pillowcases and blankets) so they will have an extra to use when doing laundry. Buying a couple extra pillows is also a good idea for comfy studying or lounging.
✓ Mattress Topper - Most dorm mattresses are stiff and thin already because of years of use. You can pack a mattress topper so your kid's bed can be a little comfy. On a budget? A thick comforter or blanket is a good alternative!
✓ Futon - If the dorm has a larger space, a futon would be great as a bed at night and couch in the day time.
✓ Throw Blanket - Pack an extra to use while waiting for the other one to dry.
Pro Tip: Store extra bed sheets, pillowcases and blankets in a large packing cube to protect them from dirt or bugs. If you’re bringing a comforter, store it in an EzPacking storage cube. No matter where you store your cubes, you’ll surely keep your items safe, clean, and organized!
✓ Toiletry Bag / Shower Caddy - Pack your kid’s toiletries in a small, waterproof bag with handle. They can easily grab the toiletry bag without worries about the products getting wet or lost. Another great addition to a communal bathroom experience is a shower caddy - this is super handy!
✓ Flip Flops - A must especially for communal bathrooms!
✓ Different Size Towels - Bring your own bath towels, hand towels, hair towel, and face towels. Remember to wash them often.
✓ Bathrobe - Aside from towels, pack a bath robe made from terry cloth, which is absorbent and soft, making it the best fabric for bathrobes. Perfect for keeping them warm before getting dressed.
✓ Loofah / Bath Pouf - To clean and exfoliate their skin while bathing.
✓ Shower Mat - Place on the shower or toilet floor to prevent someone from slipping when entering or going out of the bathroom.
✓ Air Freshener - To keep the toilet smelling fresh and clean especially after use.
Pro Tip: The EzPacking clear toiletry bag is a perfect bathroom companion. It has a see-through design and an easy-grip handle. It just makes taking a shower in a communal bathroom less of a hassle!
✓ Toothbrush / Toothpaste - Pack a new one, and extra ones because they should change their toothbrush every three to four months.
✓ Mouthwash / Floss - To keep their gums and teeth healthy. Fresh breath is essential when making new college friends.
✓ Body Soap / Shower Gel - Pack the brand that they usually use at home.
✓ Facial Cleanser - Pack the brand that's perfect for their skin type.
✓ Lotion / Moisturizer - Keeps their skin healthy and moisturized and prevents it from breaking out due to stress or pressure from their studies.
✓ Makeup / Remover - For ladies; pack oils, wipes, towels, or whichever they prefer and usually use.
✓ Deodorant - Pack an organic deodorant stick.
✓ Perfume - Choose a scent that's not too strong and would last the whole day.
✓ Nail Clippers - Long and dirty nails make a bad first impression.
✓ Razor & Shaving Cream - Make sure the razor has a plastic clip-on to prevent cuts or scratches.
✓ Sunscreen - Pack an organic one with SPF 50.
✓ Tweezer - For plucking brows or taking tiny splinters out of the skin.
✓ Cotton Swabs / Q - Tips - Can be easily kept in a small clear pouch for better organization.
✓ Pads / Tampons - For ladies, kept in a separate pouch and pack a few for their personal items bag.
Pro Tip: Pack a different toiletry bag in an extra small cube for when they travel or go out with friends
✓ Shampoo / Conditioner - Pack the brand that they usually use at home. They can experiment on new products when they get there.
✓ Dry Shampoo - Showers may be scarce especially if they're late for class.
✓ Hair Comb / Brush - Pack a wide tooth comb perfect for detangling wet hair.
✓ Curling Iron / Flat Iron - For ladies; use a hair tie to keep the cord from tangling when packed.
✓ Hair Dryer - Can be kept perfectly in a medium cube along with all their other hair essentials.
✓ Hair Defrizzer - To fix frizzy hair.
✓ Hair Spray - For styling and to protect against wind and humidity.
✓ Hair Ties / Clips / Headbands - For ladies; very useful for tying their hair when they're washing their face.
✓ Leave-In Conditioner / Curling Cream - To provide hair with extra moisture and make styling easier.
✓ The Basics - When it comes to school supplies, be on the practical side. Does your kid really need all the colors of the rainbow? Purchase only the basics and keep them at a minimum. Believe us, your college kid can thrive during their first few weeks in college with just a few black pens, pencils & sharpener (who uses pencil in college?), a few notebooks and a highlighter!!
✓ Used Books - This all depends on the courses they will be taking. Buying (or renting if possible) is always a great idea. While using a highlighter to mark up their pages is great, your kid can always use other methods (like sticky notes or tabs) to take notes. Giving the book back in good condition won’t be such an issue. We wouldn’t recommend buying all school supplies that you see in the store. Unless the college specifically stated that you need to purchase them, resist the urge to splurge!
✓ Laptop - Schools are technology-driven today so there’s less need for paper books, printed assignments, and a waste of paper. Take advantage of college deals on computers! Summer is always a great time for back-to-school discounts. Do you need a printer you might ask? As our world is becoming more and more “online” friendly, many professors have assignments sent in via email or another system. If your kid needs to print a certain assignment, there are usually printers on campus they can use for free or for a small fee. It’s not worth wasting space in that small dorm!
✓ Stationeries - Bring along some writing materials, index cards, envelopes, print paper, eraser, markers, sticky notes and other school supplies. Don't forget a pen holder to hold all your pens and other writing materials.
✓ Laptop Fan / Laptop Stand - Helpful to keep your kid's laptop cool and reduce operating temperature especially when it is used all day long.
✓ Calculator- Just in case their professor won't allow them to use their phone's calculator during lecture or exam.
✓ Calendar / Planner - Helps keep them on schedule whenever they forget to check their phones.
✓ Ruler - Very useful for plotting their schedules and classes on their notebook using tables.
✓ Scissors - Useful not just for arts and crafts or cutting paper, but for opening food wrappers or cutting any items open when they can't open it with their hands.
✓ Stapler & Staples - For stapling their paper or reports together.
✓ Tape - For taping their things together in case it gets torn.
✓ White-Out / Correction Tape - A neater way of correcting their notes rather than crushing words out.
Pro Tip: Nowadays, there’s less need for school supplies especially for college students. Most students rely on technology for studying, even some books can be downloaded onto a laptop or tablet. Keep school supplies at the minimum and only buy as needed.
Food & Kitchen:
✓ Utensils / Plates (2 Sets) - Buy only 1 to 2 sets of plates and utensils. This will help keep the dorm organized and clean. As a bonus, it also teaches your college student some responsibility when he or she needs to wash utensils immediately after use. #WinningAtParenting
✓ Portable Water Bottle (2) - Save money (and save the earth) by using a portable water bottle. Keep one handy during the day and keep the other in the dorm.
✓ Snacks & Ready to Eat Meals - Biscuits, granola bars, cereals and air-popped popcorn are ideal ready-to-eat options for college students. Nowadays there are tons of amazing videos showing College Dorm Friendly Microwave Ideas like this one! It’s hard to focus on studying on an empty stomach!
✓ Electric Kettle - Coffee or tea? An electric kettle is portable and quick to use. It can even be used for making instant noodles, yum!
✓ Blender - For making smoothies or healthy drinks when they're running late for class.
✓ Bottle / Can Opener - There are can openers that are like keychains that can be easily attached to their bags.
✓ Cling Wrap / Plastic Wrap - For sealing food items before keeping them in the fridge.
✓ Food Storage Containers - To store and hold food at room temperature.
✓ Dish Towel - To speed up drying off dishes after hand washing them.
✓ Microwave - Check with the college whether or not it is allowed to bring a microwave oven (some colleges banned electronics in dorms), and if so, what size is good to bring. Be sure to pack some oven mitts as well.
✓ Mugs - Pack the mugs they usually use at home so they'll somehow feel at home while sipping coffee or hot cocoa when they study.
✓ Paper Towels - Bring just enough to last them a while and when they run out, they can always buy some at the store.
✓ Tinfoil - Useful in so many different ways than one.
Pro Tip: Lots of dorms have communal kitchens so bringing an individual microwave or toaster is not necessary. Plus, most students opt for a meal plan so cooking every day isn’t something they need to worry about.
Electronics / Entertainment:
✓ Tablet - Tablets are very versatile, they can be used for studying, taking notes in class, browsing the internet or even communicating with mom! If you’re on a tight budget, this Asus ZenPad Android 8-Inch Tablet has mostly positive reviews. You can even attach a keyboard so it can function as a mini laptop for your student when they’re on campus (and don’t want to carry their laptop all day).
✓ USB Drive / External Hard Drive - Very important for backing up files or data.
✓ Extension Cord - Dorm rooms have limited power outlets most of the time. Bring an extension cord, preferably with several sockets for charging gadgets, because kids these days are basically non-stop charging.
✓ Portable Power Bank - It can charge devices while on the go, when you don’t have access to a plug, or during power blackouts!
✓ Arts & Crafts Supplies - Pack some sketchbook, some watercolor or acrylic paint set, paint brushes, watercolor paper pad or canvas pad to make use of their time to brush up their artistic skills. Or yarns and other crochet materials.
✓ Batteries - Pack the rechargeable ones to avoid having to buy new ones over and over again.
✓ Books / Magazines - Pack a few novels and some light reading materials that they can use when they want to take a break from their phone or laptop.
✓ Board Games - A classic way to have fun with their friends without using any gadgets.
✓ Waterproof Camera - Great way to document their fun times with friends on a beach or pool trip.
✓ Memory Card / SD Card - To have more storage for photos and videos that they'll take throughout their college life.
✓ Headphones / Earbuds - Must be packed in their personal essentials bag.
✓ Musical Instrument - One way to productively spend their free time is to brush up their guitar skills, or any other musical instruments that they're currently learning or wanting to learn.
✓ Wireless Portable Speaker - Great for listening to some tunes or watching movies while hanging out with friends.
✓ Religious Materials - Pack their bible or some devotional books that they use to meditate or reflect.
✓ Sports / Gym Equipment - Pack their yoga mat, weights, and any other gym equipment that they use for exercising.
✓ Detergent & Fabric Softener - When buying detergent, always go for pods. They are much easier to handle in the laundry room (and less messy!) Fabric softener sheets are also a great idea.
✓ Cleaning Supplies - If your student is lucky enough to have their own bathroom (not communal), pack some basic cleaning goodies. Multi surface spray, mirror cleaner, a mini broom, sponges, plus a toilet bowl cleaner are must haves. Remind your kid that these are not for decoration, but actual tools for cleaning their dorm room. Good luck...
✓ Dish Soap & Sponges - If they will have a sink or mini kitchen in their room, pack some dishwashing soap and sponges. Don’t forget to buy a sponge holder for hygiene purposes!
✓ Disinfecting Wipes - Perfect for sanitizing table tops and other surfaces in the dorm room. After a few weeks, they’ll learn the meaning of dust accumulation and thank you for those wipes.
✓ Trash Can & Garbage Bags - Buy an additional small trash can since these things fill up quickly. Don’t forget to purchase small trash bags, too.
✓ Foldable Laundry Bag - A week’s worth of clothes can be heavy especially with typical laundry baskets. The EzPacking travel laundry bag is a better option since it is lightweight and can be folded up when not in use. It’s perfect for a quick run to the laundry room, especially if you only have a few items to wash!
✓ Clothes Hangers - Keeps their dress, coats and other clothing items that can't be folded or rolled organized and wrinkle-free.
✓ Dryer Sheets - Great as fabric softeners and useful for preventing stains and keeping clothes lint-free to make ironing easier.
✓ Drying Racks - Makes sun-drying clothes after wash easier (if dryer is not available).
✓ Iron / Foldable Iron Board - To ease out wrinkly clothes, especially ones they'll use for formal gatherings or events.
✓ Lint Brush - To easily remove lint from their clothes.
✓ Stain Remover Stick - A very useful tool for removing stains off their shirt or clothes on-the-go.
Pro Tip: Place 10 pods and 10 sheets in an extra small packing cube and have supplies for a few weeks! Bring the cube with you to the laundry room for extra convenience.
✓ Portable Heater / Fan - Only if they're really necessary since these items take up so much space.
✓ Mini Desk Lamp - Perfect for late night studying! This can also lessen arguments between dorm roommates. When one roommate wants to sleep and the other needs to study, simply use the lamp instead of the ceiling light. #GoodRoomate
✓ Secure Important Documents - Store their bank documents, financial aid documents, health & dental insurance, apartment lease contract (if applicable), product warranties, photocopies of birth certificate, and emergency contact list in one place to avoid misplacing or losing them. Make sure they keep it in a safe location that they can easily access whenever they need any of the documents.
✓ Cash / Credit card / Debit card - Keep inside their purse or wallet.
✓ Driver’s License - Counts as valid ID when traveling.
✓ Passport - Make sure it won't expire anytime soon. If it does, make the necessary arrangements for renewal.
✓ Student ID - Very important, make sure they won't lose theirs by attaching it to an ID lanyard.
✓ DIY First Aid Kit - The essentials such as Advil, Tylenol, antihistamine, and antacids must be packed along with band aids, bandages, tweezers, etc.
✓ Hygiene Kit - Use an extra small cube or a clear pouch to organize their hygiene kit. Pack some hand sanitizer, tissues, antibacterial wipes, disposable face masks and gloves, travel size tissues, and alcohol spray.
✓ Mini Sewing Kit - For small holes or tears, teach your kid how to sew them instead of throwing the clothes away. Purchase a small sewing kit, which can be easily be kept in a desk drawer or first aid kit.
✓ Makeup Pouch - This is mainly for college females but can be super useful. Pack a separate cosmetics kit, including face, hair and nail essentials in a clear makeup pouch. For boys, they usually only need a comb and a few razors. You can refer to these Travel Essentials for Women so you'll know what to pack.
✓ School Documents - All school documents, enrollment applications, registration papers and the likes can all go in one binder for easy access and organization. Folders are also a great idea, but labeling these can take some time and effort.
✓ Bike / Scooter (For Transportation) - Since your student is going to be spending most of their time on campus, it’s really impractical to bring a car. Instead, a bicycle or scooter is more ideal, environment friendly and economic!
✓ Flashlight / Night Light - A little less brighter than a mini desk lamp that would allow them to sleep comfortably if they can't do without a light. Pack a flashlight as well for emergency purposes, like if there's a power outage at the dorm.
✓ Pepper Spray - Must be packed in their personal items bag.
✓ Sleep Mask - Very useful when one roommate is pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper and the light from their lamp is too distracting, wearing a sleep mask will help your kid have a comfortable sleep.
✓ Swiss Army Knife - Handy for all types of emergencies.
✓ Wall Art - To style and beautify their dorm room. Some motivational posters or frames would be nice.
✓ Sleeping Bag - For when they camp out or go on an overnight trip with friends.
Pro Tip: Each student has his or her own individual needs. This post serves as a guide for you, but feel free to tweak it according to your student’s specific necessities, personality and of course, their courses in school.
What’s the Best Way to Pack (& Organize) for College?
The next step is actually packing and moving these items from your home to college. If the college is just few hours drive away from home, you can pack these items in cardboard boxes. Pack similar items in respective boxes and label them accordingly. For extra organization (and protection from dust) you can also use EzPacking cubes to pack similar items together before placing them inside the cardboard boxes! For fragile or breakable items, use some bubble wrap.
Is college a flight away? You have two great options: either pack items into cardboard boxes and have them shipped to the college OR pack minimal items into a few suitcases and buy the rest there! You can also opt for a combination of these two methods. Either way, make sure you’re organizing these items into packing cubes (especially clothes, toiletries and less delicate stuff). All electronics and values must be packed in their carry-on bag.
Need all this awesome info in one document?
Packing for college shouldn’t be a stressful event for you (or your kids). Ease the process by guiding your kids with what to pack and what not to pack. But let them make the final decisions (within reason) - they are adults now after all!
Remember the three golden rules that we mentioned at the top:
1.) Dorm rooms are tiny
2.) The school provides most items
3.) Pack less than you think
Also consider investing in The Complete Bundle, a variety of different-size packing cubes you can use during and after the college move.
If you’ve made it this far, good job mom, you’re a superstar! Now you can stop reading and actually start packing!