14 Experts Share Their Best College Packing List Tips

It can be surprisingly difficult to pack for college.

Lots of students bring way too much stuff with them – and some too little, so they will have to stress about buying the missing stuff instead of concentrating about college.

To help more students pack the right things, we have talked with 14 college experts. Students, parents and a director of admission!

We have asked them to share all their best packing list advice, so you will get to know exactly what to pack and what to leave at home.

Read on and learn the experts best tips and tricks.

The 14 College Experts

Ariana Roberts

  • Baldwin Wallace Universtiy
  • Major: Sustainability

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

  • Quick drying towels. I bought turkish towels on Etsy for $7 each, so they were cheaper than terry cloth towels. The slimmer material absorbs water and dries faster, so they smell better longer and don’t need to be washed as often- a must in a dorm with no laundry. Plus they’re cozy and can be used for so many things. I’ve used them as picnic blankets, an extra throw, and to wrap and carry gifts.
  • A clothes drying rack. I have a collapsible wooden drying rack (bamboo drying racks are another inexpensive option) that I use instead of a dryer. It extends the life of my clothes and tucks away easily to save space.
  • A travel steamer. For interviews and presentations, it’s nice having unwrinkled clothes. The steamer doesn’t require an ironing board, and it’s so small it doesn’t take up valuable space.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

All of my clothing fit in one carry-on and my other items fit in one large suitcase and a vintage wooden trunk. I was determined not to use any cardboard boxes, tape, or plastic packing material, so to pack zero waste, I wrapped anything breakable in my clothes, sheets, and towels as cushioning. My suitcases are secondhand Rimowa, so they’re practically indestructible. I use a secondhand Longchamp Pliage bag daily. It’s super light and fits my laptop, lunch, and an extra pair of shoes for when I’m running around.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

A television. I stream everything online, so a computer is all that’s necessary for entertainment. When space is at a premium, not having a television helps the room feel bigger. I also saw sleeping bags on a lot of college packing lists, but I don’t really know why. I never needed one.

Jeff Schiffman

  • Tulane University
  • Director of Admission

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

Rain Boots – If the flip-flop is the official shoe of Tulane, then the Rain Boot comes in a close second. Afternoon showers (read: afternoon torrential downpours) are frequent in the late summer here in New Orleans. And because we are a city below sea level, every drop of rain that lands in the city needs to be pumped out. So let’s just say puddles are a common occurrence around Tulane on rainy days. And guys, don’t think that the boots are just for the ladies. Hunter Rain Boots are lookin’ pretty cool these days.

Sporting equipment – I was totally glad I brought my lacrosse gear down to Tulane my freshman year. Whether it was just for throwing the ball around out front of my residence hall in Monroe Quad or for my time I spent playing with the Tulane club lacrosse team, I was glad I had my gear with me. So if you play field hockey, tennis, baseball, golf, etc., bring your stick, racket, mitt, clubs, etc. You’ll find plenty of friends on your floor who will be down to throw around with you or hit the links in Audubon Park Golf Course, right across the street from Tulane. It’s a great way to meet new people, too. And you’ll need it for our over 50 club sports.

I’m using number three to share a few things you shouldn’t bring – All your high school stuff (your Letterman jacket, every club t-shirt from high school, etc. High School was then, Tulane is now. Start anew! And trust me, you’ll get 100 free t-shirts in the first month here at Tulane.)

How did you bring your stuff to college?

Southwest airlines flies to NOLA from all over the USA and their two free checked bag rule is epic! Also, because the average freshman travels 977 miles to enroll at Tulane, we have shipping, packing and receiving down to a science here.

For bags, I love a Lululemon backpack. Versatile and durable. I also am partial to Away luggage. Lightweight and durable.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

Lots of t-shirts (you’ll get so many here). A printer. Your high school significant other.

Alyssa J Freitas

  • College of New Jersey
  • Major: Management

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

  • Noise canceling headphones. When you have an exam the next day, but everyone else is socializing in the dorms, they will be your saving grace.
  • A journal. Having a notebook that isn’t for school or planning, just a place to put down your own thoughts, keeps you grounded and centered.
  • An open attitude. Not an actual “thing,” but so important. Being willing to try new activities and meet all different people will make your college experience transformative and memorable.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I am a proud minimalist who was able to bring everything in a sedan, with room for a passenger! I put all of my clothing in a large suitcase (still on the hangers) and my miscellaneous items were packed in a trunk I got from Walmart.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

Less is more. You don’t need a million boxes for organization or dozens of cleaning products. You can start with the basics and if you find you want to have something else in your dorm, that’s what winter break is for!

Dani Kluss

  • Major: Communications

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

  • Blackout curtains – I am a very sensitive sleeper, so blackout curtains were a must-have for my dorm living to get a solid night’s sleep!
  • Dishes – Even when I lived in a dorm room without any access to a kitchen, dishes were a staple in my room. Microwaved mac & cheese feels a little more homey when prepared in a real bowl, and real dishes help to save money from constantly buying paper plates.
  • Polaroid/Instant camera – While I brought a ton of pictures from home to my dorm my freshman year, my sophomore year I decorated by just bringing an instant/Polaroid camera, a ton of film, and a string to hang it all on! This was the most fun and personal way to decorate my dorm room, and gave me the opportunity to capture some special memories in a more permanent way.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I brought most of my stuff to college by using two big suitcases for my clothes, cardboard boxes for my kitchen supplies, and any reusable bag that I had for my odds and ends.

I keep my things organized at college by making sure that I only have what I need, and that everything has its place! I often tidy up my space throughout the day, as it can get messy especially when I’m super busy, and I try to deep clean and organize once a week when possible.

I use two main bags in my daily life. Right now I work in an office two days a week and attend classes three days a week. I currently use a simple but sleek black Adrienne Vittadini backpack to carry my laptop, notebook, and planner to class each day. When I go to work I carry an MZ Wallace black tote purse with my key card, lunch, and a notebook inside.

Caroline Albro

  • Scripps College
  • Major: No major yet

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

Beyond the regular dorm items, I also packed a hot water heater, a few favorite books, and a deck of cards. Even though we are not supposed to have a hot water heater in the room for safety reasons, I make tea nearly every morning so I needed an easy way to heat water. My roommates also heat water to make ramen. As for the books, a lot of college packing lists advise that you not pack books from home because they will sit on your bookshelf at college and never be opened.

However, I have a few of my absolute favorite books in my dorm and they have proved to be great writing inspiration and conversation starters. I have had multiple people walk into my dorm and see Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In on my bookshelf and start talking about how much they enjoyed it. With the deck of cards, you can bring them to any get-together with friends and have an instant activity. Everyone knows a few card games and it usually keeps people occupied for a while.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I live close enough to my college that I was able to drive down for move-in day, so I put my stuff into suitcases, storage containers, and trash bags and hauled it down in my dad’s SUV. Once I was at college, I kept one of the storage containers under my bed to store spare sheets and towels, and kept the suitcases in my closet. I stored the rest of my stuff in the dorm’s furniture, like desk drawers and dressers. For daily life, I either use my North Face backpack if I need to carry a lot or my smaller Herschel Supply Co. backpack if I just need to carry my laptop.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

I didn’t have a lot of space for storage cubes, bins, or carts like a lot of people bring. Also, I had very little room for a hamper, so I wish I had brought a laundry bag instead. I’m pretty minimalistic, so I didn’t bring a lot in the first place. One piece of advice is, if you’re going home for Fall Break or Thanksgiving and you go to school in a fairly warm region, only bring summery clothes when you move in. Then, bring your colder-weather clothes back to your dorm after you go home in the fall. That way, you’re not hauling every piece of your wardrobe to your dorm on move-in day.

Paige DiFiore

  • Marist College
  • Major: Communications Journalism

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

The best things I have brought to college are as follows: a sound machine, measuring cups and spoons, and an HDMI cable.

I ordered a Dohm sound machine recently and it is a game-changer! It can be tough to sleep in noisy dorms with loud roommates and neighbors, so having a sound machine has revolutionized my sleep game.

Measuring cups and spoons are often overlooked, but baking with friends was one of my favorite ways to meet new people and avoid dining hall food!

HDMI cables come in handy for impromptu movie nights all of the time! It allows you to hook up your computer to a bigger television, which is perfect for socializing.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I packed my college belongings in the containers and storage cubes I was bringing to college. This helped me save space in my small car! I also used a small suitcase, which I keep under my bed for when I travel home. Pro tip? I use this suitcase to store my purses and extra shoes during the year, so it’s not needlessly taking up space!

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

Definitely, do not bring an over-the-door shoe rack! Oftentimes you cannot put it on your door because of how the locks and sizes work, plus it’s not fair when you have a roomie and you claim the door like that. I love my shoe rack because it’s small, collapsible and fits underneath my bed or in my closet! Definitely bring that instead.

Lisa Heffernan

  • University of California, San Diego and Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Major: Political Science, Business

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

When I took my kids to college we pack all the standard stuff, but I suggested they add a few extras. For coffee drinkers a way to make coffee in the room is a big money and time saver every morning. A game like Spike Ball or Kan Jam is a great ice breaker for freshmen and a way to quickly gather a gang of new friends. And, extra pillows, the big square type or whatever they prefer are key given the amount to time kids spend sitting on their bed, studying or reading at might. Finally, I wish I had thought to show up on that hot summer day with a few snacks and cold drinks to break the ice with the other kids and parents all as nervous and harried as we were!

How did you bring your stuff to college?

My kids went to college driving distance from our house and that let them do a couple of quick college packing hacks. First we took all of their hanging clothing and covered it in a clean garage bag, tying the bag around the handers (I have photos). This keeps everything clean and when they arrived at their dorm all they needed to do was hang the handers up and tear the bag away. Second there is no space in a dorm room for suitcases so we used those wonderful IKEA blue bags that you can buy on Amazon for about $5. They are sturdy and hold sheets towels and clothing perfectly and can slide under the bed until it is time to move out. Finally pack in the reverse oder that you will unpack.

One of the last things you want to do is make the bed, because it is one of the few places to set things and who wants dirty sheets. So pack the things you want to unpack on top of the sheets so that you don’t have to find places to set everything in a small room. I sent my kids to school with Herschel backpacks they they never let them down.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

We put together our thoughts on ways parents should not waste money on dorm rooms and over a million people took note. This is not 1986 so that means your kid will probably not use and alarm clock, or many of the traditional “school supplies” that we used before we had laptops. Many schools have networked printers and professors often ask for worked turned in digitally, making a printer an unnecessary experts.

The number one piece of advice, harking back to this no longer being the 20th century is to go online and find out the specifics of your kid’s dorm. Some schools have lamps, desk chairs and trash cans, others do not. Some of adequate storage space, others do not. Don’t assume anything as each school is different and kid’s can order online, with quick delivery, anything they need.

College students have no reason to show up with everything they “might” need, when it is so easy to simply order what they really do need.

Aleigha Nicole

  • North Carolina A&T State University
  • Major: Journalism and Mass Communication

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

Once I settled in my dorm, I bought a huge bulletin board to sit on my desk. I used it to pin party flyers, reminders, business cards, etc. Literally, anything that could’ve easily ended up in the trash or rack up dust by sitting on my desk.

This helped a lot when it came to remembering upcoming events since I’m forced to look at it any time I’m in my room.

Another thing I bought when I got to school were those fabric cube storage bins that fold, which is easy for packing. I used this to put all of my hair supplies and body care products in.

The top 3rd thing I brought were envelopes. Well, they were given to me, and I never used them, but I wish I did. College students probably haven’t had this item on their list of things to pack in over a decade, but a good ol’ fashioned letter to family and friends never gets old and can be something nostalgic to look back on years after graduating.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

Before college, I didn’t own a single suitcase. I still don’t because the one I finally bought myself freshman year broke. It lasted a while though. I packed all of my stuff in plastic bins and one footlocker trunk. Any leftover stuff I had to pack went in random tote bags I already owned, like the free ones you get when you spend a bunch of money at Victoria’s Secret.

For class, whatever I carried my notebooks and stuff in wasn’t a traditional bookbag. Bookbags are cool, they just were never my thing and clashed with the way I dress. There was this one cheetah backpack I liked using. It was cute and cheap. I got it at Walmart. I also used any big purses I had that could hold a decent amount of stuff. These bags weren’t anything fancy, just something cute from Ross or TJ Maxx.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

Don’t bring all the clothes and shoes you own. It’s unnecessary and you won’t wear them all. Save yourself some packing time and space in your room and only pack stuff you wear regularly and that’s in season to the area your school is in.

Some items that students may not think about bringing that they should in place of other random clothing items are a swimsuit and business professional and business casual wear. No matter the season, being in college, you never know what you’re going to get yourself into. A swimsuit comes in handy for a random dip in the indoor pool on campus or a swimsuit-themed party.

The business professional AND business casual wear is extremely important for career fairs, certain interest meetings or to practice dressing up “like an adult” during the week. There’s a difference between the two and certain events or meetings you attend while in college may require one or the other and you want to make sure you’re dressed to the requirements.

Samantha Tetrault

  • Flagler College
  • Major: English

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

First, I bought earplugs because dorms can be really loud at night! I also brought a flashlight for getting up in the middle of the night without having to wake anyone else up. Finally, I brought containers for under the bed storage so I didn’t have to take up precious closet space with out of season clothes.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I packed suitcases and packing cubes, but the best thing I did was bringing less than I needed. It’s always easier to buy the bulkier stuff after you get settled, plus you’ll then know what you actually need. I also try to bring only the clothes I’ll need that season, and I’ll swap clothes out during breaks! It really cut down on clutter. For class, I just used a regular backpack! As an English major, I always had a ton of small books to carry around so there was really no way around a traditional backpack.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

I don’t think you need to bring any extra furniture or excessive decor until you’ve already moved in! Most of the times you’ll have a roommate and they’ll bring stuff too, and so you’ll realize you didn’t need half the stuff you bought. Remember, there’s always time after you move in to go get what you need! It’s always better to bring less than you think you need.

Similarly, I think it’s best to hold off on buying school supplies like notebooks and stuff until after the first day of class. A lot of professors will require specific things! After the first day, you’ll know what you really need and what you don’t need to waste money on!

Katy Kozee

  • Pace University (Katy’s daughter)
  • Major: Peace and Justice Studies

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

  • A Task Organizer Lamp with a USB port from Target – My daughter’s love for this lamp was a little over the top. She would actually discuss how much she liked it with me when we facetimed during the school year. (To be fair, it was right in front of her when we talked most of the time.) I asked her to describe why she loved it so. “Good lighting. Held my pens and highlighters. Charged my phone. Sometimes could be used as a bit of a trash can. What’s not to like?” What indeed.
  • Clear Shoe Boxes – My daughter and her roommate used these to organize a variety of miscellaneous items in their drawers: school supplies, make-up, first aid supplies, etc. Clear shoe boxes are cheaper than specialized storage containers and tend to fit in tight spaces more easily.
  • Decorative Command Hooks – Everybody brings command hooks, but there are actually some pretty stylish ones that work as an organizer and make the room look a little nicer. My daughter and her roommate used command hooks to squeeze every inch of potential organizing space out of the traditional tiny dorm room. They used the decorative command hooks to keep her backpack and purses on the wall conveniently by her bed. They were also very handy for storing curling irons and hair dryers next to the dresser.

How did you bring your stuff to college?

Because we flew from Atlanta to New York City, we took one large suitcase and filled it with all the clothes and outerwear she needed for the year. We need more than packing cubes to get all that in one suitcase so we packed everything in Ziploc® Space Bag® 10-Piece Combo Set and stuffed it all in. Once we got to New York we bought everything else she needed during the world’s largest Target run – 3 shopping carts full of dorm room stuff.

My daughter kept the suitcase under her bed and used it to store her out of season clothing and extra linens. She also used foldable storage cubes under her bed for storing bed linens, towels, sweaters and miscellaneous items such as laundry detergent. The cubes weren’t so wide as to be unwieldy and they were easy to slide in and out from under the bed.

For carrying her stuff to class, my daughter uses the Madewell medium transport tote ($158 – but Madewell offers a 15% discount to college students). It’s sturdy, holds what she needs, and looks a bit more polished than a backpack.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

Charlotte ended using very little from the 3 shopping carts full of stuff we got during our Target run. As the year wore on, she realized that the best way to maximize a small space is to minimize what you’ve got in it. The over-the-door shoe rack and the multiple pairs of shoes stored in them ended up gone and replaced with a total of 4 pairs of shoes that she could easily store under her bed. Command hooks on the wall held day-to-day needs such as backpacks and purses and they got rid of their printer the first week. They rarely needed to print and when they did, they could easily print at the library.

Sara Laughed

  • Wellesley College
  • Major: Religion

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

  • Homemade art and photos. This was a great way to keep friends and family close, and it helped me save money when I was furnishing my dorm!
  • A warm quilt or blanket. I went to school in Massachusetts, where the winters are freezing! It was really important to me to bring a cozy blanket to keep me warm and comfortable.
  • Plants for in my window! They don’t even have to be real, living plants — just having a little greenery in the window can bring a whole lot more life and love to a room! In my senior year, I had a few plants in my windowsill, and taking care of them as they grew actually even reminded me to take care of myself!

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I packed everything in large boxes and a backpack. We drove up to my school, instead of flying, so it was much easier for me to bring things than it is for someone coming from the other end of the country. When I pack for flights, though, I always use packing cubes as a way to separate my items — I can recommend them if you’re flying to school!

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

At least at my college, I had no need for a microwave; there was one in the common room that was always free to use!

Liv Bane

  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Major: Political Science & Public Policy

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

I brought a lot more cooking supplies to college than some people do since I planned not to have a meal plan. My glass Tupperware set, pot & pan, and basic spices (cinnamon, salt & pepper, etc.) got a ton of use and were really helpful for eating healthy in college!

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I packed a lot of my college stuff inside the storage bins, laundry basket, and drawers I planned to use in my dorm room, anyway, which was helpful for saving space inside my car. I set my dorm twin bed up a bit higher off the ground than a typical bed so I can keep all of my storage bins, laundry basket, etc. out of the way and (sort of) out of sight. I also store some things, like my laptop, under my futon when I’m not using them.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

If you go to a school that gives you print credits, don’t bring a printer! You’ll save space and money by not bringing one. I’d also suggest going through your closet and donating clothes you haven’t worn in a year or two because if you didn’t wear them in high school, you probably won’t in college.

Makenzie Kublin

  • Georgia Southern University
  • Major: Nursing

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

The most useful thing I brought was several packs of command hooks. I use these for almost everything! I have small command hooks to hang up fairy lights in my bedroom, velcro command strips for hanging up pictures and canvas boards, bigger command hooks to hang towels in the bathroom and even another hook for my dog’s leash by the front door. The possibilities for these are endless!

A Keurig. Yes, it can be a little expensive to buy a Keurig, but think about all the money it would cost to go to Starbucks each morning for a $4 coffee. In the long run, it will help to save you time and money.

I also really enjoy my essential oil diffuser. I use eucalyptus oil a lot to help me relax after a hard day of school. Plus, it keeps my apartment smelling fresh!

How did you bring your stuff to college?

I was fortunate enough to have family members willing to help. I put everything in storage bins and cardboard boxes that I had been saving up for a few months prior to moving. I also used about 3 different laundry baskets to transport cleaning, bathroom and kitchen supplies. A few of my family members each own a truck, so we put everything in the back and tied it down. Luckily, I didn’t go to college too far from home!

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

A big binder for classes is not a good idea. In high school I used to cram all my paperwork in a 3-inch binder and take it to class each day, but in college almost everything is online, including paperwork, essays, homework, and grades. The only school supplies I actually needed was a small spiral notebook, index cards, and my laptop.

My alarm clock also just sits on the bottom of my closet. I only use my cell phone now to set alarms.

What top 3 things did you bring to college besides the common stuff everybody brings?

How did you bring your stuff to college?

A helpful tip someone gave me was to leave all my hanging clothes on the hanger, and simply cover them with garbage bags. This saved time when packing, but also while unpacking. I would simply take off the garbage bags and put the clothes right onto the hanging rack.

Commonly recommended stuff that you don’t think is necessary to bring?

Anything that you say you “might” use can be left at home. I justified bringing way more junk that I needed, and ended up bringing things I never even touched. I slowly brought those items home over breaks, in order to declutter. You can always borrow things from friends, so don’t feel like you need to bring every possible item under the sun!

I’d also suggest leaving your winter clothes (i.e. sweaters and coats and boots) at home, if you can, until they’re needed. You don’t need to bring your entire wardrobe with you right away. You can always bring things back with you, or take things home with you throughout the different seasons.

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