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10 Shopping and Packing Tips for College Move-In

Kate Gallop

I learned a lot during freshman year about what a new college student REALLY needs in their dorm room. Here are my Top 10 shopping and packing tips, based on personal experience. Share them with your student today!

1. Get a queen-size comforter instead of twin XL.

If you choose to buy a new duvet and cover, a queen is the better choice and it’s the same length as an extra-long twin. A queen will last much longer because it will fit whatever size bed you may have after freshman year, too.

Of course, you will still want two sets of twin XL sheets, but I loved having a queen comforter. My roommate’s blankets would fall off in the middle of the night or she’d have to readjust them a lot. With a queen, I tucked the extra blanket between my elevated bed and the wall, so it never fell off and I barely had to adjust it. 

2. Make it personal.

Don’t forget to look for a poster, print out pictures of family and friends, or do whatever else you want to make your dorm room feel homey. You don’t have to decorate every inch of the room to make it yours.

I hung a few photos from home which helped with homesickness. I also loved having a fuzzy throw blanket I could take to a friend’s room for the occasional movie night. My dorm was the only place on campus I could rely on for privacy, so feeling comfortable there was important. 

3. Buy basic cleaning supplies.

Having a small handheld vacuum to occasionally clean your carpet is a must. Disinfectant wipes or sprays are great to clean shared surfaces, especially if/when you or your roommate are sick or if there's a COVID wave. I got sick twice during my first semester of college, and my roommate was very happy I avoided getting her sick by wiping things down.

4. Get ready to get sick.

There's nothing worse than being sick for the first time away from home and having to Uber to a grocery store to buy what you need. To avoid this, head to a store during move-in or early in the semester to pick up tissues, whatever cold medicine you prefer, and soup you can heat up in your room. This is stuff you will use throughout your four years.

Since the pandemic seems like it might never end, it's also a good idea to have a supply of rapid, at-home COVID tests and masks.

If you have extra supplies, you can also help a friend through their first time being sick away from home. 

5. Bring a couple of nice outfits.

If you're the casual type, it helps to know that there are often events at the start of college (convocation, a President's reception, etc.) and throughout the year (career events, Greek life activities) where you might want to dress up a bit. It helps to have appropriate clothing on hand so you're not running around at the last minute trying to find the right pair of shoes.

6. Communicate with your roommate about a fridge and microwave.

Many residence halls have shared kitchens, but it's convenient to have a microwave and mini-fridge in your room to keep snacks or heat up food. Talk to your roommate if this is something you want to share, and who should bring what. Check to see if your school has a rental program.

Don’t forget to buy a microwave-safe Tupperware and mug. If you get tired of the food on your meal plan, check out Spoon University for easy recipes using only a microwave!

7. Consider the climate. 

If you're attending a college in a different climate, it’s important to invest in the right clothes. Whether it’s rain boots, a winter coat, or a hat and gloves, think about being comfortable in the new weather. It's much harder to avoid hot or cold weather at college since you'll spend a lot of time walking outside.

You may also consider the adjustment to a drier or more humid climate. I went from a very dry place to a humid one and I needed a stronger face wash. Consider getting a humidifier and lotion if you're moving to a dryer place.

8. Bring bags.

Buying a big rolling duffle bag might seem excessive before you start collecting things to pack, but I assure you, my big duffel was perfect. It fit the majority of my things, was easy to roll, and it took up minimal space in my dorm room because it folds up.

Having a small carry-on or gym bag is great for short trips home or if you join any clubs that travel. I also ended up buying reusable grocery bags because, along with helping reduce plastic use, they make trips to and from the grocery store much easier. I used Uber or Lyft to go shopping, so only having a few durable bags to carry made a big difference, especially since my dorm was far from the street. 

9. Wait to buy books.

There are some classes where having the books is a must and others where you may never open them. Most colleges have a longer add-drop period than high schools, so you may end up switching around your schedule in the first few weeks.

Because of this, it’s best to wait until you're sure you will need the book and you will keep taking the class before ordering books. During the first week, sometimes called “syllabus week,” professors will make it clear which books you will definitely need and others that might only be complementary course material. I recommend taking some time after the first week to get books. Many bookstores on campus will have rental options, or you can order or rent easily online. 

10. Don’t treat your college’s packing recommendations like requirements.

Many schools release a list of “essentials” to pack for college. It’s important to pay close attention to what you CAN'T bring, but use the main list only as a suggestion. You know what you need better than anyone. Dorm rooms can get pretty tight, so don’t take up space with things on the list you won’t use. 

Before move-in, I felt so much pressure to remember everything. It's good to make your own list and be organized, but I wish I’d realized it's perfectly normal to forget things and order last-minute items. Move-in day can be stressful, so plan ahead — and try to relax! It will all get done. 

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Kate Gallop is a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, where she majors in English and minors in psychology and WGSS (women's, gender and sexuality studies). Kate's work has appeared on Creating Cultures of Dignity’s blog and in Canvas, a teen literary journal. Aside from writing, she enjoys creating graphics for WashU Dance Marathon and playing club basketball.
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