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3 Essential Tips for Successfully Packing for College


Girl packing for college
Photo Credit

With summer vacay still in full swing for many of us, it’s hard not to feel like you have ages until you head to campus. But in reality, back-to-school will be here before you know it, and preparing ahead of time will make the whole process much easier.

Whether you’re heading back to college again as an upperclassmen, or taking the plunge for the first time as an incoming freshman, packing for college is certainly a daunting process. Fortunately, we’re here to help with some tips to get you back on campus stress-free and certain that you have all your essentials in tow. Here are three tips for successfully packing for college:

1. Make a serious list.

Packing list

This one is 100% Zephyr (and textbook Virgo)-approved: make a list! It doesn’t have to be radically organized or detailed, but keeping an ongoing list of your living essentials will help prevent those “oh no!” moments once you’re back at school.

So start with the basics: Think of your typical day and write down everything you use in that day, from shampoo and conditioner to eye-makeup remover and hair ties. Keep the list somewhere central, like your desk or car (or make it on your phone), so you can add to it over the next few weeks. Whenever you remember something random that you’ll need at school, add it to the list (my stapler!).

2. Resist the urge to over pack.

dorm closet
Photo Credit

This will be no news to you upperclassmen, but if you’re a freshman, take this advice to heart: While it may be tempting to stuff every item you own into your suitcase, you DON’T want to over pack for college!

Here’s why: If you’re moving into a dorm, you’re going to have limited space (often VERY limited space), and until you get there, it’s hard to judge just how small that space is going to be. Similarly, if you’re returning to a dorm, house, or apartment that you’re familiar with, it can be easy to forget how small your space is, or how much stuff you left there over the summer. So focus on packing only what you know you need, and maybe one or two extras that are special to you (like photos or CDs).

For clothes, figure out when your first visit home will be (Thanksgiving? Christmas?) and only bring stuff you’ll wear before that date. If you’re going to be gone for a few months, it’s a good idea to bring some of your fall and winter wardrobe now. But, if you’ll be heading home in a couple weeks, just bring your summer clothes for now and switch it up when the temperature drops.

3. You will probably forget something. If so, don’t panic.

Girl curled up in a suitcase

Trust me on this: There’s practically nothing you can forget to bring that can’t be fixed one way or another. Beg your Mom to Fedex your favorite going-out top to your dorm, convince a friend from home to visit you for the weekend with your hair straightener in tow, borrow your new roommate’s printer (pitch in for ink and paper!) until you can get home to grab yours, or, if all else fails, go out and buy whatever you’re missing. There are always ways to get what you need, so while forgetting something might be annoying, it’s nowhere near the end of the world.

It helps to be prepared and take time when thinking of everything you need to pack, but don’t stress yourself out; stress will only make you more likely to forget something important. As long as you stay calm and be creative, you’re guaranteed to survive your back to school journey, even if all you remembered to pack was clean underwear (but, please don’t let that be the case!).


What are your back-to-school packing essentials? What are your tips for staying organized when packing for college? Have you ever forgotten to pack something you really missed? Leave us a comment and tell us your tips!

Posted on on August 8, 2010 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , , ,

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31 Responses to “3 Essential Tips for Successfully Packing for College”

  1. 1
    August 8th, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    this is even helpful as a sophomore!

  2. 2
    August 8th, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I move into my freshman dorm two weeks from today. Even though I think I have everything I need, making a list is a good idea–I’m sure I’m forgetting something!

  3. 3
    August 8th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    A Day-Of tip: pack your cell phone! On my freshman move-in day, in the shuffle of packing up everything, I forgot my cellphone and didn’t realize it until my parents had already left. Luckily, I was going to school about 20 minutes from my house so they brought it to me that night, but I can’t imagine what a nightmare it would have been if they couldn’t have done that.

  4. 4
    August 8th, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Also think of what you can buy when you get to school (i.e. shampoo, soap, etc.). That way you reduce the amount of things you bring.

    Leave winter clothes at home until Thanksgiving or Christmas break.

  5. 5
    August 8th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    this is helpful for me– I’v never moved away from home until now, to do my Master’s degree. So while I’m 24 and “wise” (lol) these are grrrreat tips! Especially the list-making one, I make lists for vacations, and I never thought of it for school (major duh). Thanks CF!

    Sidenote: that closet looks EXACTLY like mine…jam packed!

  6. 6
    August 8th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    when you go to school in the northeast you HAVE to bring winter clothes with you at the beginning of the year. you can’t wait until thanksgiving. my freshman year i took classes over the summer before the year started and it was 112 degrees for almost a week and half straight in july (in the snow capital of the US), but three months later during the last week in october we got 2.5 feet of snow in less than 36 hours. luckily my dorm room was pretty big and i had a decent sized closet + a dresser, so there was plenty of room for a variety of hot-weather and cold-weather clothes.

    if you wait to buy stuff at school, you could end up paying more, even if you go out to the walmart in the suburbs. they jack up prices because they know kids are gonna wait to buy shampoo, razor blades, etc. you can always find room for that stuff in your suitcase…pack it in a plastic bag between your clothes. get creative. if you do end up forgetting stuff, look for it on ebay. you can generally find it in bulk on there for wholesale prices, so that way you can stock up and save money.

    making a list is DEFINITELY the best way to go. i make lists for everything, especially when i’m packing. you can always google “what to bring to college” because inevitably every list that comes up will have something different on it and there will always be something on the list that you’ve forgotten, so once you see it you can add it to your own list. ask your friends and neighbors at home that are already in college what they brought and what they brought and didn’t use, that way you can get an idea of whether or not you’ll need something.

  7. 7
    August 8th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Most importantly, do NOT wait til the last minute to pack. Mack sure you start packing a week or so in advance. You can pack away a couple of the tops you know you will not be wearing or other small things that you know you’ll need. That way when you are ready to leave you’ll just need to double check that list and be on your way!

  8. 8
    August 8th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    i agree with kd…. it’s a good idea to have some clothes from different seasons. I would suggest bringing at least a few zip-up hoodies and cardigans, because you don’t want to be cold at the football game, bonfire, etc.

  9. 9
    August 8th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Although I partly agree with Kd, for those of you flying up to school, remember to set aside time and money to buy items that can’t easily be packed into suitcases. Storage bins are one example that comes to mind. I couldn’t exactly bring big storage bins or those giant husband pillows on a plane, so I had to buy them when I got to campus. Great tips, Kaleigh!

  10. 10
    August 8th, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    I make a list of all of the clothes I’m going to bring. I also make a list of things I need to do starting with one month before I leave for college (buy comforter, sheets, hangers, back-to-school clothes), 2 weeks (school supplies, dig out my college stuff from last year) and then 1 week (pack!)

  11. 11
    August 8th, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Just thought I should throw in that alot of us have to pack our winter clothes now. I’m going to school 11 hrs from home and will not be home until thanksgiving. I’ll be flying home and back over thanksgiving and therefore its cheaper for me to take all my clothes now than pay extra to take winter clothes on a plane, since this will be the only time i’m driving. Plus, i’m attending school on the east coast in an area where it will be cold way sooner than thanksgiving.

  12. 12
    August 8th, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    i’m a big fan of making lists. all kinds of lists. (things to buy. things to pack. things to do before i leave. things to snatch from home so i don’t have to buy. things to discuss with roommate so we dont bring multiples.)

    also, i learned it’s just a hassle to take clothes off the hanger, fold, and pack away only to get to your room and have to unpack and put them back on a hanger. and because a bag of tangled hangers makes me want to cry. so if possible, just leave clothes on the hangers, pack them into the car last, and just lay them across the top of something.

  13. 13
    August 8th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Fantastic list. I”m going back for my third year so I’ve got this whole packing thing down to an art now :)

    But, my upperclassmen wisdom would add this footnote to your last tip:

    There are a few things that you absolutely do not want to forget. This includes contacts/glasses, prescription meds, or anything of this sort which is difficult to replace and is vital to everyday life. Make sure those are packed and anything else can be fixed.

  14. 14
    August 8th, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    This was very helpful to me, especially since I’m going to be going to university in the States for the first time and I’m flying from somewhere very warm to the NE. So I have no choice but to bring my winter clothes with me else I’ll freeze to death. I will have to say on campus for Thanksgiving breaks since I have no family in the States either, so I do not have that option.

  15. 15
    August 8th, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    For students that have to fly out to school, try this trick: use lightweight luggage. I had helped a friend pack for going home and I was shocked at how much her 25 inch suitcase weighed by itself. Some luggages are built so heavy that they eat up a lot of the luggage weight allowance, decreasing the maximum amount of things you can fill under the max. If you can manage to buy lighter luggages, it will help your packing overall.

    Since I always fly from LAX to JFK going to school, I usually take Virgin America, which has a 70 lb max limit on the first piece of checked in luggage. My 28 inch luggage weighs only about 9-10 pounds by itself so I pack a ton with the remaining 60 pounds I’ve got!

  16. 16
    August 9th, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Ha what I loved most about this post was the last picture- hilarious! Very helpful advice as well!

  17. 17
    August 9th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I will ALWAYS overpack when it comes to clothes. I can’t help it! I love to have my options! Luckily the closets at my dorm are really deep, so I can afford to bring a lot of stuff.

    Oh, and under the bed storage is your BEST FRIEND!

  18. 18
    August 9th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Great advice! Can we have more of these back to school articles?

  19. 19
    August 9th, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    it is useful for me ,especially since I’m going to be going to university in the States for the first time . So I have no choice but to bring my winter clothes with me else I’ll freeze to death.

  20. 20
    August 9th, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    So helpful! I agree with Vivi, more back to school articles would be amazing!
    Thanks CF!

  21. 21
    August 10th, 2010 at 8:08 am

    great advice.
    i did all this for my first year at uni but this time i’m packing for a year in minnesota!! definitely very different!! i’m planning on getting my mum to post me anything i forget!!

    Charlotte xxx

  22. 22
    August 11th, 2010 at 12:28 am

    This is kind of off topic, but I would love some help finding stylish luggage! My old Vera Bradleys just aren’t made for much beyond sleep overs.. Since the last time I flew and my bag’s zipper busted (while in the compartment under the plane), I’ve been in search of some sturdy but fashionable matching luggage. The only set I’ve been able to find that I kind of liked was from Dianne Von Frustenburg’s Studio Art line. Any other suggestions? I think-since were all packing to head back to school-an entry on this topic would be much appreciated!

  23. 23
    August 11th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    i agree w/ vivi! i love CF and i’m going to be a freshman at U of M this year, i’m a virgo (yes, i’m verrrry into lists), and would LOVE some more articles on going back to school!

  24. 24
    August 11th, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    The idea to lave your winter clothes behind until you visit home for Thanksgiving is nice- if your parents aren’t making you take every last piece of crap you ever owned with you. Sigh.

    Guess it’ll be good for me to get rid of belongings, i have way too much stuff anyway, lol!

  25. 25
    November 18th, 2010 at 3:21 am

    plastic and storage bins are both great, if i want a more durable storage bins then i would opt for steel storage bins *’-

  26. 26
    July 25th, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    This is very helpful. For a complete list, take a look at my Personal College Packing List on my blog, Combined with these 3 essential tips, you’ll be a whiz at packing!

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