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Packing for College: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Unnecessary

College and University Blog - Resources, help, and insight for your college experience

So, you’re headed off to campus this fall. You’ve sailed through the application process, narrowed down your list of finalists, and finally decided which school would be right for you. Now, all that’s left to do is figuring out how to cram a metric ton of clothes, furnishings, gadgets, and school supplies into the back of your car.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, think again. For some college freshmen making the transition to on-campus living, packing can be one of the most stressful parts of the process. According to statistics gathered by the College Board, the average double-occupancy dorm room is less than 200 square feet in size. If you split it right down the middle with your new roommate, that means you’ll have to squeeze all of your stuff into a space that’s about the same size as the average bathroom.

The good news? With a bit of preparation and advance planning, it is possible for the packing process to go smoothly. What matters most is packing smart and strategically, rather than just blindly shoving everything you own into the family SUV in a fit of last-minute sentimentality. Here are some tips to lead you through the process.

Take your time. Last-minute packing is almost always poorly done. Try to start winnowing down your possessions as soon as your college plans are finalized. The longer you give yourself to devote yourself to careful packing, the better choices you’ll be able to make.

Choose just a few of your favorite mementos. Leaving home for the first time can be an emotionally charged process. It’s understandable that you might want to load up on keepsakes, souvenirs, and other sentimental items, but your dorm room just isn’t going to big enough to hold every last memento you’ve amassed over the last 18 years. Instead, settle on just three or four things that have the most meaning to you – the smaller, the better!

If you can put a purchase off until later, do it. Many first-time college students make the mistake of buying all of their dorm supplies back home. While this may be necessary in a few rare situations, you can usually vastly simplify the packing process by waiting to buy basic supplies when you hit campus. Most college towns have the same discount stores that you have back home. That way, you won’t have to drag ten trunks full of towels, comforters, and area rugs across the country. Plus you can coordinate and chip in with your roommate to save money on decor and shared items.

Pack a good mix of your favorite in-season clothes. If you’re a clothes horse, you’re going to have to change your habits in college. Don’t take wildly ambitious or over-the-top outfits that you’re probably never going to drag out of the closet, anyway. Pick a wardrobe of 10-15 realistic, comfortable, and flexible pieces. When the seasons change, you can ask your parents to send over your sweaters and corduroys in a care package, and ship the box back full of your summer clothes for safekeeping.

What kind of problems do you expect to face in the packing-for-college process? Is there any one item that you know won’t fit in your dorm room, but that it’s going to be very hard to live without? Share your tips and stories in the comments.


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