Moving to College: What to Pack & How to Move Students Long Distance

Posted in Moving on Jun 25, 2018, tagged with family, how to, small moves

Moving to College: What to Pack & How to Move Students Long Distance

If you’re a student or the parent of a student, moving away from home or into your first apartment is usually a time of high emotions and stress for everyone involved. You’re both excited and scared about the prospects ahead, and maybe a little sad about the things you’re leaving behind—or the prospect of being left behind.

Whether your kids are moving less than 20 minutes away or clear across the country, you will still need to help them decide on a number of things, such as:

  • What they’re bringing with them and what can be left behind or donated
  • The best way to pack it
  • How to transport it

Take the Laptop, Leave the Cannolis

Deciding what to bring is a job for your kids to handle on their own. Moving is a great time for them to declutter and downsize their stuff, even if they are able to leave some or most of it at home. Here are some guidelines to pass on to your kids:

  • Get rid of any clothing that no longer fits, that they haven’t worn, or that no longer fits with their style.
  • Sort through their books. Donate or sell any textbooks or other books from high school that aren’t on their assigned reading lists for college and that they aren’t going to read again.
  • Toss out, rehome, or donate any unused or expired beauty products, toiletries, and other personal care items.

After cutting out the items they no longer need or want, it’s time for your kids to decide on what to actually bring to school. It’s easy to overdo it when it comes to moving away for school—especially if it’s their first time—so you will usually be better off packing light and having them pick stuff up as needed rather than trying to bring everything they might conceivably need for the entire year during the initial move. The items they need will depend on whether they’re moving into a dorm or off-campus, and whether or not their new place is furnished.

Items that should make the trip:

  • A few mementos and items for decorating
  • Small sewing kit
  • Computer and personal electronics
  • A set of towels 
  • Reusable food containers
  • A few lightweight dishes, cups, and eating utensils
  • A good backpack
  • Clothes they will actually wear - if your kids are able to go back home a few times a semester, it’s better to switch things out as they need them rather than bringing everything at once.
  • Bed pillows and at least two set of sheets
  • If their place is not furnished, your kids should talk to their roommates about who already owns what pieces of furniture and what they will need to bring or buy once they arrive.

If your kids are moving into a dorm, they’ll also need:

  • Shower caddy
  • Shower shoes
  • Durable laundry bag
  • If a mattress is supplied by the college, they’ll want to bring a mattress topper for comfort.

Don’t forget that consumables like laundry detergent or school supplies can always be picked up after you arrive. Your kids probably won’t need to do laundry for a few days (or until their next visit home), so you might as well save yourself the packing space.

Items other students say you won’t need:

  • Ironing board, unless you already use one regularly
  • Printer (you can just use one in the lab!)
  • Too many decor items - while it is important to make your space feel like home, your kids are most likely going to be moving again in 9 months, so don’t overdo it.
  • Underbed storage - some dorm beds don’t have the clearance for it. Make sure the beds have the space, or find out if there are legs that can be added before packing underbed storage.

PRO TIP: If your kids are moving into a dorm, you’ll want to check with the college to make sure they aren’t packing anything that isn’t permitted in their room. This typically includes things like:

  • Microwaves
  • Toaster ovens
  • Hotplates
  • Other potential fire hazards


Now that you and your kids have decluttered and decided what not to bring to school, you have a good idea of what you’ll need in terms of packing supplies. The exact amount you’ll need will vary, but you’ll want to pick up:

  • A variety of box sizes, including wardrobe and book boxes
  • Packing and masking tape
  • Pens, markers, and pencils
  • Bubble wrap, packing paper, or other cushioning materials
  • Notepad for taking inventory
  • Plastic bags for any liquids

With your supplies on hand and a packing station set up, it’s time to start boxing up your belongings.

  • Begin with the items your kids will need the least often and save items they’ll need to use before you move until closer to moving day.
  • Set aside items for a 24 hour moving kit containing essentials[link] such as a change of clothes, pajamas, toiletries, and snacks so you don’t have to unpack as soon as you get there.
  • As you pack, write down everything that is going into the boxes and tape it to one of the top inside flaps.
  • Consider a color-coding system that utilizes different colors of tape and markers to identify what a box contains, who it belongs to, and what room it should be delivered to.
  • If your kids have clothes that don’t wrinkle, they can roll their clothes rather than folding them or moving them in a wardrobe box to save space. Read our guide to packing your bedroom for tips on packing clothes and other personal belongings.
  • To keep shoes from dirtying up other items in the box, cover their soles with a shower cap.

If you are bringing books with you:

  • Lay them flat or with their spine toward the bottom of the box
  • Pack them in small boxes or book boxes—their weight quickly adds up
  • Group books together by similar height and width dimensions, so there isn’t a lot of unnecessary space
  • Fill empty spaces with packing materials so the books don’t shift during transit

For electronics:

  • Backup computer files onto your preferred storage method, such as an external hard drive, thumb (USB) drives, cloud storage, etc.
  • Disconnect and label all cables and components.
  • Remove ink cartridges from printers, put masking tape over their contact points, and store them in plastic bags to keep the ink from getting on your belongings.
  • If you still have the original box and packing materials that your device came with, use those. Alternately, you can pick up a computer packing kit at most moving supply stores.

If you don’t have the original packaging for your electronics, here’s what to do:

  • Put down a layer of packing material in an appropriately-sized box that’s not much larger than the item you are packing.
  • Carefully wrap the item with bubble wrap to prevent damage.
  • Place the wrapped tower, scanner, printer, or screen upright in the box.
  • Fill any empty space with packing material.
  • Put any cables or components inside the box with the items they belong to.
  • Label the box with the room it belongs in, what it contains, which direction should be up, and mark it as “FRAGILE”.

For more packing tips, check out our Room by Room Guide to Packing your Home.

The Move

If your child is moving into a dorm, they likely won’t need to bring much furniture with them and might be able to make do if you know someone with an SUV or truck—if you’ve helped your friends move in the past, now is the time to call in the favor.

For moves with furniture or more than a few boxes or bags, as well as long distance or more permanent moves, you might want to consider hiring professional movers or shipping your items separately. That way, you can focus on spending more quality time together and less time worrying about loading and unloading boxes before your kids leave the nest.

Moving On

Moving can feel overwhelming, especially when it accompanies such a major life change, so remember to take breaks, relax, and enjoy this exciting new chapter of your kid’s life.

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