Must-have items to pack when leaving for college

From plates to photos, students need lots of items to feel at home

Packing for college has become big business. Home furnishings and department stores have handy college packing lists, and some even partner with colleges to create display dorm rooms stocked with their merchandise and packing lists available on college tours. Without appearing terribly sexist and non-PC, packing for college can either be a summer-long activity or consist of rounding up a few items the day before heading out. It mostly falls along gender lines.

While your sons may not anguish over their wardrobe and matching comforters, both sons and daughters will want to be sure to consider the following “necessary” items, based on interviews with college students:

  • Mattress pad — mattresses can be squishy; egg-crate type pads are popular.
  • Mini-vac — handy for microwave popcorn spills and other messes.
  • Earplugs — considered a “most critical item.” Snoring and partying neighbors can be a big distraction.
  • Room freshener — particularly mentioned by boys; laundry can pile up; the plug-in style can make the room more inhabitable.
  • Dispensable wipes — easy way to clean surfaces.
  • Vitamins — balance the carb intake.
  • Reusable plastic plates — go green, forget paper products.
  • Reminders of home — some photos are good, but don’t overdo it; yearbook might be nice.
  • Journal — freshman year is full of highs and lows and many in-between times. If a journal is a helpful way to express your thoughts and feelings, you’ll treasure it years later.
  • Sleeping bag — great for weekend trips to visit friends
  • Frisbee/tennis ball — can be an effective ice-breaking social device.

Some other items not to forget:  Laundry basket, hangers, umbrella, surge protector, fan, cup for bathroom, laundry quarters, whistle for safety, posters (, hammer and nails, hooks and putty to hang posters, extension cords, erasable memo board and pens, CD storage unit, stick-on hooks, medical insurance card, Social Security card, bottle and can opener, sewing kit, first-aid kit.

For parents: Purchase school supplies at an office-supply store; they’re cheaper than the campus bookstore. Buy two university calendars — one for you and one for your child. These contain essential phone numbers and addresses of university buildings, restaurants and motels near the campus for weekend visits.

Make a hotel reservation for Parents Weekend. Rooms go quickly.

Call your homeowner’s insurance agent and find out how much it costs to insure your teen’s stuff at college.

Open a checking account for your child at a bank with branches at the college and near your home. That way you can make emergency deposits (what other kind is there?) yourself, instead of sending a check in the mail.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;