Careers & Education

Deciding what to take to college

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Taking the right things to college can make a good freshman year even better
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Leaving for college will certainly be an exhilarating and liberating experience, but you'll want to limit the personal items you bring with you.

Know Your Space:

One of the best bits of advice I can offer is to research your dorm room before you move in. If you can't visit your exact room or a sample model dorm room at your school, look for information and pictures online. Of course, dorm rooms can vary significantly within the same school. Generally, they are built in stages, as the campus has expanded, so some dorms may be brand new and semi-luxurious while the older dorms may be cramped and possess a less desirable layout.

It's the luck of the draw, but try to do everything you can to find out what to expect in advance. For some crazy reason, I chose to attend a college in Florida without ever seeing the campus, let alone viewing the dorms.

Accustomed to my own space, I was shocked at the miniscule bedroom I had to share with a roommate and the bathroom I needed to share with seven suite mates! My study area was located outside of my bedroom and accessible to my suitemates and anyone else they brought over, so I didn't feel comfortable storing any personal items in there. Had I known my living arrangements, I would have packed very differently. There was no room for my photo albums, massive CD collection or my favorite jeans from 10th grade that I hoped to fit in again one day. You need to start thinking minimalist. Survivalist! What do you need to bring in order to survive?

Personal Hygiene Items:

Try to purchase items in relatively small containers, particularly your shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser and other shower items. You don't want to leave these items in a communal area because they will disappear before your next shower. A plastic bath caddy is a wonderful thing. It should have a handle and be small enough to tote around regularly. Be sure to write your name on in with a permanent marker. To store other personal items, consider purchasing a plastic container with lid that will fit under your bed for easy access.

School Supplies:

What do need to use for your classes? When taking notes, do you prefer spiral bound notebooks or 3 ring binders with loose leaf paper? Or do you want to take all of your notes in your laptop? Whichever you prefer, keep it consistent for all of your classes. How will you mark your textbooks when reading? Color-coded flags and small sticky notes are a great way to organize your reading. If you are bringing pens, pencils and highlighters, store them in Ziploc bags. A daily planner is an absolute must. After all, you need to keep all of your short and long term assignments listed in one place as your professors are likely to mention them just once and then expect you to deliver on the due date.

What do you need to stay organized? Spend a little time roaming through your local office supply store and figure out what organizational system will work for you. The important thing is to HAVE an organizational system! Purchase several stackable plastic file boxes with lids so you can store your paperwork easily and efficiently. Consider where you to plan to be studying. Many students cannot concentrate in their dorm rooms, which will often be noisy. For this reason, college libraries offer quiet study areas. Keep all of your study materials stored in a backpack or messenger bag so you can just grab it and go when it's time to hit the books. For students who prefer to study in their room, you will find a clip-on flashlight and beanbag lap desk to be invaluable.

Comfort Items:

Everyone has their own comfort zone, and you want to recreate that when you go to college. A cozy blanket, soft bed linens, and extra pillows are essential. If your mattress is not very comfortable, try purchasing one of those foam "egg crate" mattress toppers. They're inexpensive, and can make a big difference.


Although you should try to keep expensive electronics to a minimum, some electronics will make your life easier and certainly more enjoyable. If you don't already have one, consider purchasing a laptop computer. A detachable mouse will make typing much easier. Determine how you plan to store and back-up important information for your classes. A flash drive is great for backing up information because it's small, portable and easy to transfer from one computer to another. No doubt you are already planning to bring your cell phone: try sharing an "unlimited minutes" plan with several family members to save money. An IPOD is a great way to enjoy music or listen to notes you recorded in class without disturbing your roommate.

Financial Items:

You'll want to have a financial plan set up before you leave for college. You should have an established checking account, bank card, and budget set up. Try to register for online banking and online bill pay for any recurring bills you may have. For more information, visit How College Students Can Manage Their Finances.


For many of you, dorm style cooking will be a new and unique experience! If you have a meal plan, you only need to bring snacks, preferably those they don't require refrigeration (until you know who has a fridge!). Items such as boxed macaroni and cheese, microwave popcorn, and bagged chips are common snacks for college students, but try investigating more healthful alternatives as well. Fresh fruit is great to have handy, particularly apples, pears, and bananas. If you do have access to a fridge, you can purchase ready-made dips, such as hummus, to eat with crackers or French bread. Individually package cheese snacks are great if you need a quick pick me up before class. Also, some canned soups offer healthy varieties in single serving, pop-top containers.


There are items you need to bring and items you can acquire over time. When considering what to take to college, think about which items you could live without for a month or so. If your parents have bought you a meal plan at your school's cafeteria, you can probably do without a hot plate, microwave, and mini fridge for at least a while. Why wait? Well, if you happen to meet seven suitemates as I did, you may be fortunate to find that one of them brought a hot plate, three of them brought microwaves, and four of them lugged in mini fridges. Undoubtedly, you'll have something to share as well. If not, you could offer to clean the microwave or fridge once for having limited access to them. Important: don't offer to share your laptop or other expensive electronics. Keep these items out of sight when not in use. You want them in working order and present when you need them!

The best way to get started is to m

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