What to Bring to College

Okay, I hate to be the one to bring it up here, but post-Fourth of July means back to school has started. And based on the emails I’m getting right now (from freshly graduated high school seniors and their moms), I know people are already prepping for the return to college campuses. 
There are going to be a million packing lists out there on what to bring to college. I remember walking into every store and seeing a rip-off slip of paper of “MUST HAVE” items. They included everything from microwaves to bean bag chairs and full-size area rugs. These lists are designed to get you to spend as much money as possible in the store, not necessarily to set you up for dorm living success. 
I recommend bringing as little as possible. I had to fit everything I was bringing to college in boxes that I checked as extra luggage for the flight up. It made moving in and moving out a logistical nightmare, especially in a city (DC) where there wasn’t a ton of parking for cars. I helped move my sister in and out of a few dorms, and it’s so much easier to load up the back of a car, or two. Even still, the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to deal with and fit in your already-cramped-dorm. 
Especially now with Amazon Prime (student discount = worth it), it’s easier to start off with the basics and gradually add things as you need them. That’s the key. You’ll figure out what you need! 
Now that I’ve said that you don’t need as much as you think and that you shouldn’t follow those lists, I’m going to recommend a few things. I was thinking about it the other day that I brought so much crap to college and really could have made my life easier by packing smarter.
// Steamer– Do not go to college without a steamer. I didn’t bring one and every time I use mine now I think how much better my mornings would have been (and my outfits would have looked) if I had one. They’re so easy.
If you’re a mom/aunt/cousin/sister and need a last minute gift for a college student, I’d 100% recommend a steamer. A great practical gift that she (or he) will use time and time again. 
// Toolkit– A toolkit wasn’t something I ever thought I’d need. Until, of course, I needed it. Once I had one, I found myself using it for a ton of random tasks– and I would end up lending it out to friends on my floor too. Pack one just in case. 
// Suiting Attire– As far as clothes go, I think the best way to go is not to do back to school shopping. Instead, bring what you need for a few months and figure out what you’re actually wearing. You may (aka probably will) get to college and realize that everything you wore in high school isn’t what you’ll wear in college. Or, everything you thought you’d wear in college isn’t as practical as you thought.
BUT, bringing a few professional pieces and tucking those away in your closet will be well worth it. When the career fair, or an internship opportunity, or (very, very likely) an in-class presentation pops up, you’re good to go. Versus scrambling to piece something together by borrowing clothes from friends. 
A simple sheath dress, a pair of slacks, a nice button-down, a pencil skirt, and a blazer will go a long way. (Stick to the same color scheme, like all black or all navy for easy matching.) And don’t forget a pair of chic pumps.
// Formal Dress– I ended up having to have my mom ship up a formal dress super last minute when I was invited to one of the balls for the presidential inauguration my freshman year and then again when I went to another ball later in the year. You never know when a formal gown will be necessary, but it’s worth having tucked away in your closet just in case. (It can be an expensive and frustrating experience to go searching for one in a college town if you don’t have one when you need it!)
// Plenty of Underwear– You know what sucks in college? Laundry. Not only do the machines tend to eat socks and underwear (how? why?), it’s typically a pain to do it. I loved being able to stretch my laundry days out just by having tons of underwear.
// First Aid Kit– Kind of self-explanatory and just like the toolkit, you’ll be thankful that you have it when you need it. I’d buy a pre-made first aid kit and supplement with the things I know I’d also need. Look through the medicine cabinet at home to remind yourself of the things you reach for the most: the only headache pills that work for you, a pain relief you use when you’re on your period, etc. When in doubt, ask your mom!
// Extra toiletries– When you get to campus, I’d hit up the closest Target and stock up on toiletries. Toothpaste, shampoo, tampons, hair ties, cotton squares, etc. I’m not saying that you’ll be lazy in college… but… at least I would put off toiletry runs as long as possible. 
// Two sets of sheets– An extra set of sheets is not a bad idea. I would swap mine out weekly and always had sheets on my bed, even if a dirty set was waiting for the next laundry day. 

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While it's been a long time since I packed for college, hehe, I love you advice about not going shopping until you've been at school for a little while. I didn't do this, and ended up with a lot of stuff that I didn't need! 🙂 xoxo, Carly!

Kelly | Kelly in the City

Laura Cronin

Agree to not buying too much before going to school! Dorm rooms are TINY and you don't want to be living amongst so much unnecessary stuff. I had a steamer in college and should have made better use of it haha, it came in handy for sorority formal events and business networking events!

Laura | Laura Aime Vous

Audrey Lin

I remember the list you shared in 2014! I graduated from high school in May 2014, so it was perfectly timed ;P I bookmarked the post but ended up packing the night before my flight oops. I agree with what you said about not overpacking and instead getting things as you go 🙂 -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

Ellie Lucash

I have a random dorm tip I learned: while you usually need twin extra long sheets for dorm beds, a standard twin comforter fits just fine (maybe unless you're super tall haha). That opened up a zillion more options!

Also, I waited two years to get a foam mattress topper and I mourned the weeks and months I had slept without it. Those college mattresses are NOT great and the extra padding is well worth it.


I am definitely showing this to my little sister, she is about to head off to college!


Such a good tip, Carly! I went to college halfway across the country and bought everything like sheets, toiletries, etc. once I arrived. I (somehow) made it with only two (huge) suitcases, and it made traveling back and forth so much easier.
Also, ditto the formal clothes, but definitely don't stress about it! You can always pop over to the mall and buy some business casual clothes when you need it. And you WILL need it.


I brought a steamer with me to college my freshman year… I've used it once, and I'm going to be a junior haha :). In addition to extra underwear (so guilty of buying new underwear so I could go longer without doing laundry), I would also recommend extra towels!

Alexa |

Jenn Cramer

Underwear… for reals though, nobody ever has time for laundry so you might as well procrastinate it as long as possible! Hahaha

Southwestern Prepster

There were definitely times freshman year that I enjoyed doing laundry (because I did it super late at night and it was quiet) but the process of eventually getting into that room sucks. Definitely hold off on style shopping before college, but you can never have too much underwear!
xx, Mikkaela

Small Town Sisters

I would also recommend colored towels (as opposed to white towels) so you can throw a towel or two in with jeans or workout clothes. I had white towels and didn't really have enough whites to do until I was completely out of towels. 🙂 I also second the comment above about a regular size comforter — so much cuter than the extra-long.