College Moves: What to Pack and What to Buy


The acceptance letters have arrived, graduation caps have been tossed jubilantly into the air, and summer is in full swing—’tis the season to start planning for a college move.

First things first—congratulations! Starting college is a significant accomplishment for both you and your child, whether they’re staying at home and enrolling at a local school or are spreading their wings and attending college out of state. No matter which camp you fall into, moving your child to college requires a lot of planning and preparation—especially if they are going to college across the country.

Of the many questions and worst-case scenarios that may be flying through your mind, “what do we pack?” is often one of the most challenging elements of planning a long distance college move. At TSI, we’re experts in long distance moving and shipping (including college moves), so we’re here to share our best tips for packing for college, including what to pack for students living in dorms, as well as for those who’ve opted for off-campus housing, and when (and what) to ship from home.

Let’s jump in!

What to pack—or not pack—for a long distance college move

When you’re planning a long distance or cross-country college move, start by segmenting your packing list into two sections:

  1. What to pack and bring along from home
  2. What to buy when you arrive

What you pack and what you buy will ultimately depend on how far your teen will be moving. For moves less than 150 miles, they may be better off buying things at home. For long distance moves over 150 miles, it’s often better to limit what they pack to the bare essentials, then purchase the rest once they arrive.

Before considering what to pack and what to buy, you also need to consider where your child will be living. If they are moving into a dorm, good news—many of the big-ticket items they will need, such as a bed and a desk, will be provided. Most colleges will also supply a checklist of what to bring, as well as what is not permitted.

COLLEGE MOVING TIP: Unless you have precise measurements and know exactly how much space your child will have, wait till after you arrive to purchase storage bins and other organizational supplies like bed risers. If you arrive with these items, you run the risk of ending up with supplies they don’t actually need or have the space for.

If your child will be living off campus, you may wish to focus their housing search on furnished rooms so that you don’t have to worry about moving furniture or purchasing it upon arrival. If a furnished room isn’t in the cards, you have a few options:

  1. Rent a moving truck and drive any furniture you have already across the country (Bonus—the long drive is a great last-minute bonding opportunity).
  2. Have any furniture shipped using consolidated freight services
  3. Wait and purchase what you can when you arrive

Your teen may also have a roommate. If they are able to connect with their roommate before move in day, have them try to coordinate who brings what so that you can avoid any duplicates, especially for large, hard-to-transport items like furniture.

Items to pack and bring from home

Regardless of how far your child is moving to college, there are a few items you will almost always want to bring from home. This includes:

Big-ticket electronics

  • Laptop and/or desktop computer
  • External storage devices
  • Other peripheral devices, such as mouses or keyboards
  • Headphones


  • Prescription medications
  • Favorite makeup or skincare products


  • One or two “nice” outfits
  • Seasonal clothing, if your child won’t be returning home before Thanksgiving or Christmas

COLLEGE MOVING TIP: While it is generally best to focus on items they will definitely need, it’s okay for your child to pack some impractical items as well. You never know when they’ll need those neon leggings or your vintage overalls.

Important documents

  • Car registration and insurance
  • Copy of birth certificate and social security information
  • Passport
  • Emergency contact information
  • Financial aid documents
  • Banking information
  • Health and dental insurance information
  • Shipping paperwork or bill of lading if you shipped some belongings separately
  • Lockbox to keep documents secure

Other items

  • Sports equipment

COLLEGE MOVING TIP: Read TSI’s College Moves 101 guide for detailed packing lists, including downloadable printable checklists.

Things to buy when you arrive

If your child is moving to college in another state or across the country, your goal should be to pack as little as possible, and instead purchase most of what they will need once you arrive. Some stores offer online shopping with local pick-up, so you can purchase what you need before move-in day then simply pick it up when you arrive.

When you’re creating your shopping list, start with these items:

Room needs

  • Desk and bedside lamp (if not provided)
  • Storage bins
  • Fan
  • Removable picture hangers and/or hooks

Desktop needs

  • School supplies (pens, highlighters, stapler, etc.)
  • Desktop organization tools

Linens and laundry

  • Pillows
  • Bedding (duvet or comforter, sheets, and extra blankets)
  • Towels
  • Laundry supplies


  • Portable speakers
  • Cords (HDMI cords, extension cords) and power bars


  • Shower supplies (shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc.)
  • Skin care
  • Eye care (contact lens solution)
  • Hair products
  • Cosmetics
  • First aid supplies
  • Blow dryer and other hair tools
  • Toilet paper

Small appliances

  • TV and dvd/blu-ray player
  • Coffee maker or kettle
  • Mini fridge
  • Toaster
  • Microwave

COLLEGE MOVING TIP: If your child will be living in a dorm, always confirm what appliances are permitted before purchasing anything.

Household items

  • Dishes, glasses, and silverware
  • Cooking utensils (spatula, can opener, etc.)
  • Food storage containers

Decorative items

  • Lights
  • Wall art
  • Plants


If your child will be living off campus, they may need to purchase any necessary furniture after you arrive. Before investing in brand new items, encourage your teen to look at local thrift shops—they’ll save money, and reduce their carbon footprint.

  • Bed frame
  • Mattress
  • Dresser
  • Night table
  • Bathroom supplies (shower curtain, rings, mat, plunger)
  • Dining table and chairs
  • Couch
  • Coffee table
  • Curtains
  • Rugs

Shipping stuff from home

For long distance college moves, it’s often more economical for you or your child to purchase new (or at least, new to you) stuff when they arrive at college, especially if they will be living in a furnished dorm or apartment.

Your teen will need more items if they will be living off campus in an unfurnished room. They may even need to furnish an entire apartment. In this case, it may make more sense to ship some furniture from home. Shipping large items separately, such as couches and other furniture, as well as large boxes if necessary, will allow your child to pack as little as possible for the trip, ensuring an easy journey and a straightforward start to the school year.

Consolidated freight shipping, such as TSI’s personalized less-than-truckload (LTL) service, is a smart, economical solution for transporting furniture and large boxes. Your teen’s belongings will share space on the truck with other cargo travelling in the same direction, and you’ll only pay for the space their stuff takes up on the truck.


Your child starting college is often bittersweet—while you may be sad to see them leave the nest, you’re proud and excited for them to start the next chapter of their lives. As a parent, the best you can do is help them get a good start.

If your child has never moved before, they may lean on you for advice about how to plan their college move, especially if they are moving long distance. Resist the urge to meticulously plan their move, and instead focus on connecting them with resources that will help them navigate the process on their own.

TSI’s College Moves 101 guide is full of practical tips for planning a college move, including a weekly timeline and checklist, off-campus and dorm packing lists, and more.

Read the full College Moves 101 guide on our site.


About the Author
Rachel Hazzard is the Content Solutions Manager for TSI, a seven-time honoree on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies. After years in the industry, she’s an expert on packing, organizing, and downsizing. When she’s not working, you’ll likely find her eating out or hanging with her cat Nilla.

About Author

LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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Lori Bosworth
4 years ago

What a comprehensive guide for parents with teens who are going off to college. I think it’s a great idea to buy furniture or other items once they arrive at their destination to avoid transportation costs.

Viano Dee
4 years ago

This is well detailed post not only for parents who have kids going off to college but also for adults who are starting out life on their own. Great post.

Kristine Nicole Alessandra
Kristine Nicole Alessandra
4 years ago

These is a good reference article for parents and college freshmen as well. I cannot imagine the huge expense! I guess I was fortunate that we live in an area very close to two good universities. My children would just drive to school or take the bus and they’d be home everyday for dinner. 🙂 I am sharing this post with my other mom friends too.

Samantha Donnelly
4 years ago

My friend had to do this last year, it was so stressful trying to remember everything and then moving out and moving into new accomodation. This is a great post to help those going through it

Liz Bayardelle
4 years ago

Oh this is such a useful list! I wish I had had something like this when I first went away to school. Thank goodness I was within driving distance, as I definitely had to get some things and bring others back home for lack of space!

4 years ago

One tip from a current student. No doubt some of you will search for writing services. Don’t choose the first you find. Get the facts about such services first. There’re pitfalls which you should pay attention to. Not all of the services are trustworthy.