Heading to college after your last summer home can be a relatively stressful time. From figuring out what textbooks are needed, to making sure there are enough supplies to get through the semester and even to sorting through which clothes to leave home and which to bring, packing for freshman year isn’t easy.

Going into my senior year, I’ve developed a system that has helped improve the time needed to pack and the amount of stress endured during the last few days home–not to mention saving a ton of space in my car!

Freshman Overpacking Syndrome

The summer before my freshman year of college was spent with my parents raiding the shelves of Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, and the virtual shelves of Amazon attempting to get every last item I MIGHT need for life at college. My mother, a nurse practitioner in a previous life, packed all sorts of medication for any sort of medical emergency I might experience. Spanish flu, smallpox, rubella, whatever the case may be she made sure I was packed and ready to go!

After not contracting any viruses or diseases the first year, however, I realized I could cut the SUV full of supplies down to save room in the vehicle and time packing.

The Treatment

Finally, the summer before my sophomore year, I had come up for a remedy for my over packing problem. I would take all the boxes of supplies and clothes and simply cut them in half. I took 20+ boxes and narrowed them down to seven of the essentials.

Each year I cut that down even further and I am proud to say that going on to my senior year I am down to four boxes and a suitcase. This did not come easy and much was left behind, but doing so has made packing a breeze and will make move in day go that much smoother. Below. I’ll briefly discuss what I have done to limit my baggage and explain why I have chosen to leave some items home.

Packing for Freshman Year

Naturally, everyone is different and will value some items over others, which is why I have given one simple rule to packing for college: “Do I really need this, and if so, what for?”

I argue with myself, “Do I really need this lava lamp for my room?” flows into “Am I going to turn it on more than once?”

“And What about this TV?” I have one of the most beautiful campuses in New England and my roommate already has a TV, so that’s a no-brainer. It’s the realization that the lack of use will make lugging that TV up four flights of stairs even more painful, if I had gone through with it.

Arguably, my New York Yankees banner and Henrik Lundqvist poster will be accompanying me up to school…but like I said, everyone’s different.


Packing Clothes for College

You don’t need to bring 6 pairs of shoes, 15 different tank tops, 9 baseball caps and 400 pairs of socks (you’ll lose half of them anyway). Or maybe you do? Maybe you’re on the baseball team or have a passion for sleeveless shirts. The key is consolidation.

Fold your clothes and pack them tight to fit more into less. Leave some clothes at home so when you do go home you don’t need to pack such a big bag for the trip. There are a ton of tricks to limit the clothes you need to bring, especially if you have free laundry. One of the methods I prefer are vacuum bags.

Attending school in New Hampshire, we have a solid five and a half month winter. That means I have quite a few jackets, thermals, and heavy blankets to bring up that I won’t need until November. To save space, I’ll pack all that away in vacuum bags and suck them down paper thin. For real, they become an eighth of the size they originally were.

All in all, based upon where you go to school and what you need to bring, you can keep it limited and still have everything you need.


Yes, having medicine on you is important. Advil for those headache-inducing study sessions, Tums for the subsequent RedBull and TacoBell heartburn, and any prescribed medications.

But could that be cut down at all? Does the school medical office/nurse have any of those items that you can take? Do you really need the value sized case of Advil or could you stop at the nurse and grab a pill or two? Taking several bottles of cold/cough medicine may also not be necessary.

Will you even get sick? If you do end up becoming sick could you get those supplies from the nurse or a nearby convenience store? You’d be surprised how much you could cut down in this area. Aside from that, the usual toothpaste/toothbrush/mouthwash/floss and assorted other day to day items should be included unless purchasing them near your school is more cost effective!

The Must-Haves:

  • Prescribed medication
  • Tums (frequent hot sauce induced heartburn)
  • Vitamins
  • Day to day toiletries

Note: Freshman year my mom packed me up with enough gauze to amputate all four limbs..I would deem this an unnecessary item to pack.

Gadgets and Other Tech

Laptop? Necessary. Cell phone? Wouldn’t leave home (or my bed) without it. Chargers for both? Obviously. After that what else is necessary? Once again, argue with yourself.

Do you need to lug that brand new printer/fax/scanner/teleportation device to school? Does your school’s IT Department give printing credits towards printing via the campus computers? Take advantage of that! My university offers 1500 free prints for every student..most of which don’t even use a fourth of their print allowance!

What about an alarm clock? A TV? Speaker system? All of which deserve an argument and should be eliminated or added based on your needs.

The Simple List:

  • Laptop
  • Cell Phone
  • Headphones
  • 3 USB Sticks
  • iPod
  • All necessary chargers

Note: One of my majors is Information Technology and I am employed in the university’s IT Department so I have some of my own tools required for that…most of which I just keep at the IT Department over the summer anyway.

School  Supplies

College Supplies

This is one of the areas that is certainly varied person to person. Depending on major, workload, and class status, what some people choose to bring may be different than others. How you choose to organize yourself is also a large component of this.

How many books do you actually need to order? How many notebooks/pens do you need? Do you really need a glue stick and pencil sharpener? Depending on your major, such as education, you may actually need those things!

For most majors, however, odds are they are not necessary. Another important question to ask yourself is whether or not you can get school supplies cheaper at school, that way you can just pick everything up when you get there. This is especially true for my Long Island residency and my New Hampshire university!

Finally, one of the biggest pieces of advice I have ever received is about purchasing/renting textbooks. While it may sound last minute, waiting until after the first week of classes, also known as “syllabus week”, to order your books may result in you having to purchase less books as some professors may openly admit to rarely using the books or offering online editions. Bottom line, its better to hold out than over buy!

Necessary Supplies:

  • A notebook or two
  • Pens/highlighters/mechanical pencils
  • Only the textbooks I know I need. The others can wait.
  • A folder or two for any handouts

Misc. Items

As far as miscellaneous items go. bring what is going to make you feel most at home. Whether it be pictures, posters, street signs from your home town, anything to give a taste of home is definitely worth packing.

Obviously college isn’t your home, but it will be your second home. Make memories there. Hang new pictures and new posters to make your room more like a home, as opposed to sleeping quarters.

In the end, however, only you can determine what is necessary to bring to school and what you should leave at home. If packing up your current room works for you than you should do what makes you happy. But if you’re trying to downsize and make this transition as smooth as possible, keeping it minimal is the way to go.

Some may argue its better to over pack than under pack (and they’re right in most cases), once you get acclimated to where you are you can better determine what is actually necessary to bring and save yourself a ton of time and headaches.