College Move-In Day: 30 Best Planning Tips

Collage of photos showing freshmen moving into a dorm on college move-in day
Photo Credit:

My son graduates from high school this spring, and I’m already planning his college move-in day… 5 months ahead of time.

Why? Well, for starters, because I’m a notorious planner. I NEED to be organized so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

But, it’s also because my son’s college is located on the other side of the country. I want to make sure all of our T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted well in advance so we can enjoy this HUGE milestone.

I’ve interviewed every parent and college student I know for their best tips on college move-in day. I’m sure I’m not the only one preparing to send a kid to college, so I’m sharing them with you below. Enjoy!

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1. Plan Ahead for College Move-In Day with a Wish List

Screenshot of a college move-in day wish list saved on Amazon
Photo Credit: Organizenvy

I started this tip months ago before we even knew which university my son would attend. Just make a list of everything you’ll need to purchase for freshman year.

You can write your list on paper, start a spreadsheet, or use a shopping website like Amazon or Target.

I chose Amazon because I keep a lot of wish lists there. This is a nice option because I can check it to see if items go on sale and buy them ahead of time. I can also send it to relatives who want to support my son with items he needs.

To create a wish list on Amazon:

  • Log in to your Amazon account.
  • On a computer, hover over “Accounts & Lists.” You’ll see Wish List in the menu.
  • On the mobile app, click the profile (person) icon at the bottom of the screen and click “Your Lists” to begin.
Screenshot of Amazon's wish list creation option
Photo Credit: Organizenvy

Add College Essentials to Your Wish List

Not sure where to start? My Ultimate Packing List for College
has a comprehensive list of college essentials.
It even features a downloadable checklist to help you as you pack!

2. Get Measurements of Your Dorm Room

Photo of a college dorm room before students move in
Photo Credit:

This is very important. Before you buy or pack ANYTHING, do your best to get the measurements of your:

  • Entire dorm room length and width
  • Bed (including space underneath, with and without risers or loft)
  • Desk
  • Dresser
  • Closet

You may be able to find this information in the housing section of your college’s website. You can also check forums or Facebook groups for your college or ask your roommate(s) if they took measurements when they visited.

3. Communicate With Your Roommates About Dorm Items

It’s always a good idea to get in touch with your roommate(s) well before college move-in day. You can discuss who will bring items like a TV, video game system, coffee maker, etc. This prevents you from bringing duplicate items you don’t need.

4. Plan Your Dorm Room Space Ahead of Time

Photo of a college dorm room with storage beneath the bed
Photo Credit: Mikaela C.

My son’s girlfriend moved into college last fall. She planned every inch of her dorm room space, and as you can see she did a GREAT job!

It really helps to plan ahead and decide if you’ll raise your bed (which allows for all kinds of storage), and where you’ll put your desk, refrigerator, etc.

Check out 30 Dorm Storage Ideas for more ways to plan and organize your dorm room!

Pinterest and Instagram also offer great inspiration for how you might design your space.

5. Pick an Early Move-In Time

Move-in day is NUTS. If you can choose an early time, TAKE IT.

This will help you avoid the crowds and get settled and unpacked quickly. You may also have the opportunity to choose the side of the room you prefer, if you arrive before your roommate.

6. Wash New Towels and Bedding Before Packing

You’ll probably purchase a bedding set and towels before you move in. Wash everything before you pack, because you won’t have time when you arrive.

You’ll want to make up your bed and unpack your clothes and toiletries as soon as you arrive at the dorm. Make sure they’re clean ahead of time!

7. Vacuum Seal All Soft Items in Storage Bags

A woman placing clothing into a vacuum storage bag
Photo Credit:

I got this great tip from my friend who moved her son across the country.

Keep everything organized by categorizing what goes in each storage bag. Have a bag for:

  • Towels
  • Bedding
  • Tops
  • Bottoms
  • Pajamas, Underwear and Socks

8. Pack Items in Extra Large Moving Bags

Another great tip from my friend: she placed all of her son’s clothes, bedding, towels and small dorm items in zippered, heavy-duty shopping bags. They come with backpack AND handle straps.

VENO 6 Pack Moving Bags w/Backpack Straps, Moving Boxes & Storage Bins Alternative, Packing Supplies, Camping Accessories Totes for Storage, Dorm Room Essentials Storage Bags (Blue, 6 Pack)

Southwest Airlines allows two checked bags free per person, so I plan to use these bags when we fly to Georgia in August.

These also work great for travel by car. They easily stack in a trunk. After move-in, they can be neatly folded up and stored without taking up much space.

9. Group Clothes on Hangers and Cover With a Garbage Bag

If you’re not traveling by plane, you can also enclose clothes on hangers in garbage bags.

Just stack a set of clothes on your bed, slide a garbage bag over the stack (from the top down) and push the hanger hook through the top.

Tie the garbage bag at the bottom and you’re good to go! This protects your clothes during travel and enables you to just grab the hangers from the bag and hang in your dorm closet.

Easy, peasy.

10. Have Large Items Shipped to a Local Store

Since my family is flying, we will have large dorm room items shipped to the local Target or Walmart. Both stores will hold items for a number of days so you can pick them up when you arrive for college move-in.

This is a good option for delicate or bulky items like TVs, coffee makers, storage carts, etc.

11. Buy a Laundry Hamper with a Mesh Bag Liner

My friend gave me this tip:

Get a collapsible, lidded laundry hamper with a mesh liner bag. When it’s time to do laundry, just grab the mesh bag and throw it (with all the clothes) into the washing machine.

iEGrow Laundry Basket with Lid, 110L Large Laundry Hamper with Handle and Lid, Collapsible Clothes Basket Organizer with Removable Inner Bag for Clothes Toys Towels - Light Grey

If you wash your clothes in cold water, you won’t need to separate colors and whites.

The lidded outer hamper keeps dirty clothes from stinking up the dorm room. And, the mesh bag protects your clothes from getting snagged (and socks from getting lost).

12. Place College Move-In Tools in a Bag or Bin for Easy Access

You’ll need some tools and supplies handy when you arrive at your dorm room. Keep them in their own bag or bin so you can find them easily:

13. Bring Surge Protectors and Plenty of Charging Cables

You’ll have a lot of electronics to plug in or charge, and probably not enough outlets. Be sure to buy a surge protector or two and charging cables for your bed or desk area.

14. Consider Bringing Your Own Cart or Moving Dolly

Most schools provide carts on college move-in day, but they’ll be in high demand. To ensure you can move your items from the car quickly and easily, you can bring your own cart.

This space-saving option collapses for easy transport in the car, and comes with elastic straps to secure your belongings:

SOYO Folding Hand Truck, 500lbs Heavy Duty Dolly, Portable 6 Wheels Collapsible Luggage Cart with 2 Elastic Ropes for Moving, Travel, Shopping, House Office Use, Black

15. Ship Items Directly to Your Dorm

Find out if your college allows you to ship dorm room items to the residence hall ahead of time. If so, you can save yourself several trips from the car to the dorm this way.

16. Store Jewelry and Accessories in a Travel Organizer

Jewelry stored in a travel organizer
Photo Credit: Mikaela C.

17. Put Hooks on the Back of Your Dorm Room Door

A dorm room door with over-the-door hooks for backpack and shower items, plus a towel bar
Photo Credit: Mikaela C.

18. Pack Dorm Room Items in Labeled Storage Bins

No need to pack, unpack and re-pack items in dorm storage bins on college move-in day. You can get organized ahead of time!

You’ll save so much time!

19. Bring a Fan and Air Purifier for College Move-In Day

An air purifier sits on top of a rolling cart in a college dorm room
Photo Credit: Mikaela C.

Many college students will be moving into their dorms in August. It’ll be hot. Not all dorm rooms have air conditioning.

20. Put a Rolling Cart in Your Dorm Room

21. Bring Adjustable Bed Risers

Dorm risers give you a few more inches of storage space beneath the bed. I recommend a set of adjustable risers with built-in USB ports and AC outlet. (You can never have too many outlets or charging ports!)

Home Intuition Heavy Duty Adjustable Bed Risers Furniture Riser 3, 5 or 8-Inch, 4 Pack (White W/USB)

It’ll be much easier to put these on your dorm bed before you finish setting it up, so bring them on move-in day.

22. Pack Snacks and Drinks

College move-in day is LONG and tiring. Bring energizing snacks and water to keep you going! (You can pack them in a storage bin to be used throughout the year, too.)

23. Keep Your Personal Documents Close at Hand

Don’t pack away your driver’s license, medical insurance card, proof of vaccination or any other important documents.

Keep them close at hand in your wallet, purse or backpack. You may need them when you arrive on campus.

24. Don’t Overpack Clothing

Clothes hung in a dorm closet
Photo Credit: Mikaela C.

As you can see from the picture above, dorm closets are SMALL. Do not bring more clothes than you need. You simply won’t have room for your entire wardrobe.

Think about what you wear on a daily basis. Bring enough comfortable, casual clothes to last around 2 weeks, plus one dressy outfit for a formal occasion.

One professional outfit is a good idea for interviews or meetings where you want to look your best.

25. Use a Hanging Shoe Organizer

A hanging shoe organizer hooked onto a college dorm closet
Photo Credit: Mikaela C.

I love this storage hack! My son’s girlfriend hooked a shoe organizer on the side of her dorm closet. This freed up precious storage space inside the closet and gave her instant access to all of her shoes.

You can use hanging shoe organizers for much more than shoes, too. They are perfect for storing toiletries, cosmetics, hair care products, styling tools, water bottles and more.

26. Bring a Mirror

Notice the lovely mirror in the picture from tip #25?

Every dorm room needs a mirror for last-minute fit checks and touch-ups. You don’t want to run to the bathroom every time you need to fix your hair. Bring either a desktop mirror or a full-length mirror you can hang or lean against the wall.

27. Pack a Waterproof Mattress Cover and a Mattress Topper

Dorm mattresses absolutely require a waterproof mattress cover. This acts as a barrier between you and any allergens or germs in the mattress.

Add a mattress topper to ensure you sleep soundly and comfortably all night. Don’t forget – size Twin XL!

28. Disinfect All Surfaces Before Unpacking

Remember those disinfectant wipes and trash bags? Whip those babies out before you do anything else, and wipe down your bed frame, desk, closet and any other surfaces.

29. Be Social and Meet Your Neighbors

Prop your dorm room door open while you unpack so you can pop your head out and meet your fellow freshmen! Everyone will be feeling a bit nervous, so go ahead and break the ice.

These students will become your family over the course of the year.

30. Take Pictures and Video of Your Big Day

Your college move-in day is a HUGE milestone in your life! In all the hustle and bustle, try to remember to capture these important moments with a video and photos. You’ll be so happy you did.

Mother and daughter unpacking the car on college move-in day


Dorm Storage Tips to Organize a Small Space

Dorm Desk Organization Ideas

Dorm Closet Storage Hacks

Complete College Packing List With Printable

Last update on 2024-07-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API