9 Tips to Make Dorm Move-In Day Easier

Paperwork, Packing and More

Hispanic woman hanging out in college dorm room
Eric Raptosh Photography/Blend Images/Getty Images

You’ve done the dorm shopping, loaded up on towels, totes, and extra-long sheets, and now it’s time to pack. Read on for tips on streamlining the dorm move-in day process and how to prepare if your child is moving more than a car ride away.

  1. First, check the paperwork: Remind your child to re-read everything the residence life dean sent, paying particular attention to check-in times, locations and procedures for dorm move-in day. Some schools let families pull cars right up to the dorm door. Some make you park at the bottom of a vast hill and take a number. And others don’t want you unloading anything until your child has gone through registration, had his photo taken and signed innumerable forms. Re-reading the paperwork and making sure you have any necessary forms - health reports or student ID number - will reduce the stress of the move-in day.
  1. Pack only the essentials: If your child’s belongings don’t fit in the back of a minivan or average sized car, he’s bringing too much stuff. Dormitories supply all the basic furniture, but you'll need bed linens, towels, and toiletries, some basic school supplies and clothes. Televisions and other electronics are a pain to ship – but to a teen, they’re absolute essentials. Pack them first and use soft items to protect them. Leave the least essential and items that are easiest to ship for last.
  2. Use storage bins: It's much easier to pack a car with regularly shaped objects – boxes or large Rubbermaid bins – as opposed to plastic trash bags or grocery sacks. Plus boxes are much easier to lug up multiple flights of crowded dorm stairs, especially when the boxes have hand holds. (Many dorms don't have elevators, and those that do will be crammed.) Tip: If your child will be using under-bed storage boxes to hold spare towels and bed linens, for example, pack those items in the boxes, to begin with. The box goes straight from the car to underneath the bed; no unpacking necessary.
  1. Sort and organize: Your teen may want to just sling stuff into random boxes, but he’ll settle in much more easily - and his chips won't smell of detergent- if he puts all his desk supplies in one box and snacks in another.
  2. Pack casual: Your child won’t need his heavy woolens in August. Ship winter items later, or have him pick them up at Thanksgiving. He will need plenty of casual, comfortable clothing, workout clothes, and a nice outfit or two. If the school has a Greek system and your child is interested in participating, add a couple of dressy outfits to the mix. If you’ve got a music major, have him check on concert wear. Some schools require black, floor-length gowns and tuxedos or tails. Others want black trousers and a black dress shirt.
  1. Bring tools: A toolkit with a basic hammer, screwdrivers and pliers can come in handy on move-in day. You may need to bunk the beds, raise or lower mattresses, or deal with minor repairs. Bring a roll of duct tape too. It’s great for taping down extension cords as well as minor repairs.
  2. Don’t forget treasures: Photos of friends and loved ones and soft bedding and pillows make for a more comforting, cozy environment. There won’t be much space, but you can incorporate photos into other, utilitarian things – a film-wrapped pencil cup, for example, or other dorm crafts.
  3. Ship it or buy it there: If you're not taking a car, you can ship your child’s belongings directly to the school, order items online for local pickup, or wait until you get there to shop. But do a little homework first, so you avoid some key mistakes... the kind that leaves your kid sleeping on a borrowed towel for three days.
  4. Pack Kleenex: Don't forget the tissues -  for you. Packing your child off to school is an emotional undertaking. Expect to feel at least a little weepy, but wait till you get to the car, or at least around the corner.

As your child moves into his new digs, he'll be given a clipboard-worth of things to inspect in his new room, from chipped furniture to carpet stains.

It's critical that he do this thoroughly and mark off any problem areas. Otherwise, when dorm move-out day rolls around, you'll be charged for the damage he didn't do. Check off the boxes and fill out the forms, but also make sure to check the seams of the mattresses and other classic bedbug hiding spots before you bring in all the gear.