How To Prepare And Pack For College Move In Day

July 15, 2022

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Dorm Move In Plan

Ok, here we go. If you’re reading this, it’s getting real, and college move in day is probably fast approaching.

You’re likely exhausted from the past couple of months. College decisions, prom, graduation, dorm shopping, wild swings in emotions, arguments, tears, more shopping and fear of the unknown.

Let’s try to avoid the arguments and tears on move in day. The best way to do that is to plan ahead.

This article is focused specifically on preparing and planning for move-in day, not to be confused with shopping for your dorm room essentials!

While the list and steps in this article will be most relevant for those driving to college, those who are flying will also find helpful ideas and tips for a smooth move-in.

Here is your plan in reverse chronological order. Or you can jump to any of the following content:


Decide who is going with you

We did not bring our younger son (he had high school that day), but it was for the best. Between my husband, my son and myself plus his roommate and his parents, 6 was too many to have in the room at one time, especially with bags and bins and stuff everywhere.

Make Travel Reservations

Air Travel

If you have some time before you travel, you may want to setup an airfare alert to be alerted when prices drop. But you should definitely book far in advance especially if you’re headed into a smaller market.


If you’ll need a hotel and haven’t made a reservation yet, do it NOW. Or look at Airbnb depending on the city. Hotel reservations only get more expensive with time.

Some schools offer hotel suggestions and even discounted rates for local hotels. Check your college website for this information.

Also consider booking hotel rooms for parents’ weekend and other busy visit times now.

Make Dinner Reservations

If you will be in town the night before or staying the night of move in, consider making dinner reservations at a restaurant now too.

Finish Dorm Shopping

Need some inspiration or ideas? We have a few resources for you:

The Complete Dorm Room Essentials Guide: A Shoppable List

Article: How To Layer A Perfectly Comfortable Dorm Bed

Article: 25 Important Tips For Dorm Room And College Campus Safety

Article: Dorm Room Appliances And Cooking Gadgets

Have dorm shopping questions? Join our /Dorm Shopping Facebook Group and ask away.


Be sure you know the rules for your dorm. For example:

  • What can be used to hang decor on the walls?
  • Requirements or restrictions for surge protectors and extension cords?
  • Size or wattage requirements for appliances?
  • Removal or rearrangement of furniture?

Shop For A “Surprise” Move In Gift

If you’re considering a small gift for the new college student, now would be a good time to take care of that. Something sentimental? Something cute? Something from the dog? Better to get that ordered now especially if it will be a custom order.

Here is a creative list full of sentimental move in day gifts and little touches to quietly leave behind to be found later.

Check Your Insurance Policies

For the dorm room or other housing

Your homeowner’s policy may cover your child’s belongings in a dorm, but it probably won’t cover them in off-campus housing. Given laptops, phones and other electronics and expensive items brought to campus, consider a rental insurance policy if you don’t have coverage from an existing policy. Policies are typically very low in cost, starting at $5-10 per month.

Car Insurance

If your child will not be bringing a car to college, let your insurance company know, and you will likely see a temporary rate drop.

You may also be able to bundle renter’s insurance mentioned above with the car insurance policy. Worth asking while you have the agent on the phone.

Know The Parking Situation

If your child is bringing a car to campus, be sure to know the rules in advance in case you need to apply for a parking permit or park in a specific area for freshmen. While parking enforcement may look the other way on move-in day, they will probably not be lenient for long!

START GATHERING the tools and supplies FOR MOVE-IN Day

  • Moving bags – I recommend 6 to 8. Do not spend more than $5 or $6 per bag. And be SURE they have the backpack straps.
  • Rubber mallet – Be sure to get one large enough to knock wooden bed slats in place. Some look large in the picture but are actually only a few inches long. The one linked here is the correct size.
  • Door stops – Not just for move-in day. Prop the door open when you’re feeling social to invite your hall mates to stop in.
  • Drawer liners – optional, but nice to have for the dresser and desk drawers. These are non-adhesive liners, use scissors to cut to fit.
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Level
  • Step ladder
  • Sharpie
  • Scissors
  • Screwdriver – Phillips head and standard
  • Just in case – pliers, allen wrench, standard wrench
  • WD-40 – The door to my son’s room was SO squeaky. Had to run out and buy WD-40 even though we had a couple of cans at home.
  • Zip ties – For attaching headboards or other items to the bed frame and for corralling cords. May be needed for other assembling too. The pack linked here contains various lengths.
  • Small first-aid bag with Band-Aids, Neosporin, ibuprofen
  • Trash bags
  • Large yard waste trash bags or small tarps if there is anything that needs protection from rain while transporting from the car to the dorm (eg: a TV that is already out of the box).
  • Optionally, a hand-truck or dolly. We did fine without these but had 2 18-year-old boys and their 2 ‘willing to lift heavy things’ dads.

If permitted:

  • Command hooks, picture strips, whatever is needed to hang decor
  • Rubbing alcohol and a few cotton pads/balls to clean walls prior to command strips
  • Painter’s tape

Cleaning Supplies For Move In:

  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Glass cleaner (Windex)
  • Bathroom cleaning supplies (if attached bathroom)

For The Student & The Moving Helpers

  • Cooler with waters and cold washcloths
  • Snacks
  • Change of clothes after the move and unpacking is complete

Download or Print Our Dorm Move In Day Tools And Supplies List. Or Pin It!

Dorm Move In Tools and Supplies List

In The Month Before MOVE IN DAY

Organize what can be packed. Do you have a big stash of stuff that you’ve purchased in one place? In lots of places? Start getting it together and put like things in piles. Bedding, office supplies, technology, storage items, furniture items, etc. Don’t start packing until you read the How To Pack The Car For College Move In below.

Unpackage items that don’t need to transport in their packaging or boxes.

Label bags, bins, boxes as you pack them if you can’t see inside. Put items together that will be in the same “phase” of unpacking. Consider labeling bins and bags with a Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 (see below for recommended phases).

Go ahead and wash the bedding and towels. Everything except the mattress topper which should stay sealed up for transport. I like these zipper storage bins to store extra sheets and towels in the dorm room as well as off-season clothes. Great for under-bed storage.

Pro Tip: If your school is providing student ‘helpers’ for car unloading and moving assistance, consider getting a few $5-10 fast food gift cards to have on hand as thank you’s.


Start gathering the clothes that will be moving to college. Leave clothes on their hangers, or move them to their dorm hangers. When you’re ready to pack them for the move, put them in the moving bag as pictured or through a heavy duty garbage bag if you aren’t using moving bags.

Moving bags make it so easy to carry heavy awkward items like these by using the backpack straps and carrying it that way.

Frakta Bag As Garment Bag
How To Use A Moving Bag As A Garment Bag For Clothes On Hangers

Get familiar with the Notes app on your phone. Have it ready during move-in to jot down any quick shopping needs as you put the room together.

Pro Tip: Get some old washcloths, wet them, roll them up and stick them in a freezer baggie. These will go in your move in day cooler. Use them to cool off, clean items or clean hands. As a

THE DAY BEFORE MOVE IN DAY (Or Day Before Travel Day)

Pack some snacks. You don’t need anyone getting hangry.

If you’re driving, prep a cooler. Lots of water. More than you think. Did you freeze those washcloths? Don’t forget those tomorrow. Put a sticky note on the cooler to remind you.

Hydrate today too.

Pack a change of clothes/freshen up toiletries for the ride home or for dinner after move-in.

Put a small first aid kit together – band aids, neosporin, ibuprofen.

And pack as much as you can in the car today/tonight (important – see the order below).

Now is a good time to get everyone on the same page for tomorrow.

  • Have dinner together as a family. Water glasses all around.
  • Remind the student that this is their time, that you’re there to help with the move, but the decisions are theirs.
  • It is their time….except for pictures. These are non-negotiable, and you don’t want to argue about it tomorrow. Just be in the photos as directed.
  • Say your peace about staying safe, making good decisions, not taking any pills (they might be laced with something), treading lightly with parties and partying, never walking alone, practicing safe sex – whatever you feel you need to say. Better to do this now than tomorrow while you’re busy unpacking or saying goodbye.
  • Agree on communication for the days and weeks after you leave. If your student prefers text over Facetime, let them guide it. Just ask for regular check-ins so you know they’re ok.
  • Encourage them to seek help proactively whether it be academic, financial, physical, spiritual or mental health related. Get off to a good start, and don’t be afraid to ask for help – it is absolutely acceptable to do so!
  • Agree to leave a little earlier tomorrow to help reduce stress. Especially if you have a move in time.

Pro Tip: Do you have the mailing address for your student at school? Go ahead and get that now, store it in your phone in case you need to ship a few things on your drive home. Also send it to grandparents or anyone else who may want to send notes or small gifts to the new college student.

How To Pack The Car For Move In Day: The Order Is Important!

Be sure to plan ahead for what you will wear on move-in day and put that aside so that it doesn’t get packed. Definitely wear sneakers, so have socks too. No flip flops. If you’re bringing a change of clothes for after the move, put them in a small bag that you can keep at your feet in the car so you’ll know where it is.

Pack things in the car in the reverse order that they will be needed when you arrive at your dorm.

Put In The Car First (Last To Come Out Of The Car) – Move In Day Phase 3

  • Electronics – Laptop, TV, clock, speakers, monitors, charging stations
  • Appliances, coffee, food, snacks, drinks meant to stay in the dorm (not for move in day)
  • Small storage containers of school supplies, jewelry, makeup, etc.
  • Decor (except for large wall-hangings and rug) – lamps, ottoman, framed pictures, tabletop decor
  • School supplies/desk needs
  • Laundry and cleaning supplies
  • Clothes, accessories, shoes
  • Toiletries (except the few that may be needed to freshen up for lunch or dinner)

Put In The Middle – Move In Day Phase 2

  • Air Purifier
  • Step stool or step ladder
  • Headboard (if you are bringing one that needs to be attached) and zip-ties or other attachment tools/supplies
  • Curtains
  • Wall hangings
  • Bedding (mattress pad, sheets, comforter, pillows/cases)
  • Closet organizers
  • Carts or other furniture

Put In The Car LAST – Move In Day Phase 1

  • Cleaning supplies for move-in
  • Door stoppers
  • Vacuum (or small dust pan/broom or Swiffer mop) and Cleaning Supplies
  • Mattress encasement
  • Mattress topper
  • Fan
  • Rug
  • Refrigerator – if you have room to keep it in the box, great. If not, do whatever you can to keep it standing upright during transport.
  • Surge protectors and extension cords
  • Drawer liners
  • First aid kit
  • Toilet paper (if attached bath)
  • Patience – it will be a long, hot, crowded day. Everyone will be in your way, and despite A/C and a million WooZoo fans going, it will be hot. And emotional.

Download or Print Our How To Pack The Car Printable. Or Pin It!

How To Pack The Car For College Dorm Move In


Deep breaths. Patience. Here we go. It is their day. Smile.

Finish loading the car and head to the dorm. If it is early, have a plan for coffee and breakfast.

If you don’t need to unload everything out of the car immediately and can park relatively close to the dorm, just bring in the first phase of stuff. It will be easier to accomplish Phase 1 without everything in your way. Phase 1 = the items listed above as Put In The Car LAST list above.

If you do have a limited window and have to bring everything in the car to the room quickly, hopefully you can keep the less urgent items in the hall or close to the door to keep it out of the way until you’re ready for it. This is where labeling will be really important to help keep you organized and not digging through bags to find things.

PHASE 1: Quick Clean and Important Item Prep

1) Plug in the WooZoo or whatever fan you have and get it going in the room.

2) Clean off the mattress with a Clorox wipe, let it dry quickly (the fan should help). Put it in the mattress encasement and zip it closed.

3) Open the mattress topper and let it air out on top of the mattress. These may say 24-48 hours, but give it several hours today without sitting or lying on it, and it will be fine.

4) Grab the rest of the cleaning supplies. Wipe down surfaces – desk, chair, bed rails, dresser, inside of drawers, inside of closet. Run the vacuum around the entire room. If there is an attached bathroom, definitely give that a good surface clean.

5) Unpack and plug-in the refrigerator – someone can be working on the fridge while someone is cleaning.

Don’t put the rug down yet until the next phase in case you need to move furniture around to hang items. The rug will make it harder to move things.

Grab some water and move on to Phase 2.

PHASE 2: Hang High Decor, Setup Rug, Furniture And Closet

1) Hang things that need to be reached with a step stool or ladder while you can move the bed and desks out of the way. This may include flags, posters, strip lights, curtains, lofted beds and bunk beds. Be sure you know the dorm rules for adhesives long before you arrive for move in.

2) Put together any furniture items.

3) Move furniture around (if allowed) to reach the desired layout. When we moved my son in, we tried it with the beds bunked, but they decided on unbunked. Tried them in the traditional one on each side but then figured they could fit foot to foot, and that’s what the boys wanted. Then we raised them to the highest notch so that they could get their dressers underneath. You’ll want the rubber mallet for that job.

Foot To Foot Dorm Bed Setup

4) Plug in the air purifier if you brought one.

5) If you have a headboard, set that up now. Here is where wire ties come in if you have the kind of headboard with posts to connect to the bed.

6) Do a quick vacuum run where the rug will go to pickup any debris from the moving and unpacking so far.

7) Unroll the rug, tape the corners down if necessary to get through the day without tripping!

8) Install the drawer liners if you’re using them.

9) Place the other furniture in the room and move the mini-fridge if it was just temporarily put somewhere earlier. Be sure it ends up on a surge protector.

10) Install any closet organizers you may have brought – special hanging racks, shoe storage, etc.

11) Make the bed with all of the layers.

Take a water break, and maybe a quick snack.

Phase 3: Unpack

If you haven’t yet, it is time to bring in the last of what is in the car and start unpacking.

If your roommate is there unpacking too, try to work in a different part of the room from each other. In my son’s dorm room, the closets were next to each other, and the desks were next to each other. It worked out to have one organizing his desk and one organizing the closet, and then switching.

1) Unload clothes into the closet and into the drawers.

2) Setup any food appliances and food storage.

3) Find a home for toiletries and laundry supplies.

4) Organize desk accessories and school supplies.

5) Setup lamps, clocks, charging stations and other tabletop decor and devices.


I would save this for last because there could be issues, and you don’t want to hold up everything else because you can’t get a gaming device connected to the WiFi.

Setup and plug in the electronics. Be sure to use surge protectors (if allowed), especially for the more expensive items.


Once the tech setup is complete, take pictures of the valuable items in the room along with a close-up of their serial numbers.

Don’t forget other valuable non-tech items such as jewelry, golf clubs, bikes, furniture, appliances and other items of value. It can’t hurt to have pictures of these items in the dorm room in case they are ever needed for a claim or for proof of ownership.

Store these pictures in the cloud or a shared album with parents.

Quick Clean Up

Once everything is in place, find a place to store the empty bags and bins that are staying in the dorm, and take the collected move-in trash to the trash chute or dumpster.

If you have time, help out with one last run through with the vacuum cleaner or the Swiffer mop.

Download or Print Our College Dorm Move In Day Plan. Or Pin It!

College Dorm Move In Day 4 Step Plan

Mission Accomplished

If you don’t have plans for lunch or dinner after you’re done, a word of advice….don’t hang around. Take a few pictures (get some good ones of the room to share with us in our Facebook group). Say your goodbyes. And let them get started on this adventure. You can do it!

Positively Squared Away

If you enjoyed this content and want to learn when we post new articles related to families with older teens and young adults, you can follow the Positively Squared Away Facebook page or Instagram page to be alerted when new content is live.

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  1. Robin

    Amazing list. The only thing is add is before cleaning or doing anything to the room, take pictures of its current state. That way, at move out you know where everything goes AND existing damage is documented rather than blamed on the student.

    • Sandra M Kenney

      I could not agree more.

    • Lara Becker

      Thank you Robin, this is an excellent suggestion!


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