Move-in advice for college freshmen

Move-in day is almost here for college students, and some freshmen may be scratching their heads trying to figure out what to bring and what to leave behind.

Hopefully, this guide can help with those final decisions.

It’s best to think of a dorm room as a crash pad. Make it into a space that is comfortable, if a little Spartan. Pack the essentials and some comfort items and that’s it. Dorms usually provide less space than most are used to, so maximize utility where possible.

For the room

Check what kind of bed the university provides in their dorm rooms and pack the appropriate-sized bedding. Most will be a twin or a twin long, but it’s always best to check if you don’t want to arrive and realize your first trip out on the town is to pick up sheets.

A photo of bed sheets
This may go without saying, but before buying bed sheets for the dorm room bed, make sure to double check the size of the mattress. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher) 

If the university allows it, raising the bed up so a desk fits comfortably underneath is a great space-saving option. While this frees up a good chunk of space, those opting for raising their beds will have to weigh that with the hassle of climbing up a ladder every time before bed. American University does not allow bed risers, but students can request a loft-style bed.

American University recommends that students bring a power strip and surge protector. There are a limited number of outlets available, and a power strip helps tremendously when wanting to squeeze in a few more appliances.

A desk lamp is a must, perhaps one with dimming capabilities. Most universities recommend non-halogen bulbs in lamps; some, like American University, are outright telling their students not to bring halogen bulbs at all.

A desk lamp will come in handy for those late-night study sessions. Kerosene lamps, not so much. (Getty Images) 

Georgetown University goes a step further and asks students not to bring any kerosene lamps. Sorry to dash any dreams of reading by gaslight, but burning down the dorm room as a freshman is a reputation no one wants to have anyway.

A few kitchen items are also a must. Plates, bowls and utensils will be useful.

A kettle can also be fantastic to have as the weather gets colder. Some dorms allow for a coffee maker in rooms, others asks students to put them in the common kitchen area. Check with your university to see what is and isn’t allowed.


Now is a good time to take stock of what you have and haven’t been wearing lately and trim the fat from your wardrobe. Dorms typically provide only a closet and some drawer space to work with, so it’s best to bring only what you know you’re going to wear.

Students that plan on visiting home during the school year can benefit from leaving the heavy winter gear there until it’s actually necessary. Otherwise, pack them in a labeled storage container and stash them somewhere where they won’t take up too much space.

Cleaning supplies

This issue is probably the lowest common denominator when it comes to roommate horror stories. Some people are used to having their messes cleaned up for them and rooms can end up looking — and unfortunately smelling — like a public landfill. Roommates should communicate early and often about their cleaning habits and needs.

Grab some all-purpose cleaner, rug cleaner and glass cleaner.

Keeping a clean space will make it a less stressful spot to come home to every night, and it will probably save all roommates from a hefty cleaning fee from the university at the end of the year upon moving out.

In this Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, student Emilee Gull cleaning a dorm room in Eccles Living Learning Center at Southern Utah University, in Cedar City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Health care

Students should make sure to pack all the essentials in case of a medical emergency. The following items are extremely important to have from day one, according to Georgetown University:

  • Health insurance card
  • Prescribed medications
  • Allergy medicine
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Decongestants or other cold remedies
  • Bandages
  • Thermometer
  • Vaporizer/humidifier (especially if you have asthma, are prone to bronchitis, or have eczema or dry skin)
Make sure to pack up the essentials, just in case there’s a medical emergency. (Getty Images) 

Personal hygiene is also a must. Not only will the roommate appreciate it, it’s also a good way to keep from getting sick. Double check that you have the following:

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste
  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap
  • Deodorant
  • Hand sanitizer
  • razors, shaving cream
  • Shower shoes or flip-flops if you’re in a dorm with a communal shower


Dorm decorations will both personalize the space and create a first impression to the many new faces in the first few weeks.

Before going crazy with the interior design, students should remember that moving several times over the next few years is on the horizon and that process will never be fun. To that end, decorations should be sturdy enough to handle being packed up and shipped around several times.

Velcro hanging strips make for an easy way to hang up decorations that won’t damage the walls in the dorm.

Editor’s note: I’m pretty sure a Reservoir Dogs poster comes standard in every college freshman’s dorm. 

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up