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First, congratulations on achieving this rite of passage.  It’s an exciting time for your family!

Second, the more you can plan and prepare for your student’s move-in day, the easier it will be for all of you, not only from a practical standpoint but also from an emotional one.

Summarized here are some of the MOST IMPACTFUL tips we have learned over the years starting with some considerations before it’s even time to leave.

Getting Answers to Your Questions

One common frustration for parents is an overall lack of communication both from their child and perhaps even the university.

Parents can’t help but worry about what details may be slipping through the cracks.  Signing up for the college parental portal sooner vs. later can alleviate a lot of these concerns.  It will make it easier for you to make tuition payments, check grades and see any other outstanding requirements.

You may need your child’s authorization to have access to the parental portal, but it will certainly be easier to pin them down one time to get this versus trying to get all your questions answered in whatever fleeting moments your kid decides to grace you with their presence before it’s time to leave!

Another great source of info may be other parents; it’s easy to connect with them on various social media platforms.  Facebook has groups such as Dorm Chatter and College Dorm Must Haves & Beyond. Your college likely also has student AND parent groups on social media that can help satisfy your quest for more info.

As an example, groups like these inform you of the latest dorm protocols.  A seemingly simple task such as “how to properly make the dorm bed” can open your eyes to the information you may not have thought of.  In this case, it helps to know the order of things needed to make a dorm bed — zippered mattress enclosure, a mattress topper followed by the mattress pad, and then the sheets.

Groups like these can also inform you, for example, that the beds are not very comfortable, and a mattress topper is well worth the money. To be fair, you may have already guessed this!

And don’t forget to confirm where you pick up the key or swipe card for access to the room.  Your student is anxious to get settled in and it’s a frustrating bummer if you must drive to another location especially since you may be unfamiliar with the campus at this point.

Packing and Room SetUp Tips 

  • Most dorms offer a way to raise the bed up to give your student significantly more living space. This may take more setup time but results in a homier and more comfortable living space.
  • Depending on how far you need to travel to drop off your student and what mode of transportation you are taking, it may be less stressful to shop ahead of time for some items and have them available for pick up at the local campus store. The shipping is usually free with stores like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, and it may help you avoid long lines, out-of-stock items, etc.  It is also helpful to wash the sheets and towels and dispose of packing material at home.
  • Investing in or bringing a pushcart or dolly could also be one of the best decisions you make! After all, this isn’t likely to be the last time your child moves over the next few years. Note: check with the school first to see if they provide them for you.
  • Space bags are the best. I was able to travel Europe for three weeks with only a carry-on thanks to these ingenious lifesavers.

If you are the type that would like to make sure you are not missing anything, there are lots of checklists and packing lists available online.

Check your college’s website for a list of what to bring and any prohibited items.

Don’t Forget the Following Items for the Dorm Room:

  • A doorstop will help with moving and it may also facilitate meeting new people for your student on move-in day and after.
  • Underbed storage can work great for bulky sweaters, extra sheets, and towels. You may even want to pack it ahead of time with what your child wants to keep in it.
  • A fan if your child is staying in an older dorm without AC units. In the words of a veteran college student, “It can get unbearably hot without a fan. I had two fans and would not have survived without them.”
  • A Flat Plug USB Power Strip Extension with outlets and USB ports. Be aware that most schools only allow surge protectors now because of fire hazards. A long enough extension could prove to be super useful if the room outlets are hard to get to or not conveniently located.
  • The all-important shower caddy and a pair of cheap shower shoes. In the words of one college student, “The floors of communal showers are gross. A $5 pair of waterproof sandals from Walmart should do the trick.”
  • Bedside Hanging Caddy
  • Magnetic shelf with a paper towel holder that can attach to their fridge. This is a new addition to the list thanks to Sandy, my good friend and client, whose son is off to college on a soccer scholarship.  Note that if you have a college athlete, there are additional NCAA requirements and hoops to jump through.
  • Command hooks and strips of various sizes. In the words of our consulting college student, “YES!!! I needed so many of them!”
  • Will be easier and quicker to unload clothes that are packed on hangers tied together with rubber bands and packed in garbage bags.
  • It will make parents feel better to include a standard wellness kit and/or familial homeopathic remedies. I made sure my daughter had vitamins- she didn’t take them of course, but at least I felt better!
  • Tape the drawers shut if you are traveling with anything that could come open in transit.
  • Leave at least a small bag or suitcase so they can travel home to visit.
  • Tool kit- hammer, flat head screwdriver, pliers, furniture sliders, duct tape, rubber mallet (may be helpful for adjusting the dorm bed), Phillips head screwdriver, adjustable wrench, and work gloves.
  • Disinfectant wipes and any other desired cleaning supplies. You’ll probably feel better if you wipe down the surfaces; wipes are the easiest and your child may actually use them!
  • Snacks and drinks: it may take longer than you think to unload and get settled and it’s less fun if someone’s hangry (especially if there are younger family members who aren’t as into the whole process).
Additional Helpful Items
  • Garbage bags
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Step stool

Saying Goodbye

It’s going to be chaotic and emotional so you may want to consider in advance how you want to say goodbye.  Planning for your alone time may be best before you get to campus.  Perhaps a family breakfast or dinner the night before may be more comfortable than trying to go out after the room is settled and your kid is eager for you to go.

I know that is hard to hear, but this is like dropping them off at kindergarten in reverse.  You are more likely to be the tearful one this day.  Like kindergarten drop-off, lingering doesn’t help.  Some families set up a specific time or the completion of a certain task as a hard stop for them to take their leave.

Hero Parents That Aren’t Too Embarrassing

There are some admirable parental moves you can make though.

Some parents stash notes and/or money in things they aren’t going to unpack.  You may even get a call when your kid finds it later!  Care packages meant a lot to me when I was in school and lots of universities make it easy to automate this (i.e., Halloween, finals, etc.).  It’s hard to go wrong with coffee, doughnuts, and/or bagels on move-in day! In fact, my mother’s homemade cookies played a big part in me landing my husband of 30 years!


I would also encourage you to be respectful of the fact that this is your child’s room.  If you are helping them unpack, it is best to let your child take the lead or at least ask them where they would like to put their things.

Thanks for reading and best of luck to you and your family on this exciting day! As always, reach out to schedule a free consultation with one of our experts if you have any questions about your specific college funding situation.


Shana Despres, CFP®, ChFC®, CASL®









Reviewer and Editor: Sophia Ashton, Consulting College Student

Further Reading:


6 Major Changes to the FAFSA

16 Questions About FAFSA & Financial Aid

14 Ways to Minimize Student Loans

How to Leverage Charitable Giving to Increase Financial Aid Eligibility

Why College Is So Expensive and What You Can Do About It


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