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24 Essential Tips: How to Prepare for College Move-In Day 2023

Get ready to SLAY college move-in day 2023! With our 24 essential tips, you’ll have the most organized day possible. Say goodbye to moving stress and hello to college life with our guide’s help.

College tours.

Filling out applications.

Waiting for acceptance letters.

Deciding where to go.

High school graduation.

Freshman orientation.

They’re all the steps leading to a really big day for your student and your family: college move-in day.

Open hatch of a minivan loaded with everything needed for college move in day

We’ve both been there (thirteen times between the two of us, and counting!), and we’ve learned a lot along the way.

Whether you’re moving into a dorm or a first apartment, we’ve got you covered with tips to help you have the best move-in day possible!

You’ll find our favorite college moving day hacks for how to pack, the best way to load your car, truck, or minivan, and what you should move in first when you get there.

Girl pulling a large cart on wheels filled with everything to move into her dorm.

We’re sharing how to save space, what to do if you’re moving to an out-of-state college, and the one tool you absolutely want to bring!

Don’t miss our list of essentials that have made our move-in days so much easier.

And since we’re moms who’ve been there, we’ve also got tips that helped us when the time comes for saying goodbye and driving back home with one less person.

More Helpful Posts About Sending Kids to College

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1. Get Rid of Packaging Before Packing for College

Before you begin packing, remove everything from its packaging that you know you’ll definitely be keeping.

Well, almost everything…

Do not, under any circumstances, remove the foam mattress topper!

Leave that in its packaging until you arrive at the dorm.

Because as soon as it’s unpacked, it’s gonna expand…

You’ll be shocked at how much time this may take!

Plus, everything will take up much less space when you pack it.

This step not only will save you time, it also means you’ll have much less trash and recycling to worry about on the actual move-in day.

2. Wash New Bedding and Towels

Have you ever noticed that new bedding can have a very strong smell?

Sheets, comforters, and towels often have a variety of chemicals on them that can leave your student with itchy, irritated skin.

We recommend washing all their bedding and towels (other than that foam topper) before packing them up.

You can find all our recommended dorm bedding favorites here.

Not only will it make their linens more comfortable, they’ll also smell like home and that can be comforting.

3. Pack Using Clear Plastic Storage Bins or IKEA Zipper Bags

Stacks of large plastic tubs packed for college dorm move in day stacked by minivan

Plastic storage bins are an easy way to pack necessities for move-in day.

Best part? They can serve double duty as dust-free storage all year in the dorm!

Label the bins by slipping a piece of paper inside with the contents listed to make unpacking easier.

These large zipper storage totes are another great option because the plastic window lets you see what’s inside.

Several of our friends also love the large zipper bags from IKEA.

This brings us to another helpful tip.

4. Be Sure to Pack Like Items Together

Teen girl sitting on dorm room floor unpacking into storage cubes

Make unpacking more efficient by putting similar items together.

One tub for bedding and linens.

Another tub for desk items.

A tub for toiletries.

You get the idea!

5. Tip to Protect Your Make-up When You Move

Make-up palettes aren’t cheap.

Sometimes containers aren’t handled with care if the college provides help during move in.

Placing a cotton round, cotton ball, or a thin layer of foam in make-up palettes will help prevent them from breaking!

For added security, place your palettes inside a towel for more cushioning.

6. The Best Way to Pack Necklaces So They Don’t Tangle

Did you know you can use Press and Seal wrap to keep your necklaces from getting tangled into a knot?

Simply place your necklaces on a piece of cardboard and then secure them with the Press and Seal wrap.

Another option is to use a necklace storage roll like this one.

7. The Best Way to Move Hanging Clothes

Two girls carrying clothes on hangers in plastic garbage bags hanging from a pole.

One tip that saves a lot of time with packing & unpacking is to leave clothes on hangers when moving.

Just put them in a trash bag and tie the handles around the base of the hanger to keep the clothes clean!

Our kids all used whatever kinds of hangers their clothes were already hung on at home.

If the closet space is small in your student’s dorm, consider switching to slim hangers like these or these.

Make moving those clothes even easier by hanging those bags on a pole so you can carry them all in at once.


A broom with a telescoping handle is great and you’ll put the broom to use once you’re in the room too.

You could also pack the clothes into tubs while they’re still on their hangers.

8. Pack Cleaning Products Separately

Stack of dirty cleaning cloths after wiping down surfaces in a dorm room.

Dorm rooms can be dirty…yup even when you first move in…so bring along some cleaning supplies to wipe down surfaces before unpacking.

Clorox wipes, a roll of paper towels, and your favorite spray cleaner will all come in handy.

Maybe even bring a wet/dry Swiffer with cleaning pads for the floor?

Container of Clorox wipes, roll of paper towels, spray bottle of cleaner, and roll of trash bags.

If there’s space, consider bringing your vacuum from home if the roommate is bringing the vacuum and moving in later.

You may as well start the year with a clean room!

And don’t forget to bring some extra trash bags.

9. Tape Lids and Drawers Closed

Be sure to tape the lids onto your storage bins before leaving home.

Don’t forget to tape the drawers closed for any organizing drawer towers too!

You don’t want to pull a plastic storage tower with drawers filled with school supplies out of the car the wrong way and have everything dumped out all over the parking lot.

10. Why You Should Label Everything!

Trash bags covering hanging clothes labeled with name and dorm for college move in day

As you pack each bin, box, tub, etc., make sure you add a label with your student’s name, dorm name, and room/suite number.

Some universities have you unload your vehicle in one place and then items get delivered to the dorm.

We found 2-inch painter’s tape and a permanent marker worked great.

Storage box with wood lid with labeled painters tape holding lid in place.

11. Essential Tools to Bring for College Move in Day

Buying a small tool kit that your student can keep in their dorm room is a great idea.

You’ll definitely need some of these tools on move-in day.

College student carrying bucket of tools needed for college move in

You might want to bring a rubber mallet to help with lofting or unlofting beds.

Some other tools that we found essential are a container of assorted sizes of zip ties and scissors.

Zip ties are fantastic for bundling up cords, attaching cords to bunks, etc.

Hammer, scissors, screwdriver, zip ties, and packing tape.

Put all the cleaning products and tools in a bucket or a bin and pack it in the car somewhere that it can be one of the first things you move in.

12. Don’t Forget to Bring a Fan

Floor fan and box fan in a dorm room.

You’ll be moving into the dorm in August or early September. 

Most likely it’ll be hot so bring a fan with you.  Your student will likely want one for their room anyway!

Our kids especially liked having one during cold-weather months when dorms often got hot and stuffy.

This one is great and doesn’t take up much space which is great in tiny dorm rooms.

Be sure to pack it somewhere in your vehicle so you can bring it in on the first trip.

Then go ahead and plug it in and stay cool! Or at least cooler…

13. Bring a Dolly or a Cart

If you don’t own a dolly or a cart you may want to consider borrowing or even renting one for move-in day.

This foldable cart works as both a hand truck and a dolly!

A set of bungee cords helps keep things attached securely for going over curbs (or half-flights of steps like Anne’s family had to do one year!)

They can be handy for securing things in the dorm too!

Girls pushing a wheeled flatbed cart for move in day at college.

Most colleges will have some kinds of carts available for you to use while moving your student in.

But often there’s a wait to use one so it’s super helpful if you can bring your own.

14. Don’t Forget Command Strips & Hooks

command strips and hooks with bottle of rubbing alcohol and cotton displayed on wood crate

Bring a variety of command hook styles. 

The small poster size strips are great for hanging posters and pictures.

These tiny hooks work for string lights.

You can use larger command strips to hold bulletin boards.

We like using the bigger hooks for hats, coats, and towels. 

Make sure you bring a bottle of rubbing alcohol & some cotton balls or a stack of alcohol prep pads to prep the wall surface for command hooks!

It makes all the difference in them staying adhered.

Sometimes they still don’t hold, so consider bringing a hot glue gun like this cordless one to make things stay put even on painted cinder block walls.

15. Bring a Door Stop (or 2!)

A simple doorstop will come in handy to keep those dorm room doors open while moving all those bins and other dorm essentials into the room.

If you’re in a suite-style room, you may want two doorstops: one for the suite and one for your room.

Just be sure to check with your suite mates before leaving the suite door open.

Leaving the door open is also a great way to help you meet other students who are moving in too!

16. Pack Some Snacks & Drinks

Soft side cooler with protein bars and bottled water.

Bring a cooler with some cold drinks and snacks for move-in day. 

No one works well if they’re thirsty or hangry! 

After all, it may take some time to move in and get unpacked, and you don’t want to lose your parking space to leave campus for lunch.

17. How to Load Up Your Car for College Move In Day

When it’s finally time to load up the car, minivan, or truck, you should plan to load it in reverse.

Put the large items like a mini refrigerator, microwave, desk chair, and TV in first.

Next load in the tubs or zippered bags, bedding (except the mattress topper), and hanging clothes.

Be sure to put the cleaning supplies, tool kit, snacks, fan, door stoppers, mattress topper, and rug in last.

When it’s time to unload, those are the items you’ll want first!

18. Should You Bring Some Toilet Paper to the Dorm?

Is your son or daughter moving into a suite-style room where several dorm rooms share a bathroom?

Be sure to bring a roll of toilet paper just in case one isn’t provided in the room!

This isn’t always an issue, especially for bathrooms that are cleaned by the school.

But if the bathroom setup is the kind where students are responsible for cleaning them, the school often doesn’t provide toilet paper.

If you end up not needing it for the bathroom, it can still come in handy for wiping sweat from your face.

Or for after you’ve said goodbye…

19. What to Wear for Dorm Move In

This isn’t the time to look super cute, Mom! 

Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. 

Remember tip #8?  Dorms aren’t the cleanest places. 

Today is the day to be practical…wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

girl cleaning mirror hanging inside wardrobe closet in dorm room

20. Bring a Change of Clothes for the Ride Home

Move in days often fall on the hottest days of the year.

If you have a long drive home, make it more comfortable by changing into fresh clothes after getting your student settled!

You may want to pack yourself some deodorant, body spray, and/or body powder too.

21. What to Set up First and What to Set up Last

Whichever roommate is moving in first should plan to bring the rug.

Make sure the furniture is arranged the way you want it, including adjusting the height of the bed, then unroll the rug.

Teen girl lying on her back on a throw rug in new dorm room

Next, put the mattress cover on the bed, and open up the foam mattress topper on top of the mattress.

While the mattress topper expands to full size, use your cleaning supplies to wipe down any surfaces.

Set up a trash and recycling area to keep it out of the way as you unpack.

Teen girl making the bed in a dorm room

Now it’s time to make the bed.

This gets all those bulky mattress toppers, comforters, and pillows out of the way.

Then you have a place to lay clothing and other items you want to keep clean while you’re unpacking.

Now unpack and put away everything else.

Save wall decor for last.

You may even want to leave that part for your student to do after you leave so they have something to do after saying goodbye.

Or help them out!

Let them decide whether they want your help with that part or not.

22. Arrive Early/Coordinate with Your Roommate

Most colleges and universities will assign a block of time to move in. 

Arrive early! 

There are often long lines at the elevators. 

Or, consider arriving at lunchtime when there’s often a lull in the action.

Coordinate with your roommate so that only one family is moving in and unpacking at a time: dorm rooms are small!

Small dorm room filled with tubs and boxes during college move in day

23. Budget Time for Some Shopping

Plan to make a trip to a local store for anything you may have forgotten.

If you’re traveling by plane to move in, take advantage of in-store pick-up options available at many home stores. (Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, Target, etc…).

Two college freshmen girls with a full shopping cart in a store.

Some colleges even offer services where you can order ahead and pick up your gear on campus, although the quality of these items isn’t always the best.

We recommend checking with other parents with older students at the school before ordering.

24. Tips for Saying Goodbye After College Move In

Move-in day is an emotional day for everyone.

Parents may be feeling sad and students are both anxious and excited.

We’ve heard from many parents the number 1 tip is to say your goodbyes at home.

Father and daughter hugging while daughter cries at college move in

Then when you leave your teen at school you can just say a quick goodbye.

No matter how excited and ready they may be, there still might be some tears, so a big hug in their dorm room gives them a safe place to feel those emotions privately.

We both wrote our students a letter and tucked it under their pillow to find and read later.

Another meaningful idea that we both gave our sons was a wanderer-style bracelet with the coordinates of their homes.

hand of mother and twin daughters with matching engraved compass bracelets

Anne gave her twin daughters matching engraved compass bracelets since this would be the first time in their lives they would ever be apart from each other.

And kept one for herself!

family photo in dorm room on college move-in day

If you’re a mom reading this blog post we get it…this is hard…we know…we’ve both been through it.

But we promise it will be okay.

This is what we’ve prepared our children for, so give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

And here’s a virtual hug from us!


Don’t forget to ask them to send you a first day of classes (FDOC) picture if your family has that tradition like ours both do!

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Clear plastic tubs and IKEA zippered bags on a brick sidewalk for college dorm move-in day.
collage of products that are helpful during college move in day

We’d love to hear from you about your move-in day experiences! If you have any new suggestions, email us or leave a comment below.

Be sure to follow us on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook so you don’t miss any of our tips, tricks, or stories.

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