Preparing for college: Dos and don'ts of dorm-room packing


As we reach the last few pages of our summer reading assignments, it's time to move on to the next item on the list: preparing for your future dorm room.

While dorm-room living varies per college, we found expert advice from three past and present Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' students to help you prepare.

First, find out what you'll be provided with and make a list of things you'll need. Often, your college will provide a unique packing list based on what is already included in your dorm. This list should also give you dimensions for curtains and bed sheets. On average, students will need extra-long, twin-size bed sheets.

At MCLA, each student living in Hoosac Hall — the dorm that is typically freshman housing — will have a bed, nightstand, dresser, wardrobe with a mirror inside, desk and chair, and a lamp. Students will also have a micro fridge, which includes freezer space.

Along with the usual school supplies, such as books and notebooks, Jacob Boillat, an MCLA junior who will return to Hoosac Hall as an RA for his second year, suggests students check out different packing lists online to get more ideas.

Save your money

Among all the lists out there, there will inevitably be things you won't end up using.

MCLA junior Sarah Pudney, a second-year RA, says she typically sees students bring their own mini fridges and floor-length mirrors because they didn't know they were already provided.

Thinking about buying those bed risers? Don't, she says, because the beds are built to be raised a few feet off the ground, if necessary, to allow storage bins to be placed underneath.

Several locations on campus have black-ink printers, so students will not need to bring their own printers, unless they plan to be printing a lot of projects.

Do not bring appliances that do not have an automatic shut off as they will not pass health and safety inspections, Boillat advised. Toasters, hot plates, candles and large tapestries (larger than 3' by 5') are not allowed for fire-safety reasons.

Coordinate with your roommate

Students should receive roommate assignments at least a month before returning to school. Talk to your roommate and coordinate which items you'll each be bringing and decide if you can share. For example, you will need to iron your shirt or pants once in a while, but is that something you both need, or can you share?

McGonigle encourages roommates to be upfront with each other about what can and cannot be shared to prevent roommate drama.

"Talk to them about everything from food in the fridge to sharing clothes or hair straighteners and blow driers. Avoid roommate fights," she said.

You can also coordinate room-color schemes or themes with your roommate.

"My roommate and I had matching bed sets," McGonigle said. "It was so cute."

Onward and upward

You know what to pack, but be mindful of how you pack it. Dormitories are often several stories high and elevators are always packed on move-in day. Fortunately at MCLA, students volunteer for the Helping Hands committee offer to do the heavy lifting for incoming freshmen. Local businesses lend shopping carts to the Helping Hands to help make transportation from the parking lots to the dorm room that much smoother.

Pudney encourages students to pack what they can in rolling luggage and to avoid over packing bins.

"I remember I over packed my bin, and I had to repack," she said. "It's nice that we have the Helping Hands, not a lot of people know we have a crew available and we're extra prepared."

Remember that you don't have to bring everything you need in one trip — you can always bring more stuff as the semester goes on.

Make it your own

What does your dorm room say about you? Are you an adventurous spirit? Is your life overcome with fandom swag? Have you been searching everywhere for a tapestry of a sports team or colorful mandalas? Our experts suggest looking to the Internet for inspiration.

"I usually look up websites which sell furniture and see what those rooms look like," McGonigle said.

Pudney mostly uses Pinterest to look for decorating ideas.

"I mostly save a lot of color schemes. A lot of students use Christmas lights and tapestries."

One way to make a dorm room feel like home is to bring home with you. Boillat suggests rearranging the room and bringing photos of your friends, family and pets.

"I made a collage of my high school friends and brought it with me," McGonigle said.

Keep in mind that the walls are likely made of concrete or sheetrock. Avoid damaging walls by using masking tape or command strips, but be sure to properly remove them to avoid peeling the paint.

"I recommend a carpet, it sounds silly, but it makes it more comfortable to sit and talk with friends," Pudney said. She also said that students are allowed to have beta fish.

Be friendly

One of the most common questions our experts have gotten from freshmen, aside from where buildings are located, is "will I make friends?" and their answer is always yes.

"They will, it's hard not to. College is what you make it," McGonigle said.

Along with displaying your interests on your walls, Pudney says your room itself can help you make friends.

"Keep your door open, especially for the first month," she says. Students might be on their way to a campus activity or may be looking for someone to hang out with. When it comes to meeting new people and finding opportunities, she says, "it helps a lot."

Must haves

In addition to the list your college provides you of suggested items, we asked students who have lived the dorm life what's on their "must have" list:

• A shower caddy and flip-flops to make the shared bathroom experience more pleasant

• A hamper and laundry materials, because, well, your mom isn't there to do your laundry anymore. Also, find out what your college washing machines use for payments. In some cases, you will need to stock up on quarters, some machines also take credit or debit card payments.

• Keep yourself plugged in with extra power strips and chargers

• Coffee lovers rejoice! Some colleges, like MCLA, are now allowing Keurig machines. Our panel of experts highly recommend getting one of these.

• Stay cool with a window fan or small fan for your desk.


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