What to pack for college and what to leave behind


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Two pairs of leather boots and a pair of Wellies. Six scarves, seven jackets, 10 hoodies, 12 sweaters, ruffled skirts, five dresses, eight pairs of jeans, an evening gown. Two backpacks, a messenger bag, the mini fridge, a laptop and printer, a desk lamp. Decorative bed pillows, a coffee maker, wall posters, a jewelry box, a flower vase, a comforter, a duvet and matching throw rugs. Slippers, PJs and 33 T-shirts.

Yowza!

Heading off to college can be daunting -- there are new friends to meet, career decisions to make and a new campus to navigate. But, for many, one of the greatest challenges is figuring out how to cram an entire wardrobe into a tiny dorm room.

Packing for college is like "being at a buffet," said Dave Berry, a senior adviser with CollegeConfidential.com, a resource and discussion forum for free college information. "You tend to overestimate what your need is."

Mr. Berry recommends spreading everything a college-bound student is thinking about packing out on the floor and then putting three-fourths of it back.

But sometimes this is easier said than done -- especially for girls.

"The simple fact of the matter is that girls are a whole lot different than boys," Mr. Berry said, recounting the experiences of his son and daughter. "Girls need an 18-wheeler, and boys can take a backpack."

What to take, according to about.com and other sites:

• Quarters for the coin laundry

• Hangers (even if your closet is the size of a postage stamp)

• Fold-up portable hamper

• Shower caddy

• Shower shoes and robe

• Small fan

• Trash can

• First aid and sewing kits

• Small toolkit

• Can opener and cup, bowl, plate, fork, knife and spoon

• Flash drive

• Power strip

Regardless of gender, there are some clothes that are a must and a few items that are better off left at home.

Leave high school T-shirts behind, said Zephyr Basine, editor in chief of CollegeFashion.net, a website written by college students from across the country. Students probably won't want to walk around campus sporting their high school colors and mascot. The same goes for prom and homecoming gowns. Girls often think they'll need them for some upscale occasion but then end up not wearing them, she said.

Avoid redundancy. "Get in touch with your roommates and find out what they are bringing," Mr. Berry said. Have an idea of the dorm room's accommodations beforehand by asking the school's housing or residence life office what type of storage is available. To create extra space, bring bed risers and space bags that compress clothes.

Consider climate. "Because of the geographic diversity in colleges today, kids from the deep South are going to school in Minnesota and vice versa," Mr. Berry said. "Not being acquainted with the harshness of the climate should be taken into consideration when you plan your packing."

A good way to find out how to pack for the weather is to ask a returning student. "If you go on a tour there, try to get the name of somebody who is a current student, get the name of your tour guide or contact the admissions office and ask if they can put you in touch with a current student," Mr. Berry said.

Don't haul clothes for every season for the first semester. Swap fall clothes for winterwear during Christmas vacation and grab warm-weather gear when you're home during spring break.

Safety is something else to think about. Valuables should be left at home, or at least kept in a secure place if taken to school.

"A good way to think about dorm room security is to think about being on the beach and going to the concession stand up on the boardwalk," Mr. Berry said. "What would you take with you to the concession stand," and what would you leave out on the beach towel for everyone to see?

While there are a lot of "don'ts" when it comes to packing, fashion experts assure the style-savvy that there are plenty of ways to have a versatile wardrobe for college without needing a U-Haul to get it there.

"Students should focus on the essentials and items that will be easy to mix and match with big trend pieces," said Target spokeswoman Tara Schlosser.

"They should opt for dark denim jeans that will work for a day full of classes or late-night hang-outs with friends." Neutral-colored sweaters, a plain button-down shirt and a couple of simple T-shirts are other must-haves.

"The goal is to select items that are practical, stylish and work well collectively to give students more than just outfits and offer them options," she said.

For girls, a flat boot is an essential for walking around campus, said Marissa Grumer, senior market editor for Seventeen magazine. She also recommends a messenger bag or some other type of oversized tote for carrying books to class.

Keep comfort in mind, Ms. Basine said. Students may want to bring a couple of pairs of nice sweats, a hoodie or yoga pants to snuggle up in when studying.

There also may be times to get dressed up, so bring a nice sundress or cocktail dress or a sport coat, dress shirt and tie.

Students shouldn't get too caught up in making sure they have all the latest trends, Ms. Basine said. Instead, they should spend a little extra money on classic pieces that will last longer, such as a blazer, a peacoat or a nice-fitting pair of jeans, and jazz them up with less expensive accessories or trendy apparel.

If worse comes to worst, pick up needed items at local stores. Students also may want to set aside some money and room in their wardrobe for buying college apparel in school colors once they arrive on campus.

Despite all this planning, overpacking still happens, but don't get discouraged.

"The tendency is to take way too much stuff the first year," Mr. Berry said. "You're hauling much less poundage as the years go."


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com .


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