- First, check the paperwork: Remind your child to re-read everything the residence life dean sent him, paying particular attention to check-in times, locations and procedures for dorm move-in day. Some schools let families pull cars right up to the dorm door. Others make you park at the bottom of a vast hill and take a number. And still others don’t want you unloading anything until your child has gone through registration, had his photo taken, and signed innumerable forms. Re-reading the paperwork and making sure you have any necessary forms - health reports, for example, or student ID number - easily available will make move-in day less fraught.
- Pack only the essentials: If your child’s belongings don’t fit in the back of a minivan or average sized car, he’s bringing too much stuff. Dormitories supply all the basic furniture, but you'll need bed linens, towels and toiletries, some basic school supplies and clothes. Televisions and other electronics are a pain to ship – but to a teen, they’re absolute essentials - so pack them first and use soft items to protect them. Leave the least essential and most easily shipped items for last.
- Use storage bins: It's much easier to pack a car with regularly shaped objects – boxes or large Rubbermaid bins – as opposed to plastic trash bags or grocery sacks. And boxes are much easier to lug up multiple flights of crowded dorm stairs (many dorms don't have elevators, and those that do will be crammed), especially when the boxes have hand holds. Tip: If your child will be using under bed storage boxes to hold his spare towels and bed linens, for example, pack those items in the boxes to begin with. The box goes in the car, then goes under the bed. No unpacking necessary.
- Sort and organize: Your teen may want to just sling stuff into random boxes, but he’ll settle in much more easily - and his Fritos won't smell of Tide - if he puts all his desk stuff in one box, snacks in another, and doesn’t randomly drop his laundry supplies wherever.
- Pack casual and spiffy: Your child won’t need his heavy woolens in August. Ship winter wear later, or have him pick it up at Thanksgiving. He will need plenty of casual, comfortable clothing, work out clothes, and a nice outfit or two. If the school has a Greek system and your child is interested in at least taking a peek, add a couple of dressy outfits to the mix – slacks and collared shirts for guys, dresses or dressy casual outfits for young women. And if you’ve got a music major, have him check on concert wear. Some schools require black, floor length gowns and tuxedos or tails. Others want black trousers and a black dress shirt.
- Bring tools: A tool kit with a basic hammer, screwdrivers and pliers can be a handy thing on move-in day. You may need to bunk the beds, raise or lower mattresses, or deal with minor repairs. Bring a roll of duct tape too. It’s handy for taping down extension cords and, well, minor repairs.
- Don’t forget treasures: Photos of friends and loved ones, and soft bedding and pillows make for a more comforting, cozy environment. There won’t be much space, but you can incorporate photos into other, utilitarian things – a film-wrapped pencil cup, for example, or other dorm crafts.
- Ship it or buy it there: Not taking a car? You can ship your child’s belongings directly to his school, order items online for local pickup, or wait until you get there to shop. But do a little homework first, so you avoid some key mistakes. What kind of mistakes? The kind that leaves your kid sleeping on a borrowed towel for three days.
- Pack Kleenex: Don't forget the tissues - not for him, for you. Packing your child off to school is an emotional undertaking. Expect to feel at least a little weepy. But try not to cry in front of your child. Wait till you get to the car, or at least around the corner.
P.S. One last thing: As your child moves into his new digs, he'll be given a clipboard-worth of things to inspect in his new room, from chipped furniture to carpet stains. It's critical that he do this thoroughly and mark off any problem spots. Otherwise when dorm move-out day rolls around, you'll be charged for damage he didn't do. So check off the boxes and fill out the forms, but also make sure to check the seams of the mattresses and other classic bedbug hiding spots before you bring in all the gear.