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Packing and Shipping

• Getting Stuff to College •

As you contemplate all the things your child will need for college – for the dorm room, for classes, for studying, for exercising, for relaxing, and for braving any significant weather changes – you may be wondering how you are possibly going to get it all there. Can we pack it all in the car? How many bags can be checked on the flight and how much will that cost? Should some stuff be shipped? If we ship some of it, when does it need to be sent, by which method, and where will it be waiting at the college? So many questions. Here are a few answers:

What is the best way to get my kids’ stuff to school?

If you’re driving to campus, and you can’t pack everything you need into the family car, consider the following options:  (1) rent a car with larger storage space, (2) pack boxes and ship some items ahead, or (3) leave some of the non-essential items at home and bring them to campus during Family Weekend or on another visit to school.  In fact, there are many items you may want your kid to defer taking until they know they really want them, such as their treasured turntable and vinyl records or bulky sports equipment.

If you’re flying to college, familiarize yourself with the airline baggage allowances and compare the cost of additional luggage with the cost of shipping boxes to school.  There are many companies, such as, that specialize in shipping items to college – they provide the boxes and shipping supplies, and handle the pick up, storage and delivery (Note to self for future: CollegeBoxes can also store their stuff over the summer and deliver it to their dorm before the fall term).

If you decide to ship stuff via UPS, USPS or FedEx, make sure you pack and ship boxes several weeks before move-in day to ensure everything gets to school in time. Campus mailrooms and post offices get inundated with shipments at the beginning of the year. Some schools, such as Northwestern, offer a service where shipped boxes are delivered directly to the dorm room for a small fee.  Check the school’s website for shipping and delivery details.

And don’t forget that buying stuff online at Amazon, Target, The Container Store, The Company Store and other retailers will take care of most of the headache, as you can have things shipped directly to the college. With Bed, Bath & Beyond, you shop online or locally at the store nearest you and pick up stuff at the store nearest campus.

What stuff should we ship and what stuff should we buy there?

Bulky or heavy items like comforters, pillows, printers, winter coats and boots should ideally get shipped to school in advance, either by you or directly from the retailer, or they should be purchased locally once you arrive at the college. For instance, if you live in California and your kid is going to school in upstate NY, you may want to buy them a down jacket and boots when you get there or during Family Weekend.  The clothing sold there will be best suited to the climate and save you having to ship bulky stuff.

Especially if you’re flying, you should buy things like toiletries, snacks, laundry and school supplies at local pharmacies and stores near campus, or at the campus bookstore.

Other items like clothing, laptops and personal items should travel with you.

Should I help my kid pack for college?

This really depends on your kid.  Many parents use this time to clean out closets, have garage sales, and get rid of any clutter that their kid will not be taking with them to college, so some involvement may be inevitable.  This may also be a good time to talk with your kid about the reality of what they think they will need to take with them and the costs and timetable for getting everything there… and to remind them that there’s not a lot of storage space in a dorm room, no matter how many plastic bins you buy! Things can always be brought or sent later.

With the exception of making sure some important items are not left behind (see Packing for College: Don’t Leave Home Without ‘Em), packing is something that kids might want to do on their own. Think of it as another step toward independence — and this way they can’t blame you if their favorite shoes are left behind!


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