Take it or Leave it: International Student College Edition

Sarah Dean | 8-6-2019

“Did I forget something?” says almost every international student who leaves their home for the airport. It is a question tinged with apprehension. Packing for college is a balancing act; you need to bring enough, but you also know you probably will live in a small room with roommates. Space matters—a lot.

As a recent “dorm-dweller” myself, I can honestly say you don’t want to overpack. While this list is generic, all colleges are different and provide specific amenities for dorm residents. So, before you get on the airplane, be sure to find out what your college provides and doesn’t provide you.


Things You (Probably) Won’t Need to Bring to College

Desk, Dresser, Desk Chair and Bed: Since these furniture pieces are very large, you wouldn’t be able to pack them in your suitcase anyway. Furniture items will likely be provided by student housing.

Garbage Can: While it’s a valid point that you will need a place to throw your garbage away, skip the trash can. Most dorms supply garbage cans. If not, it can be purchased inexpensively at a local store.

Dishes: Even I fell into the trap of thinking a few plates and bowls would be helpful, but these items went untouched all year. You will find plates and bowls at your dining hall…where they should remain.

Kitchen Gadgets: Most dorms have strict fire prevention guidelines that do not allow students to use hotplates, toasters, waffle makers, etc. Your dorm also may have a common kitchen area or microwave, so leave the kitchen gadgets at home.

Printer: Printers will be available all over campus, and especially at the library, where you’ll likely be able to print a certain amount each semester for free. Keep it at home.

Iron: Irons requires a bulky ironing board. That’s a waste of space! Bring a compact steamer to keep your clothing fresh and wrinkle-free.

Luggage (that doesn’t bend or fold): As an international student, you will be bringing luggage. Luggage that has a hard shell is a hard pass when you can substitute it for foldable canvases.

Duplicate Items: Coordinate with your roommate to see what they are bringing. If they are already bringing a coffee pot, you don’t need two. Send them a WhatsApp and start a conversation while you are at it.

Decoration: Self-expression is important but avoid bringing too much. Bring minimal decorations to avoid clutter. Pictures from back home are always a great choice and take up minimal packing space!

Books: Books are probably an important part of your bedroom at home, but they are a huge weight to your suitcase… In school, you’ll have plenty of assigned reading and you can always use the campus or public library for free!


Things You (Probably) Will Need

Fan: Dorms can get warm. One of the best ways to beat the heat—really the only way—is to turn on a fan. They are usually an inexpensive purchase at a local store.

Twin Bed Sheets and Bedding: Most dorm beds will supply a “Twin XL” mattress (a longer version of the traditional XL mattress.) You can pack sheets in your bag, but they are bulky. Go to a store to purchase new sheets when you arrive. Some universities supply students with these items, so double-check with your university before you purchase. If you have to purchase these yourself, your school might provide you with transportation to and from a local store!

Surge Protector: If you are a techie and will be plugging in a lot of different electronics, traditional extension cords won’t cut it. Most dorms require students to have surge protector extension cords because it abides by fire safety requirements. This is another item you can pick up at your local store!

Shower Shoes: Often in a dorm, everyone uses a communal shower. Protect your feet from fungus-like athletes’ foot and other ailments by purchasing a pair of shower shoes (also known as flip flops)—but still, remember to wash your feet! Shower shoes may be something you want to pack.

Shower Caddy and Toiletries: Some dorms have private bathrooms (if you are one of those individuals, we envy you). But if you are part of the majority who have communal bathrooms, be sure to purchase a shower caddy when you arrive, so you can easily carry your toiletries to the bathroom. While you are at it, purchase a towel and robe to dry off and wear to walk back to your room.

Laundry Bag: It may seem doable to carry your dirty laundry to the laundry room, but purchasing a bag or a basket will make your life much easier. Buy a laundry bag at the local store when you arrive.

Desk Lamp: Some dorm rooms have desks with built-in lamps. Find out if your school offers this. If not, buy an inexpensive one when you get here. Having a small lamp is great for late-night studying while your roommate is asleep.

Clothing: This may be self-explanatory, but it must be addressed, bring the right clothes! What you may not know is don’t bring them all. Make sure to plan for the different seasons and weather at your new school.

Clothes Hangers: Most dorm rooms have a closet. They probably do not have clothes hangers, however. Make sure you pick some up at the local store.

Water Bottle: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!!! Drinking the recommended amount of water each day will help keep the doctor away; that means you should try to drink between an ounce to two ounces of water for each kilogram you weigh.

Medications: It is very important to bring all prescribed medications with you when you pack for college. While you will likely be able to obtain similar medication once you arrive, it could be more expensive or not available here.

Laptop and Other School Supplies: A laptop may not be required but is highly suggested. You can make it through college without a laptop, but it will make your life (and studying) substantially easier. Some schools will even have a brand-new laptop waiting for you!



Packing for college is stressful so don’t wait until the last minute! While the do’s and don’ts above are a helpful start, you are the only one who truly knows what you can and cannot live without. Here’s one final tip: If you are not sure what to bring, contact your school’s international office and ask them for recommendations!

Author: Sarah Dean

Sarah is the Marketing Communications Intern for the Lewer Agency. A Junior at the University of Kansas, she studies Marketing in the School of Business and minors in the journalism concentration strategic communications.