Freshman Survival Guide: Buying and Packing for College

military duffel bag

military duffel bag

I’m from Southern California, so I didn’t drive to college. I flew Southwest (first two checked bags are free!) and checked in a suitcase and a military duffel bag. I brought my guitar on board with me as a carry-on. How did I manage to fit everything I needed for 9 months into a suitcase and a duffel bag? Read on to find out.


1. If you’re from a warmer climate, you might not need to buy a winter coat yet.
a) You’ll have a better selection in a city that actually gets cold.
b) Winter coats can be bulky, and you don’t want that when you’re packing.
c) You’re not going to need it for a while anyway. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll handle the cold well, and people will think you’re crazy for never buying a proper coat. (Hey, I thought it was a coat! But my friends from cold climates insist it’s nothing more than a heavy jacket.)

2. Rain boots are a good idea. A really good idea.  There’s a DSW right by the Target and Bed Bath and Beyond in Brentwood, MO.

3. You don’t need multiple irons, several dry-erase boards for your door, etc. So talk with your roommate(s) before buying the non-personal things. For example, Madison’s floor lamp, Loren’s shower head, and my full-length mirror were used  by all. We made a Google Docs spreadsheet and worked on it together before we got to St. Louis.  It was set up something like this:

          Madison     Dera     Loren     Price     Product link


If we found something online, we included a link so everyone could look at it. It was fun to look at comfy chairs and used TVs and such, but you really don’t need all that. We did just fine without comfy chairs (what’s more comfortable than sitting on a TempurPedic mattress?), and we were glad we didn’t buy a TV (Netflix + laptop > cable TV).

4. Bed Bath & Beyond College Registry

Did you know you can choose your dorm supplies at the BB&B in your hometown and then pick them up in St. Louis? You don’t even have to pay for them until you pick them up. With the Pack ‘n’ Hold system, you simply go to the store, have them scan the items you want, and the exact same item will be set aside for you in St. Louis in a storage container that’s just for you. Then when you get to St. Louis you don’t have to waste time looking for your items. There’s also a “shop online and ship later”option. Click here for more information.

5. In order to avoid conflict over who’s buying the toilet paper and other bathroom/cleaning supplies*:
a) Everyone contributes the same amount of money towards a Housekeeping Fund. Put the money in an envelope where everyone can access it.
b) Take turns going to the store when you need to buy more, or go together.
c) When the funds run out, everyone contributes the same amount to refill it.

*This applies more to modern dorms, since you have your own bathrooms and can furnish them how you like.

6. Here’s a random list of essential supplies:
-blue tape
-lots of socks and underwear
-dictionary. I had two Spanish dictionaries at home. I forgot to bring any and had to buy another one at school. Now I’m the proud owner of three Spanish-English dictionaries. So pack your mini dictionary if you’re taking a language class. (P.S. I’m selling a Langenscheidt-brand Spanish dictionary. Contact me if you need one 🙂 )
-shoe rack
– sweater rack

Collapsible hanger for shoes/sweaters

Collapsible hanger for shoes/sweaters. Good for increasing closet space

-collapsible laundry hamper
-you won’t need shower flip-flops if you live in a modern dorm
-tall plastic storage bins can fit under you bed if you raise it. And no, you don’t need to buy risers. There are slots in the bed post.

Great for holding miscellaneous items. I stored towels in one level, and used the other two for random items.

Great for holding towels, extra toiletries, or random items that you don’t use often.


1. You don’t need as much as you think you do. 

Especially shirts. You get a lot of free t-shirts, especially within the first week.

Books? Easy there. Don’t clean out your bookcase just yet. I remember being surprised when I discovered the popular fiction section of Olin library. I expected only boring old texts, but no — Olin has a lot of your favorite books already. I packed six of my favorite books to take with me to college. I ended up using only one, and it was for a book report in Spanish 307. I did read several books for fun freshman year, but they were all from Olin, Amazon, or the campus bookstore.

Even for school supplies, I found I overpacked. I ended up bringing home a freezer-size Ziploc bag stuffed with erasers, index cards, pens, pencils, and white-out that I didn’t use. I also had way too much loose notebook paper because I changed my note-taking habits and started using legal pads.

2. Roll your clothes instead of folding them. It saves a lot of space in your suitcase, and your clothes won’t get get wrinkled.

3. If you buy your textbooks ahead of time, have them shipped to your WashU campus box address. Then you can just pick them up instead of packing them. Also, you might want to hold out on buying textbooks. Lock & Chain has a book sale during the first week of school where students sell their used books for cheap.  I also recommend buying used books on Amazon.


Earlier I posed the question: how did I manage to fit everything I needed for 9 months into a suitcase and a duffel bag? Well, it was a trick question. You can’t. Just pack the essentials, and buy the rest when you get to school. When you arrive at WashU, you’ll be able to see the size of your dorm and bathroom before you go shopping, which will help you know how much you can fit in your room.

Here are some pictures of my dorm room that I took at the beginning of freshmen year.

our bathroom

Our bathroom. It was different from most because it was for a triple. Suite-style bathrooms have a shower stall and a toilet stall, and they’re much bigger. ResLife cleans modern bathrooms once a week. They also provide toilet paper, but you may choose to buy your own.

The closet is as wide as the door. If you live in a triple, like we did, one of the closets will be twice as big

The closets are only as wide as the doors. If you live in a triple, one of the three closets will be twice as big as the others.

Dardick dorms have rocking chairs. You get a desk, a bookshelf, and a dresser. The dresser can fit under your bed.

Dardick dorms have rocking chairs. I’m not sure about other dorms. You get a desk, a bookshelf, and a dresser. If you raise your bed you can put the dresser underneath to save space.

Disclaimer: The above picture shows an atypical room size. My roommates and I lived in Dardick 2227. It’s a triple, it has three windows, and it’s huge. It is also right next to the elevator, the stairs, the trash room, the kitchen, the study room, and the parking lot. If you get assigned to this room, be excited. (And feel free to tell me if you get our old room because we’re curious.)

Lastly, if you haven’t done so already, sign up for Amazon Student! You get free Amazon Prime benefits (including free 2-day shipping) for 6 months, discounts on textbooks, and free MP3 credit. I loved having free 2-day shipping because it was easier than going to the store.

When the 6 months is up, you can continue to have Amazon Prime. For a discounted price of $39.99/year.

When the 6 months is up, you can continue to have Amazon Prime for a discounted student price of $39.99/year.

Have any more questions about buying/packing for college? Ask me below in the comments!