Colleges offer guidance and so do many retailers. We visited The Container Store at Cherry Hill Mall, where they break dorm life down into six essential areas - closet, walls and doors, desk, laundry, bath and storage. Master these and your move to a dorm will be a lot smoother.
First, don't pack all your clothes. Just take what you expect to wear during the first semester. Parents can transport the next semester's items on a visit to campus, or you can swap things out on a visit back home.
Second, think about buying storage containers for what you'll bring and pack them before you leave. That way, move-in day will be more efficient because you're moving those containers, not individual items.
In the dorm, closet space being at a premium, The Container Store offers slim-line hangers. They're felt-covered to keep clothes secure, and you can cascade them to hang many items in the space of just one garment. Other hanging items attach to doors to make yet more space.
There are containers to keep things like magazines neat and orderly. Others organize odds and ends and slide under a bed to keep walkways clear.
Since relatively few dorms have in-room showers, think about a water-friendly tote that carries personal care supplies to the shower room down the hall.
Campus housing being somewhat public, you may also want to think about personal security. There are cable locks to make it difficult for others to remove personal electronics like a laptop or music player. And there are "disguise" items...what looks like a can of soda is actually a mini-safe to hide jewelry and such.
The Container Store locally is on an out-parcel along Route 38 at Cherry Hill Mall. They have a complete display for college students right inside the main entrance. You may phone them at 856-317-7134.
They also offer shopping online at The Container Store. In-store or online, they offer a checklist to help you shop for dorm life.
You can take part in a registry so family and friends can buy items you need as gifts. And there's a delayed-shipping option that lets you shop now, in person or on the web, and have your purchases sent directly to school or to a store near there for pickup at a later date.
Experts agree you should consult your college for any policies regarding what you may or may not bring to a dorm. Some, like Temple University, have dorms with generously-equipped kitchens so you won't need to bring appliances. Others ban personal appliances and you might not be able to bring even a coffee-maker. It's best to know before you start spending money.
Another popular chain, Bed Bath & Beyond, actually polls local colleges and has handout sheets summarizing campus policies, but you need to get those in a store local to your campus.
They're online at Bed Bath and Beyond. There and elsewhere, students are reminded that dorm beds often take special-length sheets. Your college can tell you about this, but again, you need to know before you start making purchases.
Finally, look for resources at your destination that help students from elsewhere get acclimated. Here in Philadelphia, Campus Philly offers a number of services, including regularly-updated lists of activities.
They're online at Campus Philly. The site is rated one of the best in the country.