College Prep: Which Clothes to Pack for College

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Welcome to College Prep, the blog post series where I help you prepare for your first year of college. Today, we’re tackling which clothes to pack for college!

Before I came to college, I spent hours scouring the internet to find out what I needed to pack. One of the areas I especially wanted to ‘get right’ was my closet. College was a chance to start over, and I wanted to make a good impression by looking cute and put-together — but I had no idea what to bring, or how much. How many pairs of underwear or socks should I pack? (Two weeks’ worth.) Did I need a rain jacket? (Yes.) Should I invest in a whole new wardrobe? (NO!)

To help you avoid the questions and anxiety I had over which clothes to pack for college, I put together this quick guide, with some helpful rules of thumb, FAQ’s, and a free packing list printable.

Three Don’ts for Packing College Clothes

It’s easy to get swept away in the excitement of college planning, so before you grab the entire contents of your closet and dump it into a bag, keep these three gentle “don’ts” in mind.

  1. Don’t bring too much. Figure out how often you’ll be coming home, and plan accordingly. If you’ll see your parents at Thanksgiving, leave your winter clothes at home and just bring some summer and fall clothes when you first arrive. If you won’t go home until Winter Break, bring some summer, fall, and winter clothes. If you won’t be home all year, bring it all.
  2. Don’t bring things that don’t “fit” youCollege is a time to start fresh, but you’re still the same person. If you don’t feel comfortable in a certain outfit, or you just can’t be yourself in a dress, don’t bring them. They’ll end up hanging untouched in your closet anyway.
  3. Don’t forget the basics. It’s nice to dig out your favorite rain boots, or buy a winter coat for the first time. But don’t get so swept up in the exciting items that you forget basics, like bringing enough socks, shoes, and underwear. My guideline is to bring enough socks and underwear for two weeks.

Alright, so now we know what not to do. But what should we know or plan before we start packing?

3 Key Factors When Packing Clothes for College

  1. Time frame. Are you packing for the first two months of the semester, or for the whole year? This depends on how often you can go home to see family and switch out clothes.
  2. Climate. Think about your college’s environment and climate before you pack. Will you need clothes for hot, arid weather? Snowy days? Lots of rain? Consider taking a look at this week of weather at your college, or reaching out to a current student you know to ask what kind of weather to pack for.
  3. Occasions. An athlete who likes to go party the city on the weekends will need to bring different clothes than a college student who prefers to stay in or explore a museum. Think about the kinds of occasions you’ll experience at college. Will you need a lot of work-out clothes for early-morning jogs? Party clothes for the weekends? Professional outfits for your internship? Try to be realistic. If you don’t like to party, you won’t need to bring two backless sequin dresses.

The College Clothing Packing List

Sometimes what’s most helpful isn’t just a list of principles, but an actual list of what to bring. For that reason, I’ve put together a potential packing list for college. Before you read it, please remember that everyone is different; you certainly don’t need all these things to fit in at school or be prepared for the year. In fact, I brought significantly less to school when I moved in, but I wanted to make a comprehensive list that you could cut and customize to your needs. When in doubt, go with the cardinal rule: pack enough clothes for two weeks and weather conditions.

Before we get to the list, I wanted to let you know that I made the list into a cute and easy-t0-access printable with my suggestions and recommendations for which clothes to bring to college. The printable is accessible in my free resource library for email subscribers. If you’re not a subscriber yet, you can sign up for my mailing list here to get the password to my resource library! Once you have your password, you can click on the resource below to lead you to the resource library.

Download Packing List


  • Underwear and bras
  • Socks
  • Athletic shoes
  • Casual shoes
  • Shower shoes
  • Formal shoes
  • Rain boots
  • Snow boots
  • Riding boots (optional)

Casual clothes

  • Jeans
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts and tank tops or camis
  • Casual tops or blouses
  • Sweaters or cardigans

Lounge clothes

  • Leggings
  • Sweatshirts
  • Casual, comfy t-shirts
  • Pajamas
  • Exercise/running clothes

Occasion clothes

  • An interview-appropriate outfit
  • A formal outfit or dress
  • Clothes for going out
  • A costume for Halloween or a party

Outerwear and Other

  • Light jacket
  • Rain jacket (for colleges in rainy climates)
  • Winter coat (for colleges in cold climates)
  • Vest (optional)
  • Swimsuit (optional)


  •  Jewelry
  • Watch
  • Wallet
  • Belts
  • Scarves
  • Winter accessories – hat, scarf, and gloves (for colleges in cold climates)
  • Umbrella (for colleges in rainy climates)
  • Backpack
  • Medium-sized purse
  • Tote or duffle bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Tights

Download Packing List

Do you have any specific college prep questions? What is one clothing item you couldn’t live without in college? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Reply Kenzie Negron // sincerelykenz June 20, 2016 at 10:08 am

    this list is super helpful! I learned that if you havent worn the shirt in more than a month you do not need to bring it to college! x, kenz

  • Reply Tori Moore June 20, 2016 at 11:05 am

    I definitely overpacked my freshman year – I brought *everything* and ended up wearing the same tshirts every day! This is a great post!


  • Reply Alix Maza June 20, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Basics are so important! I definitely brought all the wrong things my first year lol.

    Alix |

  • Reply Kennedy Skye June 20, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I overpacked my freshman year so badly! My closet couldn’t fit most of the clothes and my dorm was a mess the whole year. Whoops. Great post! I wish I would’ve had this when I was moving to my dorm!

    Kennedy //

  • Reply Nicole @ Audaciously So June 20, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Where were you when I started college? haha I just threw it all in my bag, no thought whatsoever. 😛

  • Reply Jenny June 20, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Such a great, comprehensive list. I brought way too much to college my freshman year. It was a mess haha.
    xoxo, Jenny

  • Reply Alex Lo June 20, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Great list! You covered it all!

  • Reply Summer @ Coffee With Summer June 20, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    This is awesome, Sara! You sure covered everything. Love this list. Perfect for any college freshman!

  • Reply Shannon Brown June 20, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    I wish I had this when packing for my first year! Great job Sara, this is so helpful!

  • Reply Miss ALK June 21, 2016 at 2:19 am

    Being a fashion blogger I always brought way too much with me to school 😉 My biggest problem was finding dorm room storage to accommodate all the clothes haha!

    xoxo A

  • Reply Sara Kate Steadman June 21, 2016 at 2:19 am

    Such a great list!! When I was headed off to college, I literally started packing months prior.

    Sara Kate Styling

  • Reply Cat June 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Packing for college can be such a challenge! But if you learn to live only with items you absolutely LOVE, it shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Reply Amy June 21, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    I was definitely guilty of packing wayy too much when moving out to college my first year (but aren’t we al?). Let’s be honest, I probably wore the same 10 outfits the whole year.. haha. SUch great tips!


    Amy | Pastel N Pink

  • Reply Stephanie Therese June 22, 2016 at 9:58 am

    As a rising college senior, I can attest that this list is accurate!! I was guilty of packing like my entire wardrobe my freshman year… but I’ve definitely learned since then! Awesome post!

    Stephanie |

  • Reply adriana nudo June 22, 2016 at 10:51 am

    These are such great tips!!! I just graduated college in May and I didn’t dorm, but I’m sharing this because it’s awesome!

  • Reply Savannah Ward June 23, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    I went to school in Asheville NC where it does get pretty gloomy and TOTALLY forgot an umbrella! Thank goodness I had my rain jacket, because the first day I woke up to bad weather I panicked!! Great list! Hope you’re doing well and enjoying post-grad!!

  • Reply Héloïse Chir September 7, 2016 at 11:29 am

    I can not thank you enough for this Sara. College starts in three days and I didn’t know at all what to pack!! I can not wait to read other articles from you about college life. Thank you for everything, and I hope you’re doing well.
    Lots of love from France x

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