Move-in Day Etiquette and Tips

Politeness + planning = a positive experience for all.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

The day you bring your freshman to college is an emotional one. There’s no hiding from that fact. Some parents will say it’s tumultuous and stressful, too. But by showing some basic courtesy and using common sense, you can make this a good day for everyone.

Remember your manners. Keep in mind that parents all over campus are in the same boat—wanting to make their freshman as comfortable as possible in this ridiculously small space that’ll be shared with a stranger, while trying to wrap their head around the fact that yes, this is really happening.

Move in Day2I’ve heard stories of parents who show up intent on ensuring their teen gets more than enough storage and closet space (is their such a thing in a college dorm room?), the best bed, the perfect spot for their mini fridge and, you get the idea. The reality is this isn’t just about your kid, or even for you to decide how this works.

“Remember this is your student’s temporary home,” explains Andrea Winchester, who went through the experience with her son and daughter. “Let them call the shots. They need to figure it out and learn to work cooperatively to share space and compromise with their roommates.”

Encourage your teen to be welcoming. It’s tough being the “new kid” when your roommates are already friends. One mom told me that when she and her freshman daughter arrived at the dorm room, the two roommates and their moms told them not to unpack because they had requested a room together and didn’t want a third roommate. Make sure you and your teen arrive with a cooperative mindset and, as I said above, some manners. College creates a perfect opportunity to learn that life doesn’t always go your way, or as planned.

Anne Verrastro, a mom who survived two freshmen move-in days, reminds parents to avoid setting the bar too high on the roommate-friendship experience. “Kids and parents have heard (or remember) such good stories about college roommates being friends for life, but that’s not always the case. It’s hard enough for kids who haven’t really had to make friends to go out of their comfort zone and work at making friends. It’s not a failure on their part.”

Do arrive at your designated time. Many colleges assign freshmen specific times to move in to prevent congestion. Do your part and show up when expected. Also keep in mind “it takes longer than you think to get moved in and in most cases, you likely need a full day,” says Catherine Ostheimer, a mom of twins who went to different colleges.

Remember, you will need time to go buy forgotten items or things you decided to purchase once you arrived.

Pack smartly. You can’t fit as much as you think in the dorm room, or your car/minivan/SUV.  So pack accordingly.

Move in Day1“Take things out of boxes before you go,” advises Verrastro. “It seems tempting to keep the fan and the fridge and the lamp in their boxes for easy packing, but when you’re unpacking, it’s time consuming to take so many things out of boxes. And the amount of cardboard and plastic. Plus it makes more room in the car!”

Also “have scissors and/or box cutters on hand. You will need them to open packages/boxes,” points out Ostheimer. She had shipped some items to her kids’ colleges in advance, which she doesn’t recommend. “We could have saved a lot of money in shipping if we would have just bought dorm items on the ground there. Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target had everything that was needed. They were crowded on the day before and the day of move-in, but they seemed ready for the crowds.”

I learned after my first move-in day with my daughter to order items like the comforter, sheets, towels, mirror, etc. from our local Bed, Bath & Beyond and then pick them up at the store near campus with my son his freshman year.

Verrastro recommends bringing cleaning supplies because the room may not be in move-in condition. “It wasn’t dirty, just dusty and needed a cleaning.” She doesn’t recommend buying a year’s worth of health and beauty supplies since her daughter brought home half of the Costco toothpaste package at the end of the year. “There’s almost always a CVS or Walmart or whatever near the school [if they run out].”

Stay calm. “Bring a ton of patience with you that day,” advises Winchester. “Emotions are running high and it is easy to snap at the frustrations you will undoubtedly encounter. Just go with it and remember this is hard for your student, too.”

Follow your teen’s lead. You can’t predict your teen’s mood, reactions and motivations that first day. All three moms advise keeping your emotions in check as your freshman decides how to navigate this new experience.

“Try to gauge the timing of when you should make your exit,” advises Winchester. “Don’t expect them to center all of their time on you and plan to have every meal with you. They may want and need to branch off with their roommate(s) and begin their journey.”

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Photo credit: Lisa C. DeLuca

Each child is different. Some will need you to stay awhile and others will be ready for you to leave as soon as the bed is made and boxes unpacked.

Ostheimer recommends having that “last meal” the night before they move in to allow them to settle in with the other kids that first night in the dorm.

Exit gracefully. “Try not to have a preconceived notion of how your goodbye is going to be wise, insightful and full of emotion,” advises Winchester. “It might end up being a quick hug and they are gone.”

Do you have move-in day tips? Please share, especially if you’re fresh off the experience.

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