From Home To Dorm, To First Apartment: Tips For Success

A new phase of your life is beginning. You might be leaving the proverbial nest for the first time. You will now, if you haven’t started already, be responsible for all aspects of your life. This can seem a bit daunting. Taking things one step at a time and following the advice gathered from the generations of first-time college students to make the transition before you, will guarantee that you’ll be more than ready for your new journey.

Housing, Roommates & Budget 

If you are moving to college from home and NOT into a dorm living situation, here is an outline of important measures to when moving into an off campus dwelling.

1. Location Priority

When searching for an apartment close to your school, commute time is a valid issue, but more important than that is safely. Finding an area and housing complex that fees save and has a low crime rate is the top priority. A gated condo unit and the like are great places to search as well. Take advantage of online tools to check on the safety of specific neighborhoods. When you find one that looks promising, do an on the ground review. Walk the neighborhood and see how you feel. Trust your instincts and keep looking until it feels right to you.

2. Budget 

As a first time renter there are some extra expenses you may not have thought of. So besides rent, add these items to your budget spreadsheet:

  • Insurance
  • Utilities (if not included) average $100-200 per month

3. Housing Resources

Once a suitable neighborhood has been selected, check in with your campus housing office which may have a list of rentals in that area. Craigslist, PadMapper, and Lovely all offer housing, rooms shares, and short term rentals. Students move every semester, especially around graduation, so even if housing is currently occupied it may free-up quickly. Make it known what you are looking for and be aggressive in staying on top of communication.

4. Roommate Search

Depending on your finances, getting a roommate might be a necessity (and also a good idea). Almost all campuses have community electronic bulletin boards where this type of information is shared. You can of course also use social media or different apps to find a housemate. Spend some time with your potential roommate before you sign on the dotted line; best to get to know their quirks and habits before you’ve made a commitment.

5. Consider Insurance

If you have the available funds, take a look at residence and liability insurance. Unfortunately many student housing areas are at risk for burglary or theft.  

Securing your own contents insurance policy will cover if your laptop or other expensive devices need to be replaced.

6. Fine Print 

Taking the 20-30 minutes of time to read the entire rental agreement can save you a lot of hassle and expense in the long run. Make note of all the requirements. For example, are you allowed to paint, have pets, a roommate? What is the landlord responsible for and what are your duties. Make sure to get contact information to reach the landlord in case of an emergency. Pro Tip: take pictures of every wall, baseboard, and window, of the apartment, and list in writing any existing damages and send to your landlord with date and signature first thing upon moving in.

7. Making A Home Inexpensively

If you don’t already have a studio full of furnishings, now’s the time to check out the “free stuff” section of Craigslist. Of course great deals on quality second hand items are found at yard sales and brick and mortar shops in every city. For Bay Area affordable college furnishings, appliances, electronics and more, check out The Local Flea. A warehouse full of curated gently used products. They also have satellite shop in Phoenix. 


Now, what to pack when starting a new life? You’ve probably only packed for a week’s vacation or at most a month of summer break. How do you pack for an entire year? Well, it’s all here. The ultimate checklist!

1. Important Paperwork

Having your essential documents organized into a couple of file folders will make your entry into college flow significantly smoother. If you have the bandwidth to make photocopies, evenbetter.

  • Bank account details 
  • Car insurance info
  • Housing contract
  • Passport or at least a set of passport photos
  • Student loan documents or other funding related papers

2. Electronic Devices

You may have been into video games while in highschool, but if you are taking a full course load in your first year of college, your time will be occupied almost indefinitely! So pair down your devices when packing, only take the essentials and a few extra things to cover all bases.

  • Cable adapters
  • Headsets
  • Ethernet cable and HDMI cable
  • Extension cords with multiple outlets
  • External hard drive
  • Laptop/computer and charger

3. Wardrobe

This one is probably the easiest item on the checklist as you know your favorite clothing pieces already. The following list is some things you may not have considered (also location, i.e. weather dependant).

  • Bathing suit and large towel
  • Bathrobe
  • Costume or two (for themed parties!)
  • Comfortable shoes for daily walking around campus
  • Hangers
  • One career/job outfit  
  • Raincoat, umbrella, rain shoes
  • Seasonal clothing (sunglasses, gloves, scarves, hats)
  • Slippers
  • Workout clothes

4. Toiletries

Besides all the products in your normal routine, don’t forget the following:

  • Bandages
  • Medication
  • Medicine (for simple issues: colds, flu, headaches, and such)

5. Food Prep & Storage

In your first home away from home, you’re pretty much guaranteed to not have much space, such as a dorm room or studio apartment. So try to keep kitchen supplies to a minimum. 

  • Can opener
  • Cooking utensils: spatula, large spoon, tongs
  • Knives
  • Dish soap & scrubby sponge
  • One pot & one pan
  • One set of plates, bowls, cups, & utensils
  • Tupperware


Rent Storage Unit or…

During your packing adventures, this is an issue to consider…depending on how long you’ll be gone and how much stuff you own, you might have to think about renting a storage unit. This can turn into a costly expense month after month. Another solution is to downsize and get rid of as many belongings that you are no longer attached too. In the Bay Area, C.A. and Phoenix, A.Z., there is a one-stop service that can easily help you make the most of this process. Remoov collects all your unwanted items and will sell them for you, or donate and recycle any items that are not sellable. 

Now, back to packing!

6. Room Furnishings & Accessories

To make your new living quarters comfortable, homey, and functional for studying, remember to include these items during your pack-up. 

  • Alarm clock 
  • Bulletin board
  • Desk lamp
  • Earplugs
  • Few pots of fresh herbs or small plants
  • Hangers
  • Laundry basket 
  • Mini sewing kit
  • Mini iron
  • Mirror
  • Set of sheets, mattress cover, & blankets

Final Tip: Car Tune-up 

Driving to another state? Or moving to a new climate? For your safety and peace of mind, take your vehicle into a mechanic for a check-up and tune-up before the move. Additional issues to cover regarding your car:

  • Check parking regulations on campus. Do you need an identification sticker? What will cause you to get fined?
  • Are there parking meters in your new city? 
  • Do you need a residential parking permit?
  • Do you have to register your vehicle in a new state? You’ll need all vehicle documents.
  • Make sure your insurance and license are up-to-date.

Time For Fun!

The number one regret or piece of advice second-year college students offer is getting out and getting to know your neighbors and community ASAP. Look through the classifieds to find local entertainment. Join in school clubs, groups, or sports meetups to find your tribe. Try not to be shy; make an effort to introduce yourself to your neighbors and fellow classmates. Feeling connected results in better grades and higher achievement. Plus a happier you. So enjoy your university life to the max.

Good luck!

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