College Road Trip: What to Pack Before You Visit Campus

Campus visit

Making the most of your college road trip is all about preparation. The better that high school students and parents plan ahead, the more they can focus on the experience instead of figuring out where to be, how to get there, and what to do. That's a big part of the reason we created our campus visit planner tools.

In that spirit, let's talk about what and how to pack!

What to Pack for a College Road Trip

This list should give you an idea of what to put in your suitcase. However, your actual packing list will depend on some of the factors described in the next section.

Suitable outfits for your visit. Choose clothes that fit comfortably but not tightly and that cover you appropriately. Avoid ripped clothing, t-shirts, and especially gear with another college's name on it (it happens more often than it should!) If you have an admissions interview, consider dress pants or a skirt, a button-down shirt, blouse, or sweater. Depending on your personal preference and the college's culture, you may also want to wear a cardigan, a dressy jacket, or a suit.

Detergent or spot eraser in case you spill on your outfit.

Conservative, comfortable shoes in good condition. You will likely be taking a campus tour during your college road trip, and the last thing you want is heels that are extremely high or new dress shoes that you're trying to break in. At the same time, worn-out sneakers may send the wrong message to the admissions officers you meet.

A small backpack. Move items from your suitcase into this bag for your visits. You might include your wallet, snacks, print backups of your trip plan, phone charger, medications, and prep materials for a college interview if you're having one.

Plastic zip bags. Even if you are driving and not flying, you'll want to separate liquids like shampoo and conditioner so that they don't spill onto your clothes in transit. Use two bags for extra safety.

Something you can use to take notes. Whether it's a small pad and paper or a digital tablet, it's a good idea to record your experience when it is fresh. This will help you remember what you liked, what you didn't, who you met, and what you wanted to research when you're back home.

Why Can't You Just Wear What You Want?

You should be comfortable in whatever you wear for campus visits. This should be a fun experience as well as an opportunity for finding college options. Still, we encourage you to dress on the conservative side.

Think about it this way: you probably wouldn't want to submit a college admissions essay with grammatical errors. That's because you are communicating with the people making a decision about your admission, and you want to show that you care what they think about you. That doesn't mean an essay can't be highly personal and demonstrate your unique identity.

It's the same with the way you dress for campus visits during a college road trip. You can still be yourself, but wearing more formal clothes communicates that you are serious about attending. If you're not sure if your clothes meet this standard, ask friends and parents for opinions.

How Will You Travel?

Some students and parents fly to a destination, like the West Coast, and then drive from college to college. If you're planning to take a flight, consider using smaller luggage that doesn't require checking. Delays at the airport and lost bags might keep you from making all of your visits.

If you're only taking a car for your college road trip, you obviously have more flexibility in the amount of stuff you bring. Just remember, though, that if you are making daytime visits to campus and not checking into hotels, your luggage may be staying in the car. Consider whether you want valuables left unattended, even if they are out of sight in the trunk.

How Long Will You Be Gone?

If you're traveling for more than a few days, it's tempting to pack a large suitcase full of clean clothes for every occasion. This works fine if you are going by car and have room, but if a flight is part of your college road trip, you have to think smaller.  

Make some space by:

  • Eliminating accessories and rolling / folding soft clothing.
  • Carefully packing dress pants, suits, blouses, and other items that might be creased. Don't take clothes that wrinkle easily.
  • Buying small, easy-to-replace toiletries after your flight.
  • Limiting the number of shoes you bring, and wearing bulky items on the flight.

Will You Stay Overnight on Campus?

When you stay overnight at a college during a campus visit, the school will typically provide you with a list of what to bring. This might include a sleeping bag and pillow; casual, appropriate clothing; shower shoes; and clothes to sleep in.

What Will the Weather Be Like?

If you're visiting a Southern school during the summer, your tour may mean a lot of walking around in the heat. Similarly, a college road trip to the Great Lakes in January may require a winter jacket and boots (our article on campus life at cold weather colleges gets into more detail.)

Adapt your packing to the situation. For example, just because you're a junior interesting in finding a college in the summer doesn't mean you can't dress formally for your visit. Choose more breathable fabrics and clothes that fit more loosely. If you know that you're prone to perspiring (in other words, if you sweat a lot), consider wearing an undergarment that will shield you and prevent it from showing.

Whatever you pack and wherever you go, we hope you have a great trip. Good luck!

Get started now with the College Trip Planner.

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