When College Move-In Day Goes Sideways, Just Breathe and Remember These 9 Things

Similar to many other events in a teen’s life today, dorm move-in day for college freshmen has become A THING.

Social media has completely turned this day, and everything surrounding it, into an extravaganza that families spend months preparing for, often spend thousands of dollars on, and sometimes drag along one too many family members to partake in the fun, exhaustion, and picture taking.

It’s no wonder that this day has become a bit overblown in significance, seeing that so many of these kids moving into dorm rooms have just spent four years of their lives stressed out about simply getting accepted into college.

And unless you’ve been living under a boulder (or a Twin XL mattress with a memory-foam topper) for the past decade, you know that shopping for dorm décor is now on par with bridal registry shopping. Many of us have indeed become EXTRA.

We want everything to look good, and to go smoothly. For parents who love to plan, shop, and strategize, this day is like a mash up of Christmas, your kid’s birthday, and their Kindergarten Star Student of the Week all rolled up into one, expensive color-coordinated gala.

woman holding a box
College move-in day does not always go smoothly.

My Daughter’s College Move-in Day Was Not AT ALL What I Expected

And I’m here for admitting that I was one of those Moms when my daughter was preparing for college a few years ago. Since she was headed to school across the country, we happily did the whole Bed, Bath and Beyond “Shop here/Pick up there” deal, and felt we were ahead of the game with our lists of what to buy once we arrived locally, including appropriate coupons might I add!

And then my daughter received an email informing her that the ten-day pre-orientation hiking trip she had signed up for might delay her arriving back on campus in time for move-in, especially if she got assigned an early morning timeslot to move in.

I suddenly realized that come move-in day, I could be all alone on one side of the dorm room, having to unpack and set everything up by myself, as my daughter’s roommate and her people eyed me with some weird mixture of pity and suspicion. (My husband would be there but had already informed me he’d be on conference calls most of the day and after dropping me off, would likely be camped out at a local coffee shop, far from the madness of campus.)

So, I did what anyone in my situation would do and called my BFF with a frantic plea: “S.O.S. Please come join me in a tiny, sweaty dorm room and help me get it looking fabulous for my girl. We can play some Wham! and pretend it’s 1985 again.” And bless her heart, she flew in to meet me, willing and able to assist.

Because the early move-in timeslot was indeed what my daughter received, coupled with a bus driver snafu which caused her arrival to be even further delayed, my friend and I had to DO.IT.ALL. We unpacked every box and bag. Rearranged furniture pieces. Filled up every drawer and hung up every hanger. Put up every poster and wall hanging, with iced coffees and Command strips in hand. We chatted with the roommate and her family, we befriended the Resident Advisor and we lent our tools to the Dad across the hall. BOOM!

Who needs a freshman when you have your best friend and some 80’s tunes?

College Move-In Day Disasters

And here are a few other tales of move-in fails I’ve recently heard:

Rainy Day Blues
One mom I know shared that the seal of their pickup truck came loose during their trek to their daughter’s campus and that almost every box they had packed up got soaked while driving in the rain. As her husband helped their daughter set up her room, the mom became extremely familiar with all the dryers in the dorm laundry room.

A friend of mine who does real estate staging told me this story of moving their daughter on to campus her freshman year. The girl and her suitemate were athletes who had to move in early and then leave swiftly for practices, so my friend and her husband kindly spent the entire day setting up everything in two bedrooms and the common sitting room.

Boyfriend on Board
The R.A. poked her head in and loved how everything looked, so she asked the Mom if she could bring a campus tour through to see the rooms. Of course, my friend was happy to oblige, but a few minutes before the large group was set to arrive, she noticed the suitemate’s boyfriend had fallen sound asleep on her bed. My quick-thinking friend hurriedly covered him up with a few blankets and matching pillows and held her breath as he slept soundly while touring parents and students strolled right next to him, admiring the décor!

Warning: Fresh Paint
Another student we know was so excited to be moving into the newest dorm on her campus. She and her Dad described everything as sparkling clean and fresh smelling as they moved in her many boxes and tote bags, and began to hang up bulletin boards, posters and a beautiful, big tapestry. After a short while, the girl noticed the tapestry fabric sticking to the wall in an odd way, only to discover that the paint covering half of the room was still damp, and many items were now stubbornly stuck to the wall with paint stains on the backs.

College Move-In Day Advice

1. So, be prepared for the unexpected, parents. Move-in day disasters sometimes do occur. But every challenge can be overcome. Try to keep in mind the following:

2. Traffic often is a nightmare. Bring snacks, drinks and something to keep you busy while you wait, like magazines, a deck of cards, and an extra charger for your phones. Remember your Grandma’s adage, “Patience is a virtue.”

3. If the “good” side of the room has already been claimed, accept it and move on with a smile. Let your student be the one to negotiate with their roommate later, if they wish to discuss that or any other room issues.

4. Weather can often change on a dime. Bring a couple umbrellas and/or plastic ponchos if there’s any chance of rain. Maybe even a change of clothes. It’s practically a given that everyone involved in the move-in process ends up sweaty, dirty and tired.

5. Be mindful of how many helpers you bring along. Some dorm rooms are barely bigger than Harry Potter’s cupboard under his aunt and uncle’s stairs. Have a few back-up plans if you intend to bring along younger siblings who may tire of “helping out” very quickly.

6. One Mom told me a story of their move-in day mishap that involved her son’s roommate’s little brother breaking her child’s lamp while he was tossing around a basketball in the room. Awkward for the parents, and a costly way to start off the year.

7. Sometimes elevators break, the first set of keys don’t work, or your child somehow manages to forget to pack up their bedding or their towels. Try not to freak out and remember options like Amazon Prime, the campus store, a quick stop at the nearest Target, or your student sharing an Uber that night or the following day with a couple new friends who also forgot something essential.

8. Let your student be the guide for how long you stay, no matter what you may have discussed before move-in day. They may change their mind and want you to exit early if people on their floor decide to go out to get food or explore, or want you to stay longer, if their roommate’s parents are hanging out for a while.

9. Go with the flow, take some deep breaths, and remember it’s about THEM – not you. Your expectations for how the day should unfold and what the room should look like need to take a backseat to their feelings on that day. If you remain calm, they will likely remain calm.

At the end of that long and strange move-in day with my absentee daughter several years ago, my friend and I nervously followed her and my husband up the stairs to her finished dorm room. We glanced at each other in the doorway, hoping we had done a good enough job. When my daughter entered the room, she looked around and said one word.


You Might Also Want to Read: 

25 Dorm Room Essentials for College Freshmen 

College Move-In Day: 12 Things That Will Save Your Live 

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

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