What to pack for university study in the USA

Packing can be exciting, but also a little stressful when you’re going away to study abroad.

  • What to pack for university?
  • Will I need to carry books?
  • Will they have my favorite shampoo in that country?
  • Is one jacket enough, or should I carry two?

These are some common (and expected) concerns that occupy the minds of international students leaving home for the first time. Worry not, we have compiled a list of what to pack (and not to pack), along with useful tips, to help you pack wisely as you embark on your adventure of being a University student.

Travelling within the USA

If you have a connecting flight from your country to your final US destination, remember it’s good to keep your baggage light and compact! Before you pack, keep in mind:

  • US carriers allow one bag weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kg) to be checked, and one carry-on (there are rarely weight restrictions, but it has to be able to fit in the overhead compartment) and one personal item (purse, laptop, etc.) to be brought onto the airplane.
  • Only 3 fluid ounces (90 mL) of liquid items are allowed onto the airplane, and these should be packed separately in clear plastic bags.
  • US carriers might also charge fees for checked baggage.

Refer to this website for information pertaining to carry-on baggage allowance.

Make a packing list of everything you think you will need, and then cross off things you know you can buy in the US. Below is a list to get you started.

Wardrobe basics:

  • Underwear and socks (good to have two weeks’ worth in case you don’t do your laundry each week!)
  • Sneakers
  • Dress shoes, sandles etc.
  • Tank tops, undershirts
  • Short and long-sleeve shirts
  • Sweaters (for mild spring and fall weather)
  • Sweatshirts or hoodies (2-3)
  • Coat/jacket (two is a good number; try to bring one that is water resistant)
  • A formal outfit for special events or interviews
  • Work out clothing (to go the gym!)
  • Your favorite shirt or piece of clothing
  • Jeans, shorts, or other types of pants (2-3 pairs)
  • Swimsuit
  • Belts and accessories
  • Scarf, mittens, gloves, ear-muffs etc. for winter weather
  • Pajamas
  • Flip flops (bring 2 pairs, one for the showers, and one for walking around)

Toiletries and personal hygiene products:

  • Shampoo, soap, face wash
  • Lotion/cream
  • Medicated ointments/ skin creams used on a regular basis
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Shaving cream and razor
  • Deodorant and/or perfume
  • Contact lens solution

Quick tip: Pack in small quantities or travel size for immediate use only. You can always buy additional toiletries in the US when you need more.

Bed linens and towels:

  • Buy bed linens in the US since you don’t know the exact size or type of bed that it needs to fit.
  • Pack one towel for showering upon arrival; buy additional towels when you’re settled in.

Electronic appliances:

  • Everyday electrical appliances such as desk lamps and hair dryers can be purchased cheaply in the USA.

Quick tip: Keep in mind that plug points and voltage may vary from what is used in your country, so assess your needs and purchase accordingly when in your residence.

Food and books:

  • Bring your favorite non-perishable foods or snacks that will not be available or hard to find in the USA. This is often what international students crave most in the first few months of being away from home.
  • Only bring books that you know cannot be found in the US or be ordered online. Books can weigh a lot even if they are compact.


  • Bring sufficient prescription medicine if you take it on a regular basis.
  • Over the counter medications such as aspirin, can be bought in the US to save space, but it is okay to bring a small amount in case you need it for immediate use.
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses if you wear them.

Quick tip: Have a list of all your medications signed by a doctor to show legitimacy. Also, make sure what you’re bringing in the US is considered legal in the USA. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor or check the Transportation Security Administration website.

Important documents to bring (originals or copies, as applicable):

  • Detailed and up-to-date medical and dental records, if possible. Make sure your records reflect recent visits to your local health care professionals for general examinations, blood tests, dental and eye check-ups, x-rays, etc. These will help US doctors get a better idea of past diagnoses and accordingly offer treatments.
  • Immunization record, even if it was already turned in to your University, it is good to have a spare copy!
  • Official transcripts from secondary schools, colleges or universities.

Other essentials:

  • Air ticket and passport
  • Wallet with US currency or traveler’s checks
  • Your mobile phone
  • Laptop or tablet
  • Chargers and 110 volt adaptors for North American plugs
  • Bilingual dictionary or electronic translators (if you use one)
  • Photos of family and friends to tide you through when you are feeling homesick.
  • A favorite item, such as a stuffed toy, pillow or diary to make you feel more at home!

Quick tips:

  1. Campus wear in the US is casual (eg T-shirt and jeans)
  2. Folding and then rolling clothes is a good space-saving technique, but the weight will stay the same, so don’t over-stuff your bags!
  3. Distribute the weight by packing bulkier items like shoes in your hand luggage.
  4. You may even decide to wear your heavier clothes such as a winter coat in-flight!
  5. Do not pack clothing that you will be able to buy in the US at a cheaper cost. Consider buying items that you may need or want, but do not already own, upon arrival (heavy winter coat, summer clothes, etc.).

Finally, if you can’t fit items into your luggage, you can always just ship it to your US residence.

Welcome to America!

Want to know what to expect at university in the USA? Find out about Life at University.

Meet our experts in person!

Are you an international student already in the USA? Are you at a language school on the East Coast?

Take advantage of this exciting opportunity to meet one of our US university experts in person.

Later this month, Ian Wright, Director of International Admissions for Long Island University in New York, will be presenting to international students in New York and Boston.

The New York presentation details are:
Date: Wednesday March 14, 2012
Location: Embassy CES language school, 6th floor
Address: use entrance at 328 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001
Time: 12.30pm
Tel: 212 629 7300

The Boston presentation details are:
Date: Friday March 16, 2012
Location: Embassy CES language school
Address: 41 West Street, Boston, MA 02111
Time: 11.30am
Tel: 857-362-8970

Each presentation will take 30-45 minutes and there will be an opportunity for you to ask questions about applying to university in New York.

All international students are welcome.

If you would like to attend, email Tom Griffin at tgriffin@studygroup.com to add your name to the guest list. Bring photo ID on the day.

Advice on preparing your personal statement

Ian Wright, Director of International Admissions at Long Island University in New York, shares his persepective on how to write an effective personal statement for your application to a US university:

Keys to a successful personal statement or essay:

    1. Accuracy – answer the question asked by the University, or address the key aspects of the program to which you are applying. This shows the admissions counselor that you are responding specifically to that program, and are an appropriate match for the program.
    2. Relevance – connect who you are and what you’ve achieved to the University’s goals and culture. This makes you relevant and distinguished from all the other applicants. Take time to review the literature provided by the University to insure there is a connection between you and the school.
    3. The tone of your personal statement can confirm your desire and connection to the University that you’ve applied to. Try to convey a positive and thoughtful message of introduction establishing what you’ve accomplished and expect to achieve if admitted to the school.

Download the PDF document to read the full article.

International students at university in America

Reported trends in higher education show an increase in international student mobility – more and more students from countries around the world are getting their higher education outside of their home countries. Students today appreciate learning in a culturally diverse environment that teaches them to think with an open mind, explore all alternatives and develop unique leadership skills. Academic departments at universities in the USA and Canada appreciate the multiculturalism and globalism that international students bring to the disciplines of business, research and politics.


A release from the Institute of International Education shows that international student enrollments at North American universities remains high, with international students continuing to seek their bachelor’s and master’s degrees from universities in the USA.

Many international students dream of getting a US degree, and we are here to help make that possible. At Study Group, we work hard to help you apply, qualify and get admission to Universities in the USA and Canada. We are dedicated to making your study abroad experience simple and easy from start to finish – you benefit from professional enrollment counseling, expert guidance on visas, specially designed Degree Pathway programs at top-ranking university partners, and the highest levels of international student support, all at a preferred price.

We have the expertise to help you succeed! Learn more about how we assist with university admissions.