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.

James Madison University – The Ultimate American Undergraduate Experience


The Quad - James Madison University in the USA

The Quad - James Madison University

When asked about how she chose James Madison University in America, international student Marina Mezzetti from Brazil said she saw the pictures of campus and the quad blanketed with students socializing and studying and she knew she wanted to come to JMU. “The academics here are awesome. The professors are always trying to help you be your best and do your best,” said Mezzetti. “The university has so many opportunities for you to get involved and meet new people. “ Mezzetti originally had plans to transfer to California, but once she stepped foot onto JMU’s campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia she knew she was a Duke for life.

At JMU everyone “bleeds purple” – a loyalty that is a testament to the campus spirit and welcoming environment. As a mid-sized university on 2.8km2 of land with approximately 19,700 students, JMU offers big-school opportunities with a small-school feel. Having one of the highest retention rates in its category at 91%, it is clear that students are extremely satisfied with their Madison experience.

This experience has been part of the JMU tradition for more than a century. Originally founded in 1908 as a State Normal and Industrial School for Women, JMU has grown to offer more than 100 degree programs to men and women on the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. With its primary focus on the undergraduate experience, JMU offers abundant hands-on and real world opportunities to complement classroom instruction across all disciplines.  As a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter member, an honor that only 10 percent of the country’s colleges and universities can claim, JMU is committed to the liberal arts and sciences and is consistently recognized for academic achievement. These recognitions have not gone unnoticed. More than 250 companies visit JMU each year to recruit students for jobs and internships.

Commons Market at James Madison University in the USAStudents find balance outside of their challenging coursework by choosing from more than 300 clubs and student organizations, Division I athletics and numerous community and cultural events year round.

More than 400 international students from 99 countries attend JMU and enjoy the services and hands on support provided for the international student community. Yana Tyan from Kazakhstan says, “I’m really happy at JMU. It is a wonderful environment with great people and academics. My favorite place is the quad – studying, walking, playing, reading, etc. I also love visiting Washington D.C.” In the coming weeks the international student community will participate in a true American tradition – attending a Washington Nationals baseball game.

Only 2 hours from Washington D.C., Harrisonburg, Virginia is nestled in the heart of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains and offers a variety of outdoor recreation and state of the art campus facilities for living and learning. Students are particularly impressed with off-campus accommodations that offer swimming pools, game rooms, fitness centers, clubhouses and free transportation to and from campus for all student complexes. Downtown Harrisonburg offers the quintessential college-town vibe with a variety of shops, restaurants and performance venues to choose from.

As an alumnus I can say with conviction that JMU is the ultimate university experience. Many schools may say it, but JMU owns it – there truly is something for everyone.

Learn more about James Madison University in the USA.

LIU Post: Location, Location, Location

In America, there’s a phrase to describe the key consideration of business or home: “Location, location, location.” With LIU Post, it’s the best of both worlds: quiet, garden-like campus but just outside the New York City’s metropolis.

Long Island University in the USALocated only 50 minutes from Manhattan, LIU Post, rated as one of the safest college campuses in the USA, is situated on a scenic, 1.25 km² (307 acres) of land on Long Island in the historic Village of Brookville, NY. The campus is a woodland arboretum – a place where you can walk and study among 4,000 trees and beautiful flowers. It is the perfect place to relax with friends, sit and read a book, or prepare for exams, while still having access to the pulse of vibrant New York City.

LIU Post is one of the largest private universities in the United States, with more than 4,600 undergraduate students and 3,300 graduate students from 40 countries. You will have many opportunities to make friends from your own country and interact with American and international students.

LIU Post offers more than 85 bachelor’s degree programs, 72 master’s degree programs, and three doctoral degrees, as well as 62 “accelerated and dual degrees” that combine a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Furthermore, the curriculum fosters an individualized approach to help students achieve their goals. The campus is a friendly and welcoming environment where professors will know you by name and assist you with your studies.

LIU Post is accredited by the Commission of Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. In addition, all of the academic programs are accredited by the most prestigious organizations in their fields, including AACSB International accreditation for the business program. Only five percent of the world’s business schools earn this accreditation. The Princeton Review ranks LIU Post in its “Top 300” business schools and graduates of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science earn the top salaries in the United States, according to Library Journal.

LIU Post is home to Tilles Center for the Performing Arts—a world-famous concert hall where many internationally renowned musicians perform. Because of its close proximity to Manhattan, many world class performers include the Tilles Center on their tours, including the upcoming show with actor and musician Steve Martin. The campus also features a museum, three art galleries, a student theater, and a movie theater.

Ashish Agarwal, a 2012 Long Island University dentistry graduate from India, speaks highly of his time at LIU Post through Study Group. He explained the complexities of acclimating to American life and the inherent difficulties international students face. Ashish affirmed that “There is no one like Study Group. While separated from my friends, family, and home, it has been Study Group that has most helped me realize my goals and future.”

Whether it’s studying from a wide array of fields, relaxing on the scenic campus, or heading into Manhattan to enjoy the city life, there is something for everyone at LIU Post.

For more information, please visit our website.

Roads are Royal at one university in Canada

It is difficult to describe the campus at Royal Roads University which sits on Hatley Park’s National Historic Site, in any way that does it justice. The Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper, may have put it best when he said “There is surely no more beautiful campus in Canada than Lord Dunsmuir’s magnificent castle and the majestic forest and gardens of the Hatley Park National Historic Site. But beneath the Edwardian grandeur of Royal Roads lies a cutting-edge modern university”. Royal Roads University simply is a place in which a picture (or seeing it) is worth a thousand words. Another testament to this is that the campus itself inspired the Royal Roads bandmaster in the early eighties to entitle the quick march he composed for Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1983 “Hatley Park”.

When looking at the campus itself, its “roads are royal”. Hatley Castle, the center and heart of the campus, was completed in 1908 by the Premier of British Columbia at the time: James Dunsmuir. He had built the castle for his own family, however given the outbreak of World War II, the family of King George VI were instead to reside there. This never occurred though as the idea of the Royal Family leaving the UK at the time of war was thought to be an idea that England would not be able to accept. Therefore James Dunmuir (now referred to as Lord Dunmuir) and his family were able to reside in the home they built after all.

After the death of Lord Dunmuir and his wife in 1940, the family sold the estate to the federal government of Canada. It was used by the military in training officers for service in World War II. In 1968 the institution was officially named Royal Roads Military College. RRU became a public university in 1995 — with degree granting status.

The beauty of the campus and castle has not escaped the eyes of Hollywood. It is of interest to note that both have been featured in a television series and a block buster film. The castle was the home of Lex Luthor in the TV series “Smallville”, which told the story of Superman’s youth. As well, the castle and campus were home to the X-Men series of movies. Hatley castle itself was transformed into Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

The campus of Royal Roads University sits beside the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by mountains, in the capital city of British Columbia on Vancouver Island: Victoria. There is no lovelier a city than Victoria, famous for its greenery and flowers, as well as its picturesque downtown. Victoria is also ideally located in that it is only a two hour trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, famous for being one of the top three places to live in the world and close to the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler. Victoria is also three hours away from Seattle, Washington, in the USA. Given all of this you can kayak, hike, sail, golf, ski/snow board, whale watch, dine and shop all year round surrounded by breathtaking beauty!

This theme continues right onto the campus of RRU. Each day, staff and students enjoy walking amongst the trees with views of the ocean. If we like, we can take a break on one of RRU’s many hiking trails through the woods. Or we also can simply sit in the castle grounds. Another thing that must be mentioned is the wildlife which roams free about the campus. Typically I see peacocks, geese, swans (in the summer and fall) and deer.

The Royal Roads University experience is royal indeed!

See a photo gallery of the Royal Roads University campus

Adjusting to life in Canada

The decision to travel to Canada to pursue your studies is a big one.  Many aspects of life in Canada, I’m sure, are very similar to those in your home country. However, the thought of travelling to a foreign country can be quite intimidating. Rest assured, Canadians are known world-wide for being very polite and friendly.

Ask questions: It is common for students to feel homesick and even frustrated in the first few months upon arrival to a new city.  My best advice for helping to adjust to life in Canada is to ask questions and be curious. Asking questions is a great way to meet new people and learn more about whatever it is you are doing. Asking questions is also a great way to practice your English!  Take advantage of every situation you find yourself in to learn more about Canadian culture. If you decide to stay with a Homestay family or roommates, take the time to have dinner together, use some time out of your weekend to learn more about everyone.

Learn about your environment: The best way to feel more comfortable in any city is to learn about it. In comparison to other major cities in Canada, Victoria is quite small. As such, people are very open to answering questions and even just striking up a conversation while waiting for the bus. Upon your arrival to Victoria, you will immediately be taken by the beautiful scenery and fresh air. Victoria is famous for its outdoor activities such as hiking, golfing, whale watching, skiing and snowboarding, and water sports. Learn more about Victoria and the west coast of Canada .

Get involved in activities: The great thing about life on the Canadian west coast is the weather and the landscape – you could potentially go skiing and golfing in the same day!  The University will also have activities available for you.  Take advantage of these activities to get to know your fellow classmates outside of school.  Taking part in activities is great for making new friends and learning important team building skills that you can use in the classroom.  Getting involved and enjoying yourself through activities will definitely help you to adjust to living in a new and exciting city.

Embrace the diversity: Because Canada is very multicultural, you will be able to find local food markets and restaurants that should help you feel more at home. I encourage you to explore and try new things while in Canada.  Again, the best way to adjust to life in Canada is to learn about the culture and enjoy all of your time on and off campus.

Get tips on dealing with culture shock.

The Canadian government offers insight into culture shock and adjusting to a new way of life – learn about the Canadian way of life !

Living in Student Accommodation: 5 things you need to know

Getting a place at a university in North America is an important step in life. 

Where you live during your studies can make quite a difference to how you settle in when you first arrive.  If you’ve applied for a place in a student residence you’ll be living on or close to campus.  How you choose to engage with university living can affect your studies.  Try and make the most of the opportunities afforded to you by being in university residence and living close to or on campus.

Here are some things to be aware of when living in student accommodation:

  1. Resident Advisor or Resident Assistant (RA) – many college or universities operate an RA program in their halls of residence.   RA’s are peer leaders, trained in many aspects of living in a college residence.  These areas often include safety training and counseling and can offer support, help and guidance with institutional and academic questions.
  2. Rules and regulations – it’s important to read and understand your residence contract and be aware of any residence rules and notice periods as well as accommodation options for future terms and their associated application deadlines.  Most institutions have a Student Handbook or Residence Guide.  Be sure to read through it and ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about.  Breaking the rules often has consequences so be sure you know what the rules are and how they apply to you.
  3.  Meal plans – most colleges and universities have food outlets, restaurants and snack bars on campus and meal plans are often available.  These are often a very good way to make savings on food purchased on campus and can be an economical way to eat across the semester.  There are usually various options available including healthy choices and options that cater for specific dietary needs. 
  4. People and culture – be respectful of other people, cultures and ways of living.  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.  Be mindful of noise, cleanliness and always endeavor to display appropriate behavior.  You’re there to study as well as to have fun so getting the balance right, for your and for others, is important when living in a shared space.
  5.  Clubs and societies – try to find out from campus representatives what clubs, societies and associations are available to join, both at the college itself and locally too.  Choose from sporting options, debating societies, hobbies, culture and environmentally aware groups. Participate in existing campus activities or suggest new ones. Check notice boards and websites for details.

Being able to live on campus gives you a unique opportunity and a great base from which to build your student life and college experience.  Try and make the most of this time to make friendships and familiarize yourself with campus facilities and get to know what’s available to you.

Making the most of student life in America

Accommodation options vary by location, school, college, university but there are some basic elements that should always be considered if you are to make the most of your university experience.

Campus residence, homestay or private accommodation options will all have their own ‘rules’ and contracts.  It’s important to read and understand your residence contract and be aware of any residence rules and conduct/safety regulations.

Whether you’re in a campus residence, living with a host family or staying in a privately owned residence it’s important to be respectful of other people, cultures and ways of living.  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself and be mindful of noise, cleanliness and always endeavor to display appropriate behavior.

Explore your campus and get to know what’s available to students across campus and in the local community.  Most universities in the USA and Canada have campus maps available.  Make sure you get one when you first arrive, try to become familiar with the layout on campus and find out where you should go to or who to ask if you have any questions or concerns.  There’s always someone to ask, so don’t worry if you do have questions.  Everyone does. 

Find out what sports facilities, clubs and societies are available for students to join, whether on-campus or locally.  These are a great way to meet other people and make new friends and will help you to settle into a new place.  If you had hobbies or interests in your home country, see if something similar is available nearby.  If it isn’t, why not suggest it or be part of starting up a new club or society?

Homesickness can be a concern for lots of students (and their parents) when they move to a new school or location.  There are always people you can talk to about this, whether in your center, on your campus as well as other students.  Talking it through can help.  You’re not alone and if you ask for help or guidance there’ll be someone who’ll be willing to try and help you through as you settle into a new place.

Getting used to different types of food can be a challenge when you move to a new place or a new country.  Find out what’s available on campus and what food options are available nearby (restaurants, grocery stores, other food outlets).  When staying in homestay accommodation you should eat with the family and try and eat the same foods as the family.  However, talk to them about the foods you can eat, special dietary concerns and be sure to let them know about allergies etc. so that they are aware of any problems you may be having.  If you’re living in a private residence and catering for yourself find out what options are available to you for buying groceries as you may be able to find foods you’re used to as well as trying other food types and local options.

As with many things in life, whatever you put into an experience has a direct impact on what you get out of it.  Try and make the most of the opportunities and options available to you on campus and in the local community.  Ask questions, participate in activities, talk to others, share your experiences, ask for help and be aware of the facilities available to you.  All of these will help you to settle in and make your transition into this exciting life and educational opportunity.

How to achieve academic success at University in America

Gaining a place at University in the USA or Canada is an achievement but leads on to the next challenge – how to make the most of that place by going on to achieve academic success at university? The vast majority of university students are successful, so there is no need to be too anxious, but what can you do to make sure that you are in that number rather than be one of the minority that drop out in their freshman or sophomore years or only proceed under an academic warning with failed courses on their record?

First of all, you need to be prepared for the fact that university study is just different from studying in high school. You are going to be expected to take a significant step forward in terms of the mature thought you bring to your studies and the range and nature of the skills that you’ll be called upon to deploy. Take advice from those who have gone through the experience and try to learn from them. Preparation is very often the key to success and so don’t let yourself be taken by surprise by the demands that university study impose on you.

You can also help prepare yourself in practical ways. Consider in advance the courses that you want to undertake and try to get an early sight of the textbooks that you’ll be using. Look at the nature and number of assignments that you’ll need to complete in those courses and don’t overload yourself, especially with written assignments, in an unrealistic attempt to collect as many credits as you can.

Try to live healthily at university. It may be tempting to live the life of the ‘night owl’ that you always suspected you were, but remember that getting enough sleep is very important. Everything becomes more of a burden when you are tired and that includes keeping up with your studies. Try to eat sensibly too, especially eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and take exercise regularly. Joining in sports helps you stay healthy and enables you to make a lot of friends quickly too.

It may sound obvious, but you should aim to do the work. Turn up to all your classes and become known to your professors for good reasons. You may find it difficult to keep up with everything but it’s easier to do that than to catch up if you fall behind. Being at class makes perfect sense. You keep up with the courses, you receive a lot of additional guidance and advice from your professors and you have your classmates to bounce ideas off.

The general advice is that one hour in class should be backed up by three hours study outside of class. To achieve this you need to be well-organized. The ideal is to have set study times. You’ll have seen in your forward planning what needs to be done in terms of assignments and you should have set enough time aside to cope with the expected volume of work so that you can comfortably meet your deadlines. Be strict on yourself and stick to your planned allocation of study hours. This means that you can always cope with any unexpected demands on your time without your study plan being total derailed.

Be proactive as a student. Take notes in your lectures and keep these organized and up to date. You are always a more effective student with a pen or pencil in your hand. Review regularly the material you have learned and then you won’t have to burn the midnight oil when you have a quiz or examination. Your aim should always be to store material in your long-term memory so that it remains there for you to draw on rather than try to hold onto some information looked at in last-minute cramming on the way to the exam hall. Be honest in your assessment of how you are doing and how much effort you are putting into your studies. You will know the particular areas you need to improve on better than anyone else and you should be open to seeking the advice you need to help you do it.

Develop and refine the university level study skills that you need. Be a careful and attentive listener. Develop the ability to skim complex texts and scan them for relevant points or your reading lists will overwhelm you. Practice the ability to analyze, challenge and criticize what you’re reading or are told in lectures. Learn how to source information and assess the value and reliability of your sources.

Make use of all the resources that are available to you. These are not only the obvious ones in the learning commons but also the tutoring or advising services, the free access to on-line study skills materials, your instructors’ office hours, the specialized input of the Writing Center and the support of your fellow students through both formal and informal ‘study groups’.

Finally, don’t forget that university is a total experience. The best student is not normally the one that locks himself away with his books and does nothing but study. Even if he appears to be very successful, he is also missing out on many important aspects of university life. Don’t be afraid to enjoy your leisure time. You should engage in extra-curricular activities as these confirm you as a more ’rounded’ person and often count strongly in your favor when you apply for higher degrees or for employment. It’s OK to want to party, even if it’s more sensible to do so on a night when there’s no school the next day.

Do well in your studies while gaining the maximum benefit from the wonderful range of opportunities that university offers you. Then you really will be able to look back on one of the happiest and most productive times of your life.

Best wishes for the new academic year!