Heading off to university for the first time is an exciting moment in a student's life. For most, it's their first taste of independence and their first experience of self-sufficiency.

Before moving into the hallowed halls of an institution that will likely serve as home for the next few years, however, every first-year student needs a comprehensive packing list that will help them determine what's necessary and what's best left in their parents' basement.

"If you're moving into residence, you need to keep in mind that there isn't a tonne of space for storage," says David Newman, senior director of student experience at the University of Toronto's Division of Student Life. "Everything you need personally should be considered against what others may or may not prefer. For example, if you like to read at night, you should bring a small reading lamp that will allow you to read but won't disturb your roommate."

Every individual institution will have a handbook or an app that will detail the things a first-year student needs, and it's important to consult it ahead of time as each school has its own rules and regulations. In some residences, for example, you can't have a hotplate or a mini fridge, while others allow it.

"It's not a one-size-fit-all scenario, which is why we [and many other schools] offer residence life programs that help students get settled," says Dillon Andrus, residence operations coordinator at Red Deer College in Alberta.

Tech items

Every student should have a laptop for research and writing, but it may not be the best thing to take to class. For one thing, Newman says, some professors don't allow students to use a laptop to take notes - which is why he says it's worth it to stock up on old school items like notebooks and pens.

Andrus says that a tablet is also a good option, because it's lightweight and more portable.

"Consider that you can quickly run out of outlets for all your devices, so bring a power bar plug," he says. "And an extension cord is also important."

Other tech items to bring include:

  • USB memory sticks
  • A small desktop printer
  • A wireless speaker
  • Headphones
  • A gaming console

"We encourage students to make residence their home, so if they're into gaming, we want them to continue," Andrus says. "It's a good way to meet and interact with new people."

Kitchen items

Some universities have some kind of mandatory meal plan for first-year students, but other places don't offer meals. In either case, it's always a good idea to pack a few kitchen essentials.

"This is a good thing to double-check with your school because while some places may not have meal plans, they might have communal kitchens in the residences where you'll find an assortment of basics," Andrus says.

Kitchen items to consider bringing include:

  • Cutlery, crockery and glassware (for at least two people)
  • An assortment of pots and at least one frying pan
  • A colander
  • Coffeemaker and/or kettle
  • Dishtowels
  • Scissors, knife, wooden spoon, can opener, corkscrew, chopping board, cheese grater
  • Tupperware
  • A cookbook

Bedroom items

Most residence rooms come equipped with at least a bed and a desk, but beyond that, it's fairly bare bones. This is where you'll have the opportunity to make it your own.

"You'll be living here for the next eight months to one year, so you'll want to make it comfortable, whether that's by bringing your favourite teddy bear or a special blanket," Andrus says.

Bedroom items to bring include:

  • Mattress protector
  • Pillows (even if pillows are included, they might not be to your liking)
  • Sheets, pillowcases, duvet or comforter
  • Laundry bag or basket
  • Clothes hangers
  • Ear plugs
  • Desk lamp and/or night light

Bathroom items

Because for many students this is their first time living away from home, it can be easy to forget the little conveniences that are taken for granted or overlooked.

"One of the things people often don't think about when they're living in a place with a shared bathroom is a toiletry bag to easily transport things back and forth from the bathroom," Newman says.

Bathroom items to bring include:

  • Two sets of towels
  • Bathrobe
  • Flip flops or shower shoes
  • Personal care items: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap
  • Toilet paper (it's always good to have a stash)
  • A first aid kit
  • Medications and supplements

Newman points out that for any students with accessibility needs, they should register early with the institution to ensure that special requirements can be arranged for ahead of time.

He also advises new students to be aware of their schedules and program deadlines well in advance.

"Sometimes students plan family vacations in December, not realizing that they could have exams."

Perhaps most importantly, he says, is to make sure you have a solid budget planned before hitting the stores (and campus bars).

"This is an issue that comes up often. I always say to prepare a budget so that you're not spending too much money at once," he says. "It can seem like you have a lot of money from your student loan, for example, but then it's gone before you know it."