How you and your child can pack and prepare for university.

girl at university

Many of us have kids who are heading off to university. It’s a big step any year, but this one will be harder than most.


After months of uncertainty, many universities switched from an online model to a so-called “hybrid” one – with a mix of online lectures and smaller, group tutorials that students are required to attend in person.


Also, because of the pandemic, matric results were released at the eleventh hour.


In many cases, this left nervous families waiting for the final “accepted” or “rejected” response to university applications – and scrambling to find accommodation – even once orientation programmes had already kicked off.


No matter, though. It’s exciting for young people to be heading off to study. For parents, the process of letting go is easier if you know how to help them pack and prepare. These tips will make the transition to college or university smoother for everyone.


Stay positive (even if you don’t feel it)

It’s only natural for a parent to worry about a child – but don’t show it. Put aside your fears and talk about the positives that your child will experience at university.


That said, be open to your child’s concerns. A young person will be worried about making friends, adjusting to independent studying and moving into accommodation with strangers.


Discuss any fears when they’re raised and don’t make light of them. Reassure your child. They’re legitimate concerns.


What to pack

Your child needs to pack clothing, towels, toiletries, basic medicines and bedding, including a duvet and pillows. (A mattress protector is a good idea.) Any other essentials will depend on the type of accommodation he or she is moving into.


Rooms in university residences usually have a desk, chair, bed and wardrobe. A desk lamp and clothes hangers will be necessary. If there’s no kitchen, a kettle and cups for making a hot drink would be good. If there’s a kitchen, you’ll need utensils, two pans and plates/cutlery.


To make the room feel more homely, pack posters, cushions, a plant and framed photos of family and friends.


Make a list of essentials beforehand and gradually assemble all the items you need. Here’s a link to the University of Cape Town’s what-to-bring page. Find the link for your child’s accommodation if available.


How to get around

University may be the first time your child moves around under his or her own steam. Ensure your child is aware of the public transport options available.


Don’t be alarmist but remind your child of the need to be safe at all times. Walk in groups, avoid late-night journeys and don’t have electronic gadgets on display.


Fortunately, universities run shuttle buses from general parking areas and most residences to central campus locations during the day. Most run night-time services too. They’re safe, reliable and free on presentation of a student card. Make sure your child can locate the closest stops.


Campus will seem enormous in the first few days. It will soon become familiar and easy to navigate. Encourage your child to download a map onto his or her phone so locations can be found easily.


Share these links to campus maps and directions to some of South Africa’s most popular universities:

Budget for expenses

Your child will be responsible for their own money for the first time. It’s essential to work out a budget ahead of time. Start with this estimated cost of living. The budget needs to cover everything from accommodation and food to air time and going out.


Your child needs to know where the money is coming from, how much he or she will receive each week.


A bank account must be opened. Examine the various options available. Most banks offer student accounts, such as the Student Achiever Account at Standard Bank, that give retail discounts and other benefits.


Stay safe – take precautions

Crime is as prevalent on university campuses as it is anywhere in South Africa. Your child needs to consider every aspect of safety, from safe dating to safe living.


Make yourself and your child aware of the security services in place at university. These links to campus safety at South African universities provide important emergency contact numbers that your child should pin into his or her phone.

It’s time to cook

One of the biggest changes for teens going to university is shopping for groceries and cooking food. If your child is self-catering, pack a selection of foods that can be stored (noodles, tins, frozen goods).


There’s no need for a cookery book, the internet is full of recipes that are fast, easy and full of flavour for students on a budget.


Be aware of support facilities

Leaving home and going to varsity is hard any year. This year, with COVID-19 still very present, it will be harder than ever.


Universities offer help and support in a variety of areas, from physical and mental health to finance, accommodation and careers. The services are advertised, but it’s important that your child knows about them and uses them if necessary.


Keep in touch (and be available)

University life is busy, especially in the first few weeks. Studying, socialising, sport, clubs and societies take up every spare second. Don’t be offended if your child doesn’t call you regularly. But do stay in touch with frequent text messages.


Before your child leaves, arrange times to call. A phone call from mom or dad can give much-needed support.


And what about you…?

Kids leaving home is not just a difficult transition for them. It can be hard for parents.


This article will show you how to make the transition easier – from creating a new daily routine to learning to enjoy free time.



When your kids go off to university, they’ll have possessions they want to keep that create clutter in your home. At XtraSpace, we offer clean, secure self-storage units that are ideal for storing your kids’ possessions. Think toys (boxes of Lego), clothing, furniture, bikes and sports equipment.


Contact us for more information or browse to find a branch near you.


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