What to Bring to College: 10 Critical Papers and Documents

Not sure what to bring to college? We can help! Discover 10 essential papers and documents to pack, from medical records and insurance cards to photo IDs.

portrait of Juliann Scholl, Ph.D. portrait of Danika Miller
by Juliann Scholl, Ph.D., Danika Miller

Updated July 22, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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What to Bring to College: 10 Critical Papers and Documents
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Figuring out what to bring to college can be overwhelming. Typical items like clothes, bedding, toiletries, and a mini fridge may seem like the obvious essentials. However, you should also add important papers and documents to your college packing list.

Records you may need to bring include a government-issued photo ID, your bank information, health and immunization records, evidence of insurance, and other legal documents. The information contained in these items may be required for various aspects of college life, especially during the first few weeks.

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Keeping copies of these records can save time and hassle. For some of the documents on this list, it may be better to leave the original document with a parent, guardian, or other trusted family member in a secure place and take a copy with you.

1. Driver's License, Passport, or Other Photo ID

New students must have an official photo ID, such as a driver's license or state-issued identification card. You can obtain either ID by contacting your state's Department of Transportation or Department of Motor Vehicles.

Other acceptable forms of identification include a tribal ID card and a military common access card. International students can use their permanent resident card or passport.

Though you'll obviously need it for any study abroad or international trips, a passport can also be a necessity for securing a job. In order to run a background check, some employers may ask for two forms of ID, in which case a passport can come in handy.

If you're flying back and forth to your home state a lot, you may also need a passport to sign up for services like TSA PreCheck.

2. Social Security Card

The United States Social Security Administration issues Social Security cards, which are typically needed to get a job and access other government services. Your Social Security card will be necessary if you're moving to a new state or getting an official photo ID.

Though you can leave your original Social Security card with your parents or guardians, you should at least keep a photocopy with you on campus.

3. Birth Certificate

An original birth certificate or photocopy provides proof of identity. Students who lack an identifying document can use their birth certificate to get or replace a driver's license, replace a Social Security card, and travel outside the country.

Some colleges might require students to show their birth certificate before allowing them to register for classes.

4. Medical and Immunization Records

Students occupy communal areas around campus and are thus more likely to spread infections. As a result, many colleges require you to show proof of immunization against certain diseases, such as hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, and rubella. You may also be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

Be sure to bring copies of your medical records as well, including any prescriptions you take.

5. Medical Insurance Cards

Health insurance cards are essential when seeking medical care and getting prescription medications.

Make sure you have a card for your health insurance, prescription medication coverage, dental insurance, and vision insurance. Some providers may offer dental and vision cards digitally or allow you to use your Social Security number instead of a physical card.

You should also locate healthcare facilities and doctors near your campus that accept your insurance plan. It's wise to carry your insurance card in your wallet or purse in case you face a medical emergency.

6. HIPAA Release Form

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prohibits healthcare providers from disclosing patient health information without a patient's knowledge or consent.

By signing a HIPAA release form, you enable your parents or guardians to access information about your medical care. In case of an emergency, parents can authorize necessary treatment on their child's behalf or handle insurance claims.

You'lll need to fill out a HIPPA form for the state you reside in. If you're attending school out of state, you may also need to fill one out for the state your parents or guardians live in.

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7. Official School Documents

Before arriving on campus, make sure to pack any and all official school documentation you've received, such as (copies of) your acceptance letter, ACT or SAT score reports, financial aid award letters, high school transcripts, and other letters or correspondence with your institution.

International students should bring Form I-20, which proves they can legally study in the U.S.

8. Banking Information

Don't forget to bring your checkbook and any records associated with your bank account(s), including bank statements. This information can come in handy when paying bills, balancing a checking account, or signing up for utilities and other services.

Parents or guardians might consider keeping copies of this information in case of loss or theft.

9. List of Key Contacts and Addresses

You can't always anticipate when someone might need to contact you or get in touch with someone else on your behalf. Keeping a list of emergency contacts with names, phone numbers, and addresses can prove beneficial in a variety of circumstances.

Keep a written record of your current address, phone number, email, and other contact information.

10. Evidence of Insurance

If you're bringing a car to college, you'll need to carry evidence of car insurance. We recommend keeping a copy of your insurance in both your car and your wallet.

If you're attending an out-of-state college, make sure you change your insurance coverage to that state. It's also a good time to check with your insurer for any discounts for college students with good grades.

Additionally, you may need renters insurance. Renters insurance may already be covered for you under your parents' or guardians' home insurance policy. Apartments and dorms may ask for evidence of coverage, so be prepared.

Frequently Asked Questions About What to Bring to College

How can I keep my documents safe while at college?

One of the best ways to prevent theft is to lock your dorm room, bedroom, or apartment every time you leave, even if only for a moment.

It's also a good idea to keep your documents, checkbooks, and extra cash in a fireproof lock box. This can protect your documents if you're sharing a room with someone else, if there's a break-in, or if a fire breaks out.

What should I do if I forget to bring an important document to campus?

If you forget to bring an essential document to college, consider first whether a copy of the document will suffice. If so, you can have that document scanned and emailed to you and save it to your computer (and print it out, if desired).

If you need the original document, it may be best to go and get it yourself or to ask a parent, guardian, or other trusted family member to bring it to you rather than mailing it. If you need to mail an important document, look into certified and secure mailing options that are insured and require your signature when delivered.

Do I need to bring a COVID-19 vaccination card?

Many colleges and universities require that students show proof of immunization against COVID-19. Students who are fully vaccinated should keep their vaccination card in a safe place wherever they live. It's also a good idea to have a photocopy or digital copy of your card.

What should I do if I lose an important document while at school?

If you lose a document at school, immediately contact the organization or government agency that provided the record and request a replacement.

Even better, try to prevent the hassle of getting documents replaced by making photocopies and digital copies of important documents. Having these copies on hand will likely make it easier and faster to replace the original document you lost.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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