How do I prepare while off at college?

I just got accepted to a college out of state to study marine biology and this will be my first time living on my own. Well, with whatever roommates the college sets me up with. I will be living in the dorms this first year which brings with it a mandatory meal plan, which has it’s pros and cons. 

I don’t want to just rely on the college to feed me though. Even though they probably won’t leave us starving, I know that things can happen and want to be prepared. Hence why I am here.

I also won’t have much room to store things like a generator or gas cans, but I am dedicating the area under my bed as my emergency supply stash. The beds are nice though and can be raised two feet in the air for plenty of space.

Any other advice for someone going out into the world for the first time? I am pretty nervous…, but excited



  • Comments (18)

    • 5

      Good afternoon Pizza Ninja / Tim,

      First, … Congratulations on the college acceptance. Several colleagues here are marine biologists (retired).  It’s a great profession !

      Prepping will be “about” the same as if you’re going on an assignment as a marine biologist – living out of some type of bag.

      Consider getting a sachel with shoulder strap or a backpack harness (Both types available but place emphasis on saving funds.) for under the bed. Get some storable foods eg nuts in a sealed plastic jar, and related packable, storage OK, foods you like (and healthy) for dining outdoors. No pizza for storage. Add some extra socks in a ziplock type bag and a couple of other categories of clothing.  Gadgets like a flashlight/batteries, whistle,small first aid kit,   could be on an equipment belt if dorm room appropriate. Keep the sachel LIGHT WEIGHT ! 

      You’re entering a great field !

      Transmitting from the Chesapeake Bay area.

      • 3

        Have you heard any stories from your marine biologist colleagues? I am not sure what to expect from the field and what opportunities for careers are out there with it.


      • 2

        Good evening Pizza Ninja / Tim,

        No, no real stories.

        I’m grid north of VIMS – Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary – and attend as many of their public presentations given in the area.  

        Here, however, the BIG employer of marine biologists is the USN. The dynamics are the typical “It’s related, if you’re interested in related work …”

        Some time ago, had met the USN’s Director of some marine mammals program.  No stories developed – probably a restricted program – These folks outright loved their work.

        As far as “What to expect”; This relates to the definition of “life”; Doing stuff you never thought of getting involved in.

        I retired from the overseas oil exploration industry, both offshore and onshore. My field was international business.  Our industry attracted many marine geologists – or recent convertsfrom the cousin marine sciences . I did hear a complaint that they were less involved in the marine bio fields and much more so into physics in re assignments about subsurface rock strata that could be holding the goo.


        Time to pet the marine mammals and stranded sea turtles.

      • 2

        Oil exploration sounds like a very interesting field of work, much more interesting than looking at spreadsheets on a computer all day. No offense to office workers.


    • 4

      Tim, when I was looking at colleges many years ago, I came real close to picking the Univ. of Miami for Marine Biology.  I stayed closer to home & picked wildlife management at Mississippi State.  Ended up transferring, got a degree in general Biology & was commissioned an Air Force officer thru college ROTC.

      My general advise is to just enjoy the experience.  Don’t fret if your initial plans don’t come to fruition.  IMO, you do the most maturing between the ages of 16 and 20.  Be open to changing your mind.  In five years time, I attended 4 schools.  First year went to community college to get the basic courses out of the way.  Then went to Mississippi State & did really well in wildlife management.  They offered me a scholarship but I turned it down because I just didn’t see me doing that the rest of my life.  Third year I transferred to Univ. Of Memphis because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and it was close to home.  While there I took some basic ROTC classes and then knew what I wanted to do.  I was offered an ROTC scholarship for my last two years, which was good for anywhere in the country.  So I transferred to a local small college which was very highly rated… and very expensive (thank you scholarship) but was able to continue with ROTC at Univ. Memphis under a crosstown agreement.   Met my wife thru that ROTC program.  Spent the next 4 years as a Minuteman Missile launch officer in Minot, ND.  I actually volunteered to be stationed there.  🙂

      For prepping advise at your stage of life, I’d make sure I always had plenty of cash on me & assuming you have an auto… always keep enough gas to get where you need to get in a crisis.  I still do both of these to this very day.  I would not stock expensive storage food, such as MREs or dehydrated/freeze dried camping food.  I’d stock cheap stuff that you like to eat so that you can continually rotate your stock.  For me that would be crackers, peanut butter, canned tuna, canned Spam, ramen noodle packs, etc.  I’d try to keep a two weeks supply under the bed.  If possible, I’d get a small, folding solar panel so that during a power outage you can recharge your phone & other small electronics.  I like the Goal Zero Nomads.  I also have a couple of Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlights.  You can use their big battery to recharge a phone also.  If those are too expensive for your budget, they can make great Christmas/birthday gifts.  Since water is so critical, make sure you have something like a Lifestraw or Sawyer Mini.  I prefer the Sawyer Mini.

      Good luck!

      • 4

        First off, cool name. Second off, what Redneck said. 

        Start out at a small local community college and get your math, english, history and all the other boring required classes out of the way. I could have spent (can’t remember the exact numbers) like $500/credit at a university or $150/credit at a community college for that same course that will transfer over and count the same. Double check that the class you will take will transfer to the college you want to end up graduating from otherwise you are wasting money and time.

        For prepping, like Redneck said, cash, food, small solar panel/battery bank, and some water storage. Pretend there is a Covid breakout on campus and everyone is quarantined to their dorms for two weeks. Do you have enough food, water, and entertainment to keep you alive? Yes, entertainment. Make sure you have some fun things to keep you occupied otherwise you will go nuts.

        Best of luck to ya! Pet a dolphin for me

      • 3

        Yes, entertainment. Make sure you have some fun things to keep you occupied otherwise you will go nuts.

        Ha.  How soon they forget.  🙂   At that age, in college, what better entertainment than coeds.  🙂  Just need your phone charged up so you can communicate with them & let them know if they come over, you can charge their phone.

      • 3

        Thank you two for your thoughts. I am not completely sure that I want to be a marine biologist, so I’m glad that it’s normal to switch things in the middle if I feel a draw to another field.

        I am planning on having a small food budget for things like rice and ramen, so I will definitely be stocking up on some of that under my bed. I am going to ask for some things for Christmas because I do want to try and spend all of my money on tuition and avoid student loans as much as possible. 

        And if I swim with a dolphin, I will pet it for you Robert. Thanks again


    • 3

      My 2 cents:  Don’t worry too much about the “stuff” and instead focus on the skills (including the social skills!).  Get a good gym habit going (presumably free gym access? try and avoid the freshman 15?) select some classes that are relevant, maybe don’t ignore history 100%.  Maybe practice how you approach prepping with your peers and playing “gray man” a little – like, its cool to have some camp supplies (even better if you were to use it camping occasionaly) but you probably don’t want to stick out too much I imagine?

      Also, take stock of what your school actually has by way of emergency preparedness plans – one knowing where to go and quickly to be first in line but also to know where they’re lacking.

      Fun true fact: My freshman year in the dorms, 5 stories up I noticed it was cloudy out, got a phone call from my mom to get to the basement now, a tornado was coming, and halfway down the stairs (not elevator) heard howling wind like you wouldn’t believe.  All the midwesterners were like “what, why isn’t the tornado alarm going off!?!”  all the locals were like “What’s a tornado alarm?!?” (tornadoes being fairly rare in the area).  The thing touched down one building over, threw a few cars around in the process (thankfully not too big).

      That was also the night where a lot of people had to figure out where to sleep because of a gas leak concern at one of the dorms that was kept closed for a night.

      So your concern isn’t even unreasonable, but sometimes the solution is making friends who will let you crash in an emergency rather than carrying a sleeping bag with you all the time.  Just consider making friends outside your dorm/side of campus!

      • 2

        What a crazy story! That is kind of what I am afraid of and why I was asking this question on here. 

        I like your two ideas about having some “camping” gear, and having an off campus friend to crash with if the dorm floods or is taken down by a tornado. 

        Your comment has given me a better understanding of things and is comforting if I approach it that way.


    • 5

      Congrats on starting your college career and for realizing the need for preparing.  I can agree with others that you likely will change your path along the way as the exposure and experiences are broader than what you have had to date.  I think I know only a hand full of people who graduated with the major they started. I was one, but I switched majors from medicine to engineering as I signed up for my first set of courses.  So I hardly count.  

      As preparing on a campus, I agree with Rich DC to learn the evacuation plans and shelter locations on campus.   I also second increasing your skills.  If you read this site’s sane prepping guidelines, one of the first is financial.  I wish I had learned more at your age about savings, investments, real-estate, etc. and not get influenced by peers or ads to spend unwisely. I suggest that is part of prepping that you can take advantage of those courses and keep your goal of not going into debt.   Another is to take first aid/CPR and make a first aid kit.  You likely will be the only person that isn’t an advisor to have one in your dorm.  I am always the only one with an ace wrap and ice pack at softball or volleyball games.  One of the skills that is most valuable is not being a mute bystander which comes from being knowledgable and prepared mentally.

      One of my experiences:    My roommates were studying until 4am on a 30 degree January night so they heard the fire alarm which was really quiet through the cinderblock walls of the dorm.  One of those roommates was basically hysterical.  I kept calmly saying put on your shoes, get your coat/hat/gloves, we are leaving.  Imaging our surprise when we found ourselves alone outside.  I headed right back inside and started banging on doors including the resident advisors.   You can imagine how many people didn’t have shoes, or coats as we waited for the fire department who eventually arrived and put out the fire that was in the trash room.   And some never left and there was an actual fire.  

      • 3

        Thank you for sharing your personal experience as well. Note to self: have shoes and coat ready for quick evacuation so I’m not out there in my underwear.

        I’m also going to look into having a first aid kit and how to use everything in there, thanks for that.


    • 5

      I finished my undergraduate degree at Cornell University in December 2020 and just moved to start my PhD program. In no particular order prepping in college for me looked like:

      1. Having my own vehicle so I never had to rely on anyone else for a way to get supplies like groceries or for a way to get home for a significant emergency event. It can be expensive to have a vehicle as an undergraduate with regular maintenance and gas but it was so worth it to me for peace of mind, and when everyone at my university was given two weeks to get off campus in March 2020 due to the pandemic it took me less than 48 hours to take a calculus exam I had already scheduled, pack everything I owned, tie up loose ends with my biomedical research in my lab and head home to my parents farm where I stayed to do the rest of the semester online. A true bug out situation, as there was no option to stay on campus, nor was it safe to do so. If you can’t for any reason have a car, then become REALLY good friends with a few people who do have them. Also, I always parked my vehicle facing out of a parking space (good for leaving quickly and dealing with inclement weather) and I always had a full tank of gas in it when I parked. It’s also nice to park under lighting if you aren’t familiar with the area.

      2. Have a go-bag. I started with a go-bag (instead of the prepared home that most preppers start with before moving to a go-bag) because as an undergraduate I was constantly moving: in and out of dorms, campus to home and back again for college breaks, study abroad etc. In these situations having a go bag with basic essentials served me better than trying to keep lots of items in a dorm room where space is a premium and I would have had to haul them back and forth and up and down the stairs.

      3. I always kept a stock of water in my dorm room just in case and I often had at least some of the foods mentioned by others in the comments just in case. That being said I never had an issue with the dining halls or my meal plan at my undergraduate institution. 

      4. See if you can find preparedness minded peers on campus because that can be a great resource to continue your growth. Lots of campuses have a truly enormous number of clubs, and there is always an opportunity cost to joining one and not another so just go with what works best for you and learn to be ok with not being able to do it all. There might not be a ‘prepper specific group’ (although if you’re so inclined you could probably form one) but don’t discount checking out EMT groups, wilderness groups etc.

      5. When I was starting as a freshman someone told me about ‘The Rule of Five’. Basically, they held up their hand and said “as you are entering a different stage in life and making huge adjustments to being more independent you can probably only realistically do five things really well and sustainably.” Basically the things you are really committed to and that add value to your life should be countable on your hand to avoid burnout. They then ticked off on their fingers: “Sleeping, eating and studying. These are three priorities you have to have to be sustainable at this stage, that means you can pick two more things to focus your energy into.” For you ‘The Rule of Five’ may reflect your prepping priorities and could look like: “Sleeping, eating, studying, prepping and [insert other activity/focus here].” I found this to be really useful advice to follow and as you adjust to independence and college life you can add more things in because you better understand what you can sustainably do at one time.

      6. I always had an emergency $50 in my wallet and also kept some of my savings liquid. I worked 1-2 part time jobs (I was a paid biomedical researcher and I was also paid to tutor some other students) while in school. Working may not be necessary for you depending on your financial situation, but I was in the position where I needed to pay for my own education and I wanted to be able to cover my own needs like groceries etc. I started working as a freshman because it was important for me to build up my savings and I wanted to eventually start investing. I was able to do both successfully and I’m happy with where I am financially today. Personal finance is a huge part of preparedness. I recommend the book ‘Your Money or Your Life’ which is not only great financial advice, but may also be insightful to you as you decide what you want to do to make money/as a career.

      7. As far as raising dorm beds for prepping space, make sure it’s “legal” in your dorm to avoid having issues (like fines or a fire safety citation) and if it is, make sure that you also do it safely. Many places don’t actually allow it anymore because it’s considered a safety hazard. 

      8. The most useful prep I had besides a vehicle, a small stock of water and shelf stable food and a go-bag in college was keeping a supply of over the counter medications/supplies in my dorm. College health clinics are not always places you want to hike across campus to get to if you don’t feel well and having things like basic painkillers for headaches, an ice pack, any prescriptions you may need, bandages, etc. can make your life so much easier. It’s also worth it to get established with a primary care provider at your college clinic (especially if you are far from home) while you feel well so they have a baseline and you are more comfortable with who you will see when you aren’t feeling well. Self-advocacy is important in this context. If you need a certain type of care and aren’t getting it – speak up.

      9. Education is really important for prepping. The Prepared has a book list you may want to check out. I have read many of the books on it, and they were valuable enough for me to keep them as a reference and carry them with me for my various moves into different dorms and apartments throughout college.

      I hope this is useful to you as you transition into college. Good luck!

      • 3

        Thank you for the long response, it means a lot that someone would take so much time to give me advice. I want to touch on all of the points you made.

        1. Vehicle – I can see how this will be so valuable, especially in case of an emergency like you experienced last March. Unfortunately money is very tight right now and I won’t have enough money for a car. I’m hoping for next year though!

        2. Go-bag – That makes sense to have a go-bag as your primary prepping source, especially when space is so limited. I am going to ask my family for some money to build a bag before I go. Seems like this website has some good resources on making one, although mine will not be anywhere near as detailed. 

        3. Water – I will keep a few gallon jugs under my bed.

        4. Clubs and groups – I would love to join a prepping club! I know they have a wilderness club, but a specific prepping club would be fun to try and start. I’ll look into what that would take to start.

        5. ‘The Rule of Five’ – I like this. My two additional categories will probably be social (dating, club, and friends) and work. I want to work as much as I can so I don’t get into debt too much.

        6. Finances – Thank you for your advice on working hard. I do want to follow in your footsteps and work as much as I can so I can leave college with little or no debt. I’ll try and keep at least $50 in my wallet for an emergency though. 

        7. Raising dorm beds – I will look into that. 

        8. Over the counter medications – I didn’t think of this! My family gets the giant Sam’s Club bottles, so I will steal some of those and put them in little baggies so I don’t have to buy any myself. And gratefully I will still be under my parent’s health insurance until I’m 26 years old.

        9. The Prepared’s book list – Not sure how much time I’ll have to read other books besides my college text books, but I think I can work on one in my spare time. Is there a particular one you would recommend me starting out with that isn’t a very heavy read?

        Thank you again Camille for the advice. Everyone here has been so nice and I am excited to be more prepared.


      • 3

        I am so impressed with the both of you!  Any preparation is better than none, and the fact that you are considering it as part of your move is already putting you at the top 10% of your class.  And the above is excellent advice.  Well done, Pizza Ninja and Camille!

        Medications are part of the FAK I was suggesting as well.  I think you could read through the Home items list to see what you would use more often (to keep it small for storage and cost).  Which meds work best for for your common ailments (allergies, colds, coughs, sore throats, headaches, muscle soreness, etc). Even having 1 dose will get you relief until another can be obtained or you get to the clinic.  (you have to maintain it if used).  What are the likely hazards for activities you do?   I mentioned having an ice pack and elastic wrap with a couple bandages (all from the dollar store) in my sports bag has come in handy.  Word of friendly warning – you will become known as the one who can help.   I still am after decades of working in the ‘real world’.  It’s not a bad thing but can drain your stores quickly.  Consider that in the amounts of Ibuprofen you pack.  🙂 

        The wilderness club is likely a place to find like-minded folks for prepping.  They may not think of themselves that way, but backpacking is prepping thinking as there are no other resources to help beyond the trailhead only your wits, strength, skills, and what you packed.  And since packing is limited in weight/volume, it includes considering the threat analysis to aim for the most likely or severe scenarios.  What has been underlying all the advice here.  

      • 2

        That sure is nice of you to say! I didn’t think about an ice pack, but have added it to the list now. 

        There are many similarities between prepping and backpacking. Both are areas I want to continue to learn and develop from.


    • 3

      Hi, Tim,

      Sorry for the delayed reply. I saw this forum thread pop up weeks ago and read a lot of the responses so I’ll try not to duplicate too much of the good advice that others have already given you.

      In terms of a car/personal vehicle: I never had one in four years at college. Instead I walked everywhere, on and off campus. Walking gave me the advantage of knowing things that others didn’t, especially how to get places off campus like the city library or the grocery store. I also once had the joy of telling the friend driving he was driving us out of town instead of back to campus. He had gotten turned around in the dark. Knowing your surroundings and how to get places on your own can be at least as valuable as a car. Many people my age (30s) and younger don’t know how to navigate without a GPS. You should also check out public transit in your college town. They often offer discounted tickets or passes for college students and it will help you know the area better and reach more places.

      Just a final word of warning on the car: Used car prices are insane right now so hold off as long as you can before purchasing something to give the market time to settle down. Used cars have actually gone up in value somehow during the pandemic.

      In terms of fire alarms: The best piece of advice I received before going to college was to wear pajamas that I didn’t mind being seen in. There’s a lot of late night socializing that happens in college and there’s always some fool who sets off the alarm at 3 am for giggles.

      Also be prepared to leave your dorm at a moment’s notice. Always keep your keys, ID, and phone close. When I was in the dorm, our doors automatically locked behind us so lots of freshmen got locked out in the first weeks as they forgot their keys.

      We had a fire alarm go off at 3 am my freshman year and I distinctly remember waking up to my roommate’s death grip on my arm and the alarm blaring over my head. She was freaking out but we grabbed phone, keys, ID, pants (for her), shoes, and we were out the door and down the first flight of stairs before we even heard other people coming out of their rooms. Don’t be afraid to take charge of a situation, especially if your roommate(s) are freaking out. And don’t wait for other people to figure out the situation.

      In terms of food: This may have already been mentioned but since you may not know your roommate(s), keep a stash of Pedialyte or other rehydration beverage of your choice on hand. Even if you never need it for yourself, it will be invaluable in getting hungover roommate(s) moving in the direction you need them to go in an emergency.

      Best of luck in your college career! I hope you have a great time with it!

      • 1

        Good words of advice Lindsey. I am planning on walking my first year of college and getting to deeply know the campus, it’s services, and surrounding areas. It will be harder in some ways but I’ll be able to dive deeper into the college life if I’m not going off campus very often. 

        I will wear pants to bed, don’t need to show the entire campus my birthday suit.