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Making the move from home to dorm

Junior's packed and ready to head to campus. Unfortunately, college is 1,000 miles away and he's got tons of stuff, so the process is more complicated than simply throwing it in the back of the Mom-mobile and hitting the road.

If you have to help your property-laden student make a long-distance move, you do have options. They range from mailing the goods to renting a truck to hiring professional movers. The latter option, however, is only for parents who have cash left after writing that tuition check.

You may want to look at a combination of transport methods to ensure that everything gets there the most cost-effective way.

When it pays not to pack
Before you do a lot of packing, consider giving the kid a credit card and telling him to start fresh.

Seriously, if you are buying lots of things for your student to take to college, think about purchasing them online and having them delivered to the dorm. No point in paying for delivery twice. Plus, things like study lamps, electronics and even computers travel better in their original packaging. Check with the college to find out how things that arrive early will be handled. If you're lucky, the boxes will be waiting in your student's room when he arrives.

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Buying new also exempts you from the need to pay for extra insurance on the goods you ship. Otherwise, it's smart to ante up the extra dollars shippers charge so you'll be compensated beyond the minimum reimbursement should the shipment be lost or damaged in transit.

If, however, your student already has all he needs for college, but it's just not practical to load it into the car and drive, here are some shipping suggestions. This is a general look at the options, listed in least-to-more-costly order.

Mail it
The rates for U.S. Postal Service parcel post are rock bottom compared to private competitors. The size and weight restrictions aren't too draconian either, although delivery time can be unpredictable. For a small fee, the post office will send a truck to pick up the load as long as you've figured out the weight and affixed the postage in advance.

Take the bus or the train
The great gray dog goes everywhere in the United States -- five times as many places as Amtrak and all the airlines combined. And it's cheaper and more flexible by far than any other option. Greyhound offers students who pay $20 for a Student Advantage card a 50-percent discount off the regular shipping price. If you don't want the card, you can get 25 percent off by showing a student ID or college acceptance letter. Greyhound will store the goods free for three days if your student can't get there right away.

Amtrak has significantly reduced its freight service, but if a train's going where your student is, the price is attractive. If you secure the shipment to a pallet or pallets, the carrier will accept up to 2,000 pounds. You pay by the pound. Things like bicycles and musical instruments are exempt from the requirement that goods be in cartons.

The biggest problem with either of these options is that bus and train stations often are a long way from the campus. Plus, they sometimes are in less-than-stellar neighborhoods. If your kid doesn't have any access to a car after arriving at school, this could be a lousy solution because there'll be no good way to pick up the load and schlep it to the dorm.

Let it fly
Since Sept. 11, the airlines have cracked down on the amount of baggage that a traveler can bring along. Overweight, oversize luggage will cost you nearly $100 a bag on most airlines and, unless you are an established shipper, you won't be eligible to send anything via their cheaper air-freight services. Still, if your kid's musical instrument, athletic gear or other paraphernalia absolutely has to arrive with him, this could be an answer. Call the airline and make sure you understand exactly what the procedure will be, then go to the airport very early to make certain that the goods get on the same flight.

Rent a truck
Unlike rental cars, an 18-year-old can rent a truck, drive it across country and leave it there. Even if your nerves can stand it, it's an expensive solution, considering mileage, gas and enough junk food to fuel the trip. It can be a bit cheaper if your student shares the journey -- and expenses -- with a friend. The best-known truck rental company, U-Haul, offers a free, online bulletin board matching students who want to split the costs. If you decide that renting a truck makes the most sense, don't refuse the insurance without checking with your auto insurance company. While your policy might cover a rental car, it probably won't cover your student driving a truck.

Door-to-door freight
UPS Ground and Airborne Ground both offer a pricey, but efficient, solution. The goods have to be boxed or crated, although Airborne seems less picky, charging a small surcharge but accepting things like musical instruments in their cases without requiring you to add a carton. Both will pick up your goods at home and drop them off at the dorm, no hassle. (FedEx, though widely recognized, will not pick up freight at a private home.)

If what you have to send is bulky and hard to box, a less well-known freight service may accommodate your needs better. Yellow Transportation is the most consumer-friendly, with online tools that allow you to get its rates easily. You may, however, be able to get a better deal with other services. To check out competitors, try FreightQuote, which will price several options. In most cases, you'll save money if you're willing to take the shipment to the freight terminal even though you have it delivered to the dorm on the other end.

Call the movers
Unless money is no object, calling a conventional moving company usually is a lousy idea. Interstate moves are charged by the pound and are affected by seasonal demand. August, when many kids are heading back to campus, tends to be a popular time to move, making it also the most expensive month to move. You can buy insurance from the moving company, but it tends to be expensive. Plus, because your property won't fill the hauler, delivery timing will be unpredictable and at the mercy of the load that does primarily fill the truck.

OK, a couple of these shipping methods look like they'll meet your needs. Just what exactly will each cost you? That depends on how much you ship, at what rate and your delivery requirements. Read on for details about some popular transport options.

Jennie L. Phipps is a contributing editor based in Michigan.

-- Posted: Aug. 13, 2003
Looking for more stories like this? We'll send them directly to you!'s corrections policy
See Also
Plus: Comparing shipping options
A guide for parents of college students
Insurance for your dorm property
Frugal U. definitions
More Frugal U. stories

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