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Articles / Campus Life / Dorm Room Decor

Dorm Room Decor

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | April 12, 2016

May 1st is coming soon. That’s the traditional D-Day for most high school seniors who must choose among the acceptances they have received. Once they make that decision, a fairly quick summer is all that stands between them and their arrival on campus. Months will seem to pass like mere weeks.

Perhaps one of the biggest anticipations for incoming first-year college students is trying to imagine what it will be like living away from home for the first time. For most, it will also involve sharing a living space with someone else for the first time. Meeting your roommate(s) can be a challenge or the beginning of lifelong friendship(s).

Regardless of what transpires from this multi-person social arrangement, it will mostly happen inside a dorm room. That’s why you may want to put some thought into optimizing that little piece of campus that will become your living space. Thus, I thought it might be appropriate to mention a few creative ideas about how to go about doing that.

I had to laugh, though, when I began doing research for this post. Apparently, the task of dorm decorating has evolved into an art form. I went to Google and typed in simply “dorm room decorating.” What came back instantly was a huge list of complex articles that showed pictures of dorm rooms.


My mind swept back to my freshman year and I started smiling. Compared to what you see above, my dorm room was just a cut or two above Gulag-lite. The concrete block walls were painted a yucky shade of green, not a whiter shade of pale, like the one above. Mysteriously, our dorm was situated close to the next-door dorm building in such a way that direct sunlight never flowed through the only window, which was conveniently placed directly over the cast-iron radiator that alternately made our room a sauna or refrigerator. Those were dark days … literally.

My roommate, Greg, and I weren’t very decor-minded. Our biggest decorating effort was discovering that putting a rolled-up bath towel along the bottom of our room’s door would keep out the glaring hallway light and eliminate the shadows of people walking by. This made for improved sleeping since it also buffered some of the more demonstrative bellowing of returning residents who may or may not have had too much to drink.

Anyway, the fact that we were Spartans shouldn’t discourage you from exercising your inner interior decorator. To help inspire you, I thought I would post below a few of the more tasteful (and achievable) dorm decor ideas.

At the risk of being sexist, let me say that in my view the majority of these ideas, both from the list I’ve linked to above, and the few I will feature here will likely be embraced more readily by women rather than guys. That seems to be just how things work. Of course there are exceptions, so let your budget be your guide.

HGTV’s site has a very cool presentation in their 20 Chic and Functional Dorm Room Decorating Ideas article. They note:

Don’t let small, shared quarters cramp your style. Turn your college dorm room into a stylish and efficient space ideal for studying and relaxing with these fresh decorating ideas.

Everyone needs their space, especially when sharing a small room with someone. To set boundaries and create a bit of privacy, cubed bookcases offer just the right amount of enclosure without making an already small space feel even smaller. If space allows, this type of bookcase can stylishly divide a room while still adding a clear decorative element. (It’s not an obvious room divider.) If you can’t pull in another piece of furniture, floor-to-ceiling curtains will make you feel like you’re in a room of your own. Using an easy-to-install curtain track, simply slide the curtains into place when you need a few minutes of alone time. An advantage — your room won’t suffer from a loss of square footage.


Bring Nostalgic Items From Home — The first few weeks of college are always a period of transition and adjustment. Integrate items from your childhood bedroom into your new bedroom to remind you of home like photographs and important (but not considerably valuable) keepsakes. Now, any time you’re homesick, you’ll have little pieces of home mixed into your new space for comfort and support.


Go Vertical — No matter how little you take to your dorm, you’ll still feel like you don’t have enough space. This is where classic plastic storage containers come into play. To keep floors open and the room clutter-free, take your storage to the ceiling in a stylish way. Install wall shelves to hold uniform storage containers. This will keep items organized and within reach. In this sports-themed room, the navy-blue containers blend into the matching walls, preventing the storage from taking over as decor.

HGTV’s helpful article has an excellent spread of ideas to help you make the most of your about-to-be new home, all of which are designed to help you avoid bad decorating ideas.


No, my dorm room didn’t look like these. To make a call, we had to walk halfway down the hall to the pay phone on the wall, where everyone could hear everything we said.

So, happy decorating. For more student/parent comments about dorm rooms, check these College Confidential discussion forum threads.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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