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Articles / Applying to College / From Bedroom to Dorm Room

June 11, 2019

From Bedroom to Dorm Room

From Bedroom to Dorm Room
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Take a look around your bedroom. I'll bet things are pretty cozy there. Granted, it may look chaotic with piles of stuff randomly distributed here and there, but it's comfortable for your needs and it's home. This is where you probably do your deep thinking, connect with the world using your phone and computer, and -- most importantly -- sleep! But if you just graduated from high school and are heading to college this fall, you're in for The Thrill of The Dorm, as I refer to it.

Almost all incoming first-year collegians are required to live on campus. There's a reason for that. Colleges want their newly minted students to establish a connection with the school, as well as have to close physical proximity to all the resources and social opportunities on campus.


Living off campus can create some limitations to both the physical and social offerings of on-campus living. Perhaps the most influential of these on-campus offerings is dorm life, where students immerse themselves into a fairly large, diversified community of new contacts, some of which will become friends. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

Well, as long as your new home away from home is going to be an important (maybe the most important) hub of your college experience, you should consider how to make your dorm room as comfortable and inviting as possible. Accordingly, I thought I would share some advice about how to do that, in hopes that you might be able to make your dorm room a reasonable replica of your bedroom at home.

Let's consider “decor," if, indeed, that term can apply to a space where college students live. Several factors can play a role in how your future dorm room may look. For some students, your room may benefit more from a Spartanesque approach. Simple functionality can pay off by making your room easier to clean, assuming that cleaning is, in fact, on your to-do list (it wasn't on mine, much). A well-placed TV, futon, or empty beer can temple -- only if you're of legal drinking age! -- can augment your simple decorating tastes.

However, other students' rooms may function as a projection of good taste and personality. Whatever your situation, as you begin to fantasize about your first-year residential college experience, allow me to throw some fuel your imagination in order to help you gather a plan for upgrading what may well be an industrial-looking, cinder block enclave where you'll be spending the better part of nine months, starting this fall. As Campus Grotto notes:

“... When you first enter an empty dorm you may notice the room looks quite minimal and you can't fathom how you and another roommate are going to live in this space for an entire year. Tiny dorm rooms with cinder block walls, fluorescent lighting, and little to no carpet come off a little institutional looking and are very uninspiring.

“While many colleges around the nation have made a push to design more luxurious dorms over the past few years, it's your job to transform your dorm room into a more livable space. This is your home away from home while you're going to school, so you'll want to add as much comfort and personality to the room as possible. Given the small size of the room, designing a dorm becomes a test in utilizing space in the best possible manner." ...

Our friends over at CollegeXpress also have a great article written by Maile Proctor that provides seven points of imaginative inspiration for your decorating duties. Here are some highlights of four of those seven from How to Make Your Dorm the Perfect Study Space. I strongly urge you to check out the complete article to see the rest of the creative approaches you might be able to take with your dorm room. Here's some of what Proctor says:

Dorm life is an adjustment. You have a limited amount of space, and you're sharing it with a perfect stranger. Plus, it has to work as both a place to hang out and a study/work space where you can actually get stuff done. After all, you can't live in the campus library — though many have tried....

Decide on A Smart Layout

When you and your roommate arrive on move-in day, decide how to set-up your dorm space. This will be influenced by factors like the furniture your school provides, what each of you brings and personal preferences.

In particular think about how you like to study and where you work best, and try to set up your dorm room accordingly. For example, if your desk at home was near a window, you might want to replicate that in your dorm. On the other hand, if you're easily distracted by what's going on outside, you may want your desk to face a wall!...

Maximize Your Space by Lofting Your Bed

College dorm rooms are small; most are about 228 square feet. (Yikes.) But lofting the beds so they're off the floor will help you make the most of the space you have.

You can raise your dorm bed just a little and put storage underneath or loft them even higher to put a desk or wardrobe under there. This not only creates more floor space but also gives you a nice little study alcove. Just make sure you have a desk lamp so you have enough light under there!

Another option is to bunk the beds. You won't be able to fit as much underneath them, but you can put them against one wall and then put your desks together. Just make sure to check with your resident advisor before making these heavy-duty changes....

Get to Know Your Roomie And Set Some Study Rules

You almost certainly won't be able to create a sound study space in your dorm without talking with your roomie first. But before we get into this one, let's talk about what not to do first: don't show up on campus the first day with a list of demands, don't be disrespectful, and don't assume that everything in your room is fair game.

What you should do is talk to your roommate about your personality and preferences. Are you a morning person? Do you have specific times you like to study? Are you super organized? Do you expect low-key midterm and finals weeks, with no guests, parties, etc., so you can bring your (literal) A game to your tests? Get to know your roommate's personality and preferences too. If you communicate about these things ahead of time, you can work together to make your living and studying situation easier for both of you....

Eliminate Distractions

Every single little distraction cuts into your ability to do good work — not just in college but for life. So when you're trying hard to study or bang out an essay, you want uninterrupted blocks of time so you can do your best work. That might mean blocking the Internet for a while, closing your otherwise open and welcoming door, or unplugging the dorm TV (provided your roomie isn't watching it). Also, have a no-phone-zone, a designated place in your dorm where if you put your phone there, it essentially “disappears" while you're studying. Turn the phone off too!

Speaking of your roommate, it's hard to concentrate when they're listening to loud music or binge-watching Netflix. This goes back to communication and sharing your expectations with your roomie. Let them know what you need to focus and do well in your classes. You may need to create a schedule and designate certain times of day as social or recreation hours and other times for homework and studying. Although, to be fair, you also may want to consider going to the library to study on occasion, especially if you like to cram extra study hours on the weekends....

The above is just a sampling of the good ideas that Proctor offers on the subject of creative dorm room setup. I have to laugh when I think of what my first-year dorm room was like. The ideas from the CollegeXpress article sound like simulating the Sheraton in New York City compared to what I lived in. At least we didn't have bed bugs.

Spend some quality time thinking about how to make your dorm room a place where you'll want to be, rather than a place to avoid. To inspire you to upgrade your room's decor and make it more attractive, just do a simple calculation. Divide the number of nights you'll be spending there over the course of the academic year into the total cost of one year of your college. That will give you a crude daily rate, just as if you were staying in a hotel. That should make you want to take full advantage of that likely pedestrian-looking little room from day one!

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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