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Back to School Main College Dorm Essentials 101

College Dorm Essentials 101

Freshman year of college is full of new experiences, and one of the biggest is dorm living. We asked a recent graduate, a parent and a decorator so you can get their perspectives on college dorm essentials.

Advance Work: Know What to Bring to College

As you start to consider what you need to bring to college, remember there are a number of factors you can’t control: your roommate, the size of your space, the existing furniture and what items might not be allowed.

Student: Contact your roommate as soon as possible to discuss your dorm room. “As far as décor goes, exchanging pictures of any major pieces — like a rug you plan on bringing or your bedspread — can be helpful if matching décor is important to both of you,” suggests Chicago resident Caroline Merten, who graduated from the University of Missouri in 2013. Same goes for wall art like posters and other accessories. “Remember that your roommate may not have the same aesthetic taste or the financial resources you have — anticipate there will be compromises.”

Parent: Leave the negotiating to the kids, unless you need to confer about a big ticket item like a large computer monitor, mini fridge or big screen TV. “The girls themselves may have touched base on a lamp or something, but we didn’t talk with the parents,” says Peter Andersen, a Seattle father of two college students.

Dorm Room Must-Haves

Student: Beyond the obvious college dorm essentials like a laundry hamper and supplies, there are a few other things to bring. “Pack enough storage and organization tools,” Merten says. “Having somewhere to stash your extra school supplies and the papers that will pile up from your classes is a must. Keeping storage containers under your bed is also a nice way to keep off-season clothing tucked away and to free up space in drawers and closets.”

Parent: “The rooms themselves haven’t changed, nor have the needs of students: a desk, a bed, a few photos, a Doors poster and a string of twinkle lights,” Andersen says. “But there are some specific requirements, so make sure your freshman has everything on the” checklist provided by the school, like extra-long sheets. The Andersens did most of their shopping at large retailers with an online presence. “You don’t have to pack it — they can have it waiting for you wherever your school is.” Just buy it online and have it sent to an area store.

Decorator: “Anything you can push under the bed is always excellent, but this time it can be organized,” says interior design expert Andie Day of SHIFT Legacy in Los Angeles. She also suggests using the dorm-issued chair as guest seating only. “Splurge on an ergonomic desk chair that will have a 90-degree angle at your elbows, waist and knees. Make sure it sits 16 to 21 inches off the floor, the suggested height for average-sized people.”

Personalize Your Space

Student: Even though you’re sharing a room, you can personalize your sliver of it. Choose desk organizers and accessories in your favorite color, and decorate with images that inspire you. “Stick to one or two larger wall hangings, leaving yourself room to put up letters from friends or pictures from home,” Merten says. Those notes and photos help ease homesickness.

Parent: “Don’t try to make the room perfect on the first day,” Andersen cautions. “They’ll make the room their own by creating it over time. Besides, the real college essentials are already there: bed, roof, desk, friends, cafeteria and, of course, school. Think of all your own memories from college — they’re probably not about your bulletin board.”

Decorator: You’re working with a small space, so a mirror or two might help open it up. “This will make your room appear much more spacious,” says Day. “And pick a striped rug to add the illusion of length and width.”

Final Thoughts

Student: “Being away from home, it’s natural for things to be a little difficult in the beginning,” Merten says. “Even if you don’t want to leave your door open and meet people on the first few days, make an effort to say 'hi' to people and learn names. It makes dorm life a lot more fun! Don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember that this is a learning experience. If you keep an open mind, it’s one of the best times in your life to learn and have new experiences.”

Parent: “On that farewell weekend, parents were really eager to know that their kids would be in touch, while the kids weren’t thinking about it that much,” Andersen recalls. “But after two or three weeks in school, most kids will naturally want to establish some regular form of contact — a weekly phone call or whatever. They’re independent, but not as independent as they think they are.” And his advice for parents leaving their “babies”? “It’s the old parenting trick — when you’re focused on helping others through a difficult time, you won’t have time to focus on how hard it is for you.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is co-author of The Real Life Guide to Life After College, and owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. She frequently teaches resume- and cover letter-writing to college students. She's a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go, Heels!). Follow Margot on Google+.

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