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My daughter and I were at five below recently and when I turned down the aisle with all the dorm stuff, I shuddered a little, thinking back to the summer three years ago before our daughter’s freshman year of college.

That summer was so frantic, as we bought everything she would need for her room for the year. One of our guest rooms looked like something exploded in there as we accumulated everything. It was so nice this time to only be buying mermaid makeup and brushes instead of dorm stuff. :)

It may seem a bit early to start putting together your move-in plan, but it isn’t. If you wait until the last minute, it will only be even more stressful than it already is.

Move-in Day for most colleges is only about a month and a half away, so now is the time to start your plan of attack to put together an awesome freshman dorm room your child will want to spend time in. They will be living there for nine months so it needs to be a place that makes them happy!

The good news is that once you do all this, every subsequent move-in is SO much easier. So just know planning for the freshman year is the hardest, and it only gets better from here.

If your child is an incoming freshman, they may or may not have already chosen their residence hall, room, and roommate for the upcoming year. If they haven’t yet made their choice, it is imperative that they do so the minute they are eligible. Upperclassmen are given priority over freshmen, so you can expect that many of the “good dorms” will already be full when freshmen are able to make their choice, so have a second and third choice in mind in case the first choice dorm is already full.

Choosing a roommate is much less stressful these days than it was when I was in college. Back then, the school chose your roommate for you your first year, and maybe you could exchange a few (handwritten!) letters and hope you didn’t hate them when you got to campus. It was hard to know if they were a partier or a slob or crazy.

Now, most schools have a “Roommate Finder” where you can express your preferences on things like smoking vs. non-smoking, early riser vs. night owl, neat vs. messy, or how often you plan to socialize or entertain people in your room.

If you see someone you like there is usually a system in place where students can contact one another about rooming together. From there, they can exchange emails and text messages. My daughter met her roommate that way, and they were able to coordinate who would bring what for the room long before they ever got to campus.

My daughter brought the TV, DVD player and vacuum, while her roommate brought the microwave and Mini Refrigerator.Freshman Dorm Room
They even conferred on a color scheme for their room. So if your child’s school offers this service, I encourage you to make use of it. My daughter is about to start her senior year now, and will be an R.A. again this year, so she will have her own room. No conferring. She can pick all her own stuff. :)

Before you get into the process of thinking about decorating their room, what kind of room will they have? Is it the traditional “community” type room where they share with another student? Do they have their own bathroom, or will they use a shared bathroom that is used by the whole floor? Will they be living in a suite situation where they may have their own room but share a bath?

There are many configurations these days, so be sure to find out what their situation will be before you start buying stuff. Her freshman year, my daughter shared a room with another girl and there were several communal bathrooms on their floor.

Her sophomore year she roomed with the same girl but they chose a different dorm. They lived in a suite where they each had their own room, a little living room and kitchen area, and a shared bathroom for the two of them. This is what they wanted freshman year, but the upperclassmen had already taken all of those rooms.

We were fortunate that one of her friends let us take a little tour of the suites her freshman year so we knew how to plan for the upcoming year. Many schools have a residential life section of their website that has pictures and often even 360-degree video tours of the different dorms on campus. You can also check YouTube, as often students have uploaded videos of their rooms in different dorms on campus.

If students are sharing the same room they will probably want to agree on a color scheme. Unless they are guys. :) One of my friends found that out when her son was getting ready for his freshman year. She asked him if he and his roommate needed to talk about coordinating their bed comforters. He looked at her like she was nuts.

Since I don’t have boys, I can’t really advise much on that. I can tell you what to do with girls and I would say if you have boys then you can probably get away with doing much less. :) If students are in a suite living arrangement they can probably make more individual decorating choices.

So what all do you need for an awesome dorm room?

The first thing you should do is check the rules for your dorm on the school website. There will be a list of what students can and cannot bring. So start with that because you don’t want to invest in things like toasters and space heaters when most dorms don’t allow them.

Additionally, find out what the school provides. There are many schools that equip each room with a “micro-fridge” which is a mini refrigerator with a microwave on top. That can save you money if you don’t need to purchase either of those items. If you do have to provide your own microwave, be sure to check the maximum wattage allowed by the school.

The next thing you need to find out is the size of the beds in their chosen dorm. Many college beds are size Twin XL, which means regular twin sheets will probably not be long enough to fit the bed. Most residential life websites will have a list of the dorms and indicate what size beds are provided in each.

So now that you have all of that information, let’s start with the bed.

Freshman Dorm Room

The first layer needs to be a Mattress Protector Bedbug Waterproof Zippered Encasement Hypoallergenic Premium Quality Cover. You don’t know who or what has been in that bed and this is a small price to pay for peace of mind against nasty critters.

College mattresses tend to be what I imagine prison issue mattresses to be. Not very thick or comfortable. So it’s time to pile on the coziness. Add a Memory Foam Mattress Pad Topper and also a Sherpa Reversible All-Season Mattress Pad. The pad topper adds some thickness for comfort and the sherpa pad adds a layer of warmth and is just kind of luxurious. Then, run not walk, to find a Coma Inducer Sheet SetThese things are AWESOME. It’s basically like sleeping in your fuzziest bathrobe.

Freshman Dorm Room

The set comes with a flat and fitted sheet and a pillowcase. After that, just pick the comforter of your choice and the bed is DONE. Except for any decorative pillows or maybe one of those Reading Pillow – Bed Rest things.Awesome Freshman Dorm Room
Depending on the floor of the room, you may want a little area rug by the bed so no one has to wake up and step out onto a cold floor. If the floor is already carpeted, you could skip that.

What is the shelf situation in the room? Many dorm rooms have shelves installed above each student’s desk. My daughter’s dorm did not have shelves. They did have a chest of drawers for each student that slid under the bed, but no shelves.

We got lucky the summer before freshman year when we met a family who was selling everything in their house to downsize to another country. When they found out our daughter was trying to furnish a dorm room they were happy to give her lots of stuff, including a lot of free standing bookcases and shelves.

So find out if there are shelves in the room and if not, look for a configuration that will work in the room. We used one little entertainment center type stand to put the TV and DVD player in between the beds, and another small shelf for a cute decorative lamp, (those overhead fluorescent lights don’t do a thing to make a room seem homey, so look for lamps that can add some ambiance), a coffee maker, and some supplies. The suite my daughter lived in her sophomore year had a little entertainment center in the living room for the TV and DVD player so we didn’t need to bring shelving for that.

Awesome Freshman Dorm Room

Coffee. If your student loves their morning coffee or a late night cup while studying, they will appreciate not having to go anywhere to get it. I know everyone loves those Keurig coffee makers but at our house, we have long preferred the Bosch Tassimo Coffee Brewer. We sent our daughter off to school with her own Tassimo and a good supply of coffee Discs in her favorite flavors.

Awesome Freshman Dorm Room

Laundry. Most dorms now have laundry facilities located right on the premises, so students don’t have to go far to do their laundry. This is good because it might (might) increase the likelihood that they will do laundry on their own and not bring mounds of it home to you when they come home for a visit. :)

There isn’t a lot of space in a dorm room to put dirty laundry and we found that something structured like a laundry basket would take up too much room. There is a cool product called a Backpack Duffel Laundry Bag that doubles as a laundry bag and a backpack that allows the student to easily carry their laundry to the laundry room in their dorm. They can also transport their laundry detergent and fabric softener.

Freshman Dorm Room

Since it is a bag, it is easier to keep it in a closet with or without laundry in it. It can even be hung from a hook or hanger.

On the subject of hanging things, most dorms prohibit students from using nails to hang pictures or anything on their walls. So you will need a bunch of Command Hooks and Picture Hanging Strips. 

Be sure to take different sizes and weight capacities and take more than you think you will need. They can also be used to drape string lights around the room if the school allows it.

Freshman Dorm Room

Freshman Dorm Room

Double Hang Closet Rod

Freshman Dorm Room

Hanging Shoe Organizer

Another helpful item to have in a dorm room is an Over The Door Mirror. Many dorm rooms don’t have mirrors in them and one that hangs over the door is a space saver. Some other space saving items can include a Double Hang Closet Rod and a Hanging Shoe Organizer.

Space is limited in dorm rooms and anything you can use to maximize it is a good idea.


On the subject of closets, some rooms do not have closets equipped with doors, so you may want to buy an expandable Tension Curtain Rod and a curtain that matches their decor to hang in the closet to cover up the contents. It makes the room look neater.

If the student’s room has its own bathroom, you will want to purchase a shower curtain and liner, a bath mat, a toilet brush, and possibly a Towel Shelf/Organizer.

A few other items we included when planning our daughter’s room were a Folding TV Tray Table, a Folding Club Chair, and a Wireless Color Printer with Scanner & Copier. Many dorms have printers available on site, but we talked about it and thought it would be great for our daughter to have her own printer in her room.

We considered this a safety measure, as well as a convenience. Sometimes printers that get a ton of use may not be working just when you need them, or there may be several people wanting to use them at the same time. If she happened to be up very late working on a paper we wanted her to be able to print it out in the safety of her own room. Her roommate was free to use it as well, and the girls told us it was nice to have it right in their room.

One tip on “safety.” If the student will be using a communal bathroom, a must-have is a pair of “shower shoes.” Flip flops or some type of waterproof shoe to be worn in the shower. Because just like that mattress, you don’t know where that floor has been. :)

Awesome Freshman Dorm Room

Another thing that’s nice to have is a small fan. The thermostats in my daughter’s dorm were sensor operated, meaning they sensed when the student enters and leaves the room. When they enter the room, the A/C or heat kicks on, and when they leave the room, it shuts off. My daughter said having a little fan in her room was nice to keep the air circulating, and the best purchase we made. Go figure. :)

Freshman Dorm Room


It can seem overwhelming to think of and purchase all the things you need for a dorm room. We often joked that we couldn’t figure out how it could take so much time, money and effort to decorate half a room. :) My advice is to start as early as possible and just keep everything in one place as you acquire it.

A few tips to help: Once your student has enrolled in their courses, they will begin getting flyers in the mail from companies who specialize in dorm stuff. They sell packages that include everything you need from bed to bath. We felt we could put together the things we wanted more affordably, but that may not be the case for you.

If you see a package and a price you like, go for it! One stop shopping can ease a lot of stress. Also, if your student will be attending college in-state, check your local Bed Bath and Beyond store later in the summer. Most have packing lists for each major college in the state, along with what students can and cannot bring.

Equipping an awesome dorm room can be stressful, but with a little planning and smart shopping, it can definitely be done! Have fun together as you work to get everything you need. And remember, this is THEIR room, not yours as a parent, so refrain from imposing your tastes on your child. They are the ones who will be living in the room, not you. So let them pick stuff they like.

I’ve put everything together in one place for you in the graphic below, but if you’d like a printable version of the full packing list that we used to get our daughter ready to head off to school, be sure to join our mailing list and I’ll be happy to send it your way! Also, feel free to leave any tips or questions you may have in the comment section.


And I’d love for you to follow me on Pinterest!

Awesome Freshman Dorm Room

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