Don’t get out that credit card yet! Make sure you know the answers to these questions before you start shopping for your college dorm room. This handy checklist will help you spend wisely without wasting money on things you don’t need.
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I’ve already started seeing the college shopping lists pop up in my Pinterest feed (and I’ve even got a shopping list on Midlife Rambler!) but I found out the hard way that one size does not fit all when it comes to what your student will need for college. If you simply take one of the comprehensive lists of everything you’ll need for college, I can guarantee that you will spend way more than you need to on things your student will never use or that might not even be allowed.
In order to spend wisely for college, you’ll need some answers. You don’t want to be the parent who shows up on move-in day with a toaster oven only to find out that toaster ovens aren’t even allowed. (A true story from my naive past.)
So how to get the information you need? Your first stop should be the Student Housing section of your college website. There you can get floor plans for your dorm room and a list of what’s provided. Bed, Bath and Beyond also has a college page where you can enter your school’s name and get a really helpful list showing what size the beds are (Twin or Twin XL for example) and what you can bring or not bring.
Your next stop needs to be YouTube. Search for “Dorm Tour” + your child’s dorm. That’s where you’ll get the real scoop on what’s needed and what isn’t allowed at your college dorm. Plus, you’ll pick up good tips like dealing with noise, whether the dorms run hot or cold, and each dorm’s reputation.
With that in mind, here are some things to look for as you do your online research. Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be ready to start your college shopping list!
College Dorm Questions You Need to Answer Before Shopping for College
1. What are the dimensions of the dorm room?
You’ll need to know that to ensure there’s enough room for any extra furniture you might purchase.
2. Can the furniture be rearranged or must it be left in its original layout?
It’s upsetting to show up with an elaborate floor plan only to discover that all the furniture is bolted to the ground.
3. Can beds be lofted or turned into bunk beds?
Be sure check out these amazing dorm room transformations for inspiration on dorm room layouts!
4. Is there adequate under bed storage? Are bed risers allowed to increase under bed storage?
Sometimes beds already have enough room for storage already and sometimes bed risers are not allowed due to safety issues.
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5. Is the bed size a Regular Twin or an Extra Long Twin?
I went out and bought my son a few sets of Extra Long Twin sheets only to discover that regular twin sheets fit just fine. That’s helpful to know since Extra Long sheets are not always available.
6. Is there room for a small table or shelf by the bed?
Even if the bed is lofted or a bunk bed, it’s helpful to have a bedside shelf or pocket to hold your student’s phone. A book light is helpful as well so your child can read or study without disturbing their roommate.
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7. Will roommates share a closet or wardrobe? What are the dimensions of the closet? Would a second closet rod be helpful?
Closet space has been at a premium in all my children’s dorm rooms. If your child will need to share a closet, consider having both roommates get clothes hangers in different colors so they can easily tell what clothes belong to who. Over door storage for shoes or other items can be handy as well.
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8. Is there room in the closet to store shoes or should they be stored elsewhere?
Dorm room closet floors can end up being a black hole for shoes. If there’s room on the floor to store shoes, consider adding a shoe organizer to keep shoes handy and visible. Or add a hanging shoe organizer or under bed shoe organizing.
9. Is a dresser provided?
Dressers have always been provided for my kids’ dorm rooms, but sometimes they are stored under the bed or built into the wall or bed. It’s helpful to know what type of dresser your kid will have.
10. Is a desk provided? Is a desk chair provided?
My kids have always had a desk in their dorm rooms, but sometimes the desk chair is provided and sometimes it isn’t.
11. Is a trash can provided?
This is another item that, in my experience, dorm rooms may or may not have. Even if a room trashcan is provided, if your student’s dorm room has an attached bathroom, you may want to add a trash can for the bathroom as well.
12. Is a refrigerator provided?
One of my daughter’s dorm rooms came with, of all things, a wall-mounted flat-screen TV, a full-size fridge, and a microwave. Check and see what appliances may be provided with the dorm room.
13. Would it be cheaper to buy or rent a fridge?
I’ve seen dorm room fridges on sale at Target for $69 during back-to-school shopping sales. If you find a deal like that or a deal on a good used fridge, it’s almost always cheaper to buy a fridge than it is to rent it. However, don’t forget that you’ll need to either bring it home over the summer or pay to have it stored if your child’s college is far from home.
14. Is there room for additional seating for guests or additional storage?
Here’s the time to get creative. Check out the room tours of your child’s dorm on YouTube. Do you see any storage or seating ideas that seem particularly useful? Add them to your shopping list!
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15. Will your child have to share a communal bathroom?
If yes, shower shoes are a must! A tote to carry bathroom essentials is also handy.
If not, then send your child off to college with a stash of cleaning supplies. You don’t want to be stuck at the end of the year with an extra cleaning fee because your child’s bathroom is shockingly filthy. (#ithappenedtome)
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16. Are shelves for books and supplies provided? Is there space for additional shelving?
Your college student is going to need a place to keep textbooks, notebooks and other supplies. Some shelving may be provided in your child’s dorm room, but you’ll probably need to think through ways to add other storage, such as over the desk bookshelves, over the bed shelving, or even shelves that can be mounted on the wall without nails and screws.
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17. Is there a full-length mirror in the room? If a mirror is not provided, is there space to add an over the door mirror?
I’m sure this is more of a girl thing, but my daughter always wanted a full length mirror somewhere around. If the room didn’t have one, she used this full-length mirror from Ikea, which is just the right size to hang on a door or empty wall space.
18. Is the room air-conditioned? Does the room tend to get cold (or overly hot) in the winter?
Many dorms don’t have air conditioning, but even the most northern college gets hot in the spring and summer. If that’s the case, you might want to check and see if your dorm allows a portable air conditioner and also invest in a good fan.
Also, some dorms tend to stay cold all winter or even get too hot when the heat is on. A space heater or fan would be helpful in those situations. Check out the YouTube dorm videos to get an honest review of the heating situation.
19. Are there enough power outlets in the room? Are the power outlets conveniently located?
Many older dorms only have one or two power outlets in the room. Make sure your student has access to outlets needed for charging all their equipment.
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20. What appliances are allowed?
Don’t be the mom who shows up with a toaster oven only to take it home again! Check on the dorm’s website for the list of accepted appliances.
21. Is access to a printer readily available?
These days, many assignments are submitted online and don’t need to be printed at all, so bringing a printer to the dorm just for very occasional printing doesn’t make sense. However, make sure there are printers available for use for those occasions when something has to be printed.
22. Are vacuum cleaners available to borrow?
Some dorms have a communal vacuum cleaner for each floor so students don’t need to provide their own. If not, a small stick vacuum or Swiffer might be handy for your student, assuming they actually will use it.
23. Is there a laundry room in the building? If yes, is access free or must the students pay to use the facilities?
My daughter’s dorm had a laundry room in the building which was free to use. My sons had to go out to laundry facilities. If the student must pay for use of washing machine and dryers, send them off with a roll of quarters.
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24. Are the floors made of concrete or some other material which could benefit from a rug?
Your student will be much happier to get out of bed on those cold winter mornings when they’re stepping onto a nice cozy rug. Be sure and check room dimensions to determine what size rug is needed. Shag rugs are nice and fluffy and hide dirt better than woven rugs.
25. Have your student talk to their roommate and determine who will buy what items or for which items they will split the cost.
Many items would benefit everyone in the room. Before you buy a sharable item, reach out to your roommates to avoid buying two of the same item and to potentially share costs.
Here’s a list of potentially shareable items:
- Trash Can
- Coffee Maker
- Popcorn Maker
- Space Heater
- Portable Air Conditioner
- Internet Router
- Iron or Steamer
- Printer (If Needed)
- Vacuum Cleaner (If Needed)
- Rug for Room