10 Tips to Decorate Your College Dorm Room
By Barbara Green | Last Updated: May 25, 2022
College dorm rooms run the gamut from brand-new suites bathed in natural light to utilitarian boxes with cinder block walls and linoleum floors. But don’t be disheartened if you’re not wowed the first time you set eyes on your new college digs. College dorm rooms are a blank slate with lots of potential – and we’re here to help you transform your space into a cozy new home where you can relax and unwind. Read on for ten tips to decorate your college dorm room.
10. Dorm Decor Ideas Start With Shaking Things Up
Before brainstorming specific dorm decor ideas, start by making sure your furniture is where you want it. If your college allows you to rearrange furniture, coordinate with your roommate to design a layout that will work for both of you. Think about where you want your workspace to be. Do you and your roommate want to work side-by-side? Divide the room into separate halves?
If you want to start thinking about layout options before move-in, many colleges post dorm room floor plans and dimensions online. There are even online tools that can help you arrange your dorm room – and add design touches to it, as well.
Tip: Be sure not to block windows so that you let in as much natural light as possible.
9. Lofty Goals for How to Decorate Dorm Rooms
Your next consideration on how to decorate your dorm room also involves furniture arrangement. To maximize your square footage, see if your college dorm allows you to adjust your bed height. You may be able to fully loft your bed, allowing for an under-bed study or lounge area, or raise it up enough to create valuable storage space underneath.
If your dorm doesn’t provide the means to raise your bed’s height, bed risers offer an affordable way to gain up to eight inches of crucial underbed storage. That might be enough to stash clothes, books, cleaning supplies, toiletries – or whatever else you need to pack away.
Planning to raise your bed to create more usable space? Tapestries and other textiles can help make a lounge area feel stylish and cozy while an extra-long bed skirt can help mask a hidden storage area.
Tip: Check with your college dorm to see if you can request a lofted or raised bed prior to move-in to ensure your space is ready to go on day one. Some colleges require a work order for such changes, which can delay the process and drag out how long it takes for your new dorm room to feel like home.
8. Work on Your Work Space
While you’ll likely frequent the library and various study lounges, a clean and organized work space can be one of the most important areas of your college dorm room.
Simply put, you want to make studying for your courses as easy as possible. Creating an organized and functional work space can help eliminate the stress of trying to find the materials and supplies you need to take notes and keep up with coursework. A quality desktop organizer can help, as can a commitment to spending a few minutes each day putting things away. Remember: don’t let your desk turn into a catch-all area for papers, mail, and assorted clutter. Challenge yourself to stay organized so that your work space is ready for work!
Once your space is organized, add any decorative touches you think will help you stay motivated, like an inspirational image or quote or a reminder of your goals.
Tip: Don’t forget about lighting. A desk lamp can help keep your work area extra bright, or allow you stay focused on your work without bothering a roommate who needs to sleep.
7. Storage, Storage, Storage – and Organization
College dorm rooms can be small. Getting creative (and vertical) with your storage can help you maximize your space. Luckily for you, product designers have come up with lots of new ways to make the most of your square footage with multifunctional and compact pieces.
Because most dorms don’t allow you to use nails or screws in walls, look for adhesive options, as well as those that attach to larger furniture pieces and fixtures. While many of us are familiar with over-the-door shoe hangers, you can also find storage caddies to fit over (or around) your mini-fridge and bed frame that can be used for storing plates and cutlery, bedtime essentials, school supplies, and more. You can also find shelves that clip onto bed frames to function as nightstands, stackable (and foldable) crates that work as bookshelves or closet storage, and plenty of under-bed options to keep things neat and out of sight.
While they won’t support that heavy chemistry text book, floating adhesive shelves and hooks can be key for storing lighter-weight objects like paperbacks and knick-knacks. And when it comes to organizing dressers and desk drawers, drawer dividers can come in handy to keep spaces neat and functional.
Tip: Thinking of bringing a filing cabinet or storage trunk to school? Consider adding a cushion to the top so it can double as seating.
6. Coordinate, Don’t Duplicate
When it comes to stocking up on college supplies and packing, coordinating with your roommate up front may help you save money and space. A few quick conversations or messages can help you sort out who’s buying what (no need for two mini fridge storage caddies) and what you can share.
If decorating is your thing, you can also try to coordinate a theme, color scheme, or design vibe with your roommate prior to moving in. One caveat: don’t let clashing aesthetics derail your roommate relationship. Maintaining personal harmony in your dorm room matters more than coordinating decor.
Tip: Consider setting up a shared spreadsheet where you and your roommate can track what you’re each bringing and what you want to share.
5. Cut a Rug
While certainly not a college necessity, an inexpensive rug can help warm up an impersonal dorm room and make the space feel more like home.
Whether you opt to go with one bigger rug or layer smaller pieces for a more textured look, make sure you choose rugs that are easy to clean and maintain. Indoor-outdoor rugs are a solid bet, as are those you can shake out outside – or throw in the washer if needed.
If your dorm room can support window treatments, curtains (hung with tension rods) can also help personalize a space. Be sure to check before buying, though, as some dorms come equipped with blinds that make hanging curtains a bit challenging.
Tip: See if there’s an extra rug or curtains at home that you can bring to save money. Your local Buy Nothing group may also offer solid options and help your neighbors get rid of clutter.
4. Wild About Walls – And Plants!
Decorating your walls can add personality to your room and show off your unique style. Consider a gallery or collage wall (of photos, postcards, prints, clippings) to make a big impact in a small space. An interesting flatweave rug can also make a stylish wall hanging with the help of an adhesive strip.
Looking to design on a tight budget? There are plenty of cheap ways to get creative – like hanging photos from string lights, using clipboards instead of photo frames to display art, or creating your own art or frames out of washi tape.
If you want to take your design efforts up a notch, look to removable wall decals and wallpaper. One caveat: while plenty of products promise to be mess (and damage) free, check your dorm policies before applying, especially if you’ve never used a product before.
Love the look of plants? Adhesive wall shelves can support small succulents or other low-maintenance plants. Want to keep things simple? Fake plants (like ferns) can give you the look of greenery without the responsibility of keeping it alive.
Tip: While decorating your walls will bring interest to your room and make it feel more like home, preserve some white space to keep it from feeling crowded.
3. It’s All About the Bedding
Sleep is an often-overlooked key for staying healthy and relieving stress. You want your bed to be a peaceful and comfortable retreat where you can recharge and rejuvenate in a year of new experiences.
First, check your dorm bed size. While some use standard twin beds, many use twin XL beds – which may mean new bedding (or at least new sheets) are in order. Keep an eye out for back-to-school sales to keep prices low. Not interested in buying a new comforter but want a fresh look? Consider using a duvet cover to mix things up.
For the spill-prone (or laundry-resistant) among us, a second pair of sheets can bail you out in a pinch.
Finally, if you’re looking to add style, throw pillows can be a great addition. If you already have spare throw pillows on hand at home, fresh covers can help them pop.
Tip: If you’re using the area under your bed for storage, consider opting for a bed skirt to keep boxes out of sight.
2. Don’t Forget Those Touches from Home
Going off to college may be the first time you’re living away from home. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring pieces of home with you.
Does playing the trombone help you unwind? Bring it (although you may need to find an on-campus practice room). Sad to leave your beloved hat collection behind? Bring it – after all, hats can make great wall decor. Worried you’ll miss your six bookcases crammed full of literary wonders? Well … that’s what libraries are for – but do bring one or two of your favorites.
While you want to be careful not to overpack, bringing small touches from home can help you feel more at ease in your new space, which is important for your academic success (and happiness).
Tip: Choose smaller and more durable touches from home if you can. Don’t be afraid to show who you are and let your personality shine.
1. Check With Your College Housing Office First
Finally, before doing any college dorm prep, it’s important to read through all housing information to make sure you know what’s provided, what’s expected, and what’s allowed. Knowing the rules and guidelines up front can save you the hassle of having to return that halogen lamp or extension cord (many dorms don’t allow either).
Your college’s housing department can also be a great source for packing lists. Many offer suggestions on college basics to start you off – like remembering a first aid kit, flashlight, umbrella, laundry bag, shower caddy, etc.
Tip: Knowing your room dimensions up front can also help keep you from overpacking – or going overboard with wall decor plans.
Your Campus Housing Supports Your College Success
Remember, while decking out your college dorm room isn’t as important as going to class and getting involved on campus, making your space feel more like home can help you acclimate faster in a new environment. Being comfortable in your dorm may translate into better study habits, a happier mood, and even a wider social network because new friends will feel welcomed into your interesting and inviting space.
Considering housing options on USF’s Tampa or St. Petersburg campuses? We’re here to help. You can find everything on our sites, from residence hall photos and layouts to packing lists and tips. If you don’t see your question answered online, feel free to reach out to our team for help. Many campus tours also include a visit to a residence hall, so you can see firsthand where you could be living as a USF Bull.
About Barbara Green
Barbara Green is a member of the Enrollment & Transitions team at USF’s St. Petersburg campus. She enjoys writing about higher education and helping students and their families successfully navigate the transition to college.