The Freshman Experience: 5 Dorm Room Shopping Tips

An incoming freshman shares her best dorm room shopping tips for freshman year – when to shop, to how to stay on budget, and more.

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Brightly colored dorm room

Hi, my name is Sarah and I am a procrastinator. Anybody else out there?

Normally, the only downside of procrastination is the added stress you force upon yourself. However, when it comes to dorm room shopping, there is another consequence: things are beginning to sell out!

Before I get into the rest of my dorm room shopping tips, let me give you the ultimate advice: DO NOT wait until last minute to buy your sheets/duvet covers/decorations. DO NOT be a procrastinator! PLAN AHEAD!

Seriously. It gets stressful. Around this time of year, college girls around the country begin to realize that they have only a few weeks until move-in! Everyone prints their college packing list and races to the nearest Target or Bed, Bath, & Beyond to scour the aisles. Displays are knocked over, bedding gets inspected, items are haphazardly thrown about – it’s a shopping nightmare.

To help you combat these problems, I’m outlining my own freshman dorm room shopping tips. We’ve already covered the specifics of buying your bedding, furnishings, storage, and decorations, and creating a dorm room layout and color scheme, so, using my own experience, I’ll be discussing the shopping experience itself. Follow these tips, DO NOT procrastinate, and your dorm room shopping experience will be a breeze!

1. Make a list

Making a list

This seems like common sense, right? Wrong! Surprisingly, many college-aged girls skip this step. It’s so important to write down what you will be needing before you leave the house! Once you start throwing items in your cart and getting excited over cute pillows, it is really easy to forget about the necessities. When you make your dorm room shopping list, make sure you:

  • Visit nearby stores. During the summer, many stores like Bed, Bath, & Beyond and Target come out with their various college-themed marketing materials. When you walk into a Target store, you immediately spot the “RE: Room Essentials” signs. On their website, you can find their College Checklist. At Bed, Bath, & Beyond, handy lists are available for you online and in-stores to use while shopping. As you compile your personalized list, take a look at these helpful handouts.
  • Talk to your friends. Growing up, most of my best friends were a year older than me. While I used to be annoyed about being the youngest, I realized that older friends definitely have their benefits: they’ve been to college and know what they are talking about! When I went on my first round of dorm room shopping, I brought along my best friend who had just finished her freshman year at UW-Madison. She and I consulted our lists and discussed what was actually necessary. She had great tips! I needed a laundry basket of some kind, so I asked her, pop-up or bag? I asked her how she stored items and how her friends organized their rooms. Talking to people that know you and that know college is incredibly helpful in the dorm room shopping process!
  • Consult your college. Before you shop, check out your college’s dorm specifications. Can you loft your beds? If not, that will affect the kind of storage you get. Can you bring in furniture? If not, check that futon off your list. Are those cute pineapple-shaped string lights allowed? By checking online or, better yet, calling someone that is familiar with your specific dorm, you will save yourself a lot of stress (and money!) as you narrow down your list.

2. Bring a friend

Friends shopping

I already outlined the benefits of having a seasoned friend help you make your list, but I’ll reiterate a few here.

Trust me on this: You’ll want a second opinion on that cheetah print duvet cover, advice on which shower caddy will be the most helpful, and, lastly, someone with whom to share this incredibly fun experience!

As you push around your overloaded cart and chat about the year ahead, you’ll be so glad that you have your best sidekick there with you.

3. Go a few times

It’s time to face an ugly truth here: shopping for college can be really expensive. As exciting as it is to cruise around the store and pick out your new room essentials, there is always that moment of dread when you get up to the cashier.

In order to help lessen the financial burden, try to space out your shopping into multiple trips.

On one trip, tackle everything you’ll need for your desk and for studying. On the next, buy stuff for bed and sleep. Follow these with storage, bath, decorations, and closet.

Although you won’t necessarily be spending less, you won’t burn a huge hole in your pocket by buying everything on the same trip. Also, by spreading out your shopping by specifics, you’ll make sure that you are getting everything you need.

4. Think about transportation

How are you getting to school with all your stuff? For me, this answer has changed more times this summer than Nicki Minaj’s hairstyles. Drive or fly? Fly? Drive? Ship things? It’s definitely a process to bring everything to your new school.

To make this a little easier, as you shop, think about how you’ll be moving all of your stuff into your dorm.

If you’re driving, you don’t need to worry as much about making things fit than, say, the girl who’s flying from California to New York.

If you’re flying to school, bring as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to buy things once you get there. I’m flying into Boston two days before I actually move in. During that time I’ll be visiting the nearest Target to buy that adorable storage ottoman that would be impossible to fit on a plane.

5. Talk to your roommate

Roommates in college

If you have already met your roommate, make sure you talk to her about your future living space! Are you bringing a mini-fridge? What colors will her side of the room be? Does she have a TV? Plan it out before you get there.

For example, my roommate and I both love the color purple, so we decided that we would try to have at least a little purple on both sides of the room. She ordered a microfridge for us (through our school), and together we’re shopping for an area rug when we get to Boston. By talking to your roommate, you’ll have a better idea of what the entire room will look like – not just half.

More Freshman Year Tips, Experiences, and Advice

This article is part of our Freshman Experience series. For more, see: 8 Week Countdown, College Orientation, Tips & Tricks for Meeting the Roommate, First Semester Goals, College Packing List, Getting Involved on Campus, 4 Ways to Ease Midterm Stress, College Misconceptions & Ask a Freshman, Freshman Year Questions – Answered, Thanksgiving Break Essentials, Tackling Holiday Shopping in College, First Semester Goals Revisited, and Final Thoughts.

Your turn!

I hope you guys haven’t fallen victim to the same procrastination bug: I’ve been shopping up a storm the last few days. Incoming freshman, how has your dorm room shopping process been going? Do you feel confident that you’ve gotten everything you need? Where have you been shopping and what has worked for you? Tell us below!

Veteran girls, what advice do you have for us? If you could go back, what would you have brought that you had forgotten? Tell us what essentials are on your checklist by leaving a comment.

2 thoughts on “The Freshman Experience: 5 Dorm Room Shopping Tips”

  1. Take pictures of the model room they show you while visiting campus.
    Start EARLY! All this stuff goes on clearance.. Every year! Shop a year on advance.
    ASK! Check with your parents, siblings, cousins, etc that have stuff you need. I got my power strips from my parents and Tupperware, lamps from my sister, and Rubbermaid storage from a friend.
    Also, every spring the form students purge their stuff. At almost every campus! To the trash- no joke.
    Don’t be afraid to start with thrift and dollar stores. DOLLAR TREE has so much it’s ridiculous. Garage sales are also great places. Revamp stuff for your style- be creative and make the room your own

  2. I love this article even though i got a huge amount done of my shopping today (mostly school supples medical supples and some decorations) waiting till after my orientation to by big stuff (like laundry detergent bedding etc.)

    One thing i noticed on here that no one has mentioned. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO BUY SOME OF THE BASIC STUFF AT YOUR LOCAL DOLLAR STORE. saves a lot of money and most of the stuff at my local dollar tree are only brand name products which helps alot. 🙂


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