6 Unusual College Dorm Living Tips | The Prudent Professor

6 Unusual College Dorm Living Tips

If you’re looking for college dorm tips, you’ve probably read lots of blog posts about roommates, bed risers and shower shoes. I’ll tell you right now, my post is different​: it doesn’t mention any of those things. (But shower shoes are very important. Definitely bring shower shoes to the dorm.)

I lived in the dorms my entire undergrad, not getting an apartment until I was in grad school. I’m truly a dorm veteran. During my dorm years, I changed rooms and dorms several times, so I learned a lot about how dorm life works.

This post contains my hard-learned college dorm living tips. I realize some of the advice here is contrary to much of what you’ll read online. That’s why I’ve called these tips unusual: you don’t see them everywhere.

For example, there’s no long list of stuff you must buy for your room. In fact, I advocate moving as little as possible into the dorms. That’s a lesson you learn fast when you change rooms three times in three years.

Whether you choose to follow my dorm tips or someone else’s, the most important thing to remember is that your dorm room is your home​. Just as with any home, you need to put thought into what you bring into it, how you’ll organize it, and how you’ll take care of it. These dorm living tips will help you think through those questions.


D​isclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my links, I earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. To learn more, you can read my full disclaimer here.

​6 Tips for Living in a College Dorm

​#1. Resist the Pull of Pinterest

I put this suggestion up top because in a lot of ways, it’s the most critical of my dorm living tips, especially for freshmen. I must say, I'm very glad Pinterest wasn't around during my dorm living days.

​If you’re on Pinterest looking for dorm room inspo, you’ll find plenty. But can you really live in a world inspired by a Pinterest pin? Think about it: you never see laundry baskets, trash cans, bathroom accessories, empty soda cans or other signs of real life in those pin-perfect pictures.

Pinterest can be a great place for inspiration, but it also fuels unrealistic expectations about what college dorm rooms should look like. Your dorm room is, above all else, your living space. You need to focus on function first, then fashion.

Create functional places to sleep, study and socialize, then focus on decorating. Just don’t overbuy for your dorm room, trying to make it look Pinterest ​worthy.

​#2. Move Minimal Stuff into the Dorm

Be smart about what you bring into your dorm room. Whether you live in a traditional dorm or in a newer suite/apartment style dorm, the reality is that your room will be small. You need to be mindful about what you bring into your space.

Your room will be your sleeping area, and you’ll probably do a fair amount of socializing and studying there too. You don’t want your space to be so crowded and cluttered that it’s no longer comfortable for you to actually live there.


​I feel like this suggestion is contrary to a lot of dorm living tips. You​ can find plenty of long lists online about what to buy and pack for your dorm room. I'm not sure how essential all those things ​are. When you read those lists, ask yourself ​if each item is really necessary. Try to focus on the ​must-haves first, then the fun stuff.

Also, don’t feel like you need to buy lots of new things for college. Use what you already have and spend your money on things you actually need, like those extra long twin sheets most dorms seem to require.

​#3. Create and ​Maintain a Dorm Room Cleaning Schedule

Your dorm room may be small, but it will get ridiculously dirty if you don’t stay on top of things. The biggest culprits in dorm room grossness are clutter and dust.

Organization is key to maintaining a small space like a dorm room. Everything needs to have a place and you need to create a habit of putting things where they belong. Don’t leave dirty clothes on the back of your desk chair: put them in the laundry basket or hamper. Don’t leave your backpacks, books and binders laying around. And especially don’t leave open or uneaten food out.


Dust will also build up at a rapid rate if you don’t set aside time to clean regularly. In a small space, dust has fewer places to settle, so don’t be surprised to find dust bunnies under your bed and in the corners of your closet when you move out of the dorm. To keep the bunnies at bay, aim to dust and thoroughly clean your dorm room at least once a month.

​#4. Apply for the Dorms ASAP

If you’re an incoming freshman, finalizing your housing arrangements was probably on your list of things to do the summer before college. But that’s not the application I’m referring to here. This advice is for freshmen who want to return to the dorms as sophomores.

Your university should give you plenty of notice about when the dorm selection and registration period for the following year begins. You should submit your application, and any required deposits, as soon as possible.

The sooner you apply for on campus housing, the better your chances of getting the dorm, room and roommates you want. If you wait, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to return to the same room you’ve already lived in for a year (or get to move to a better one). So put the application date in your planner and submit your request ASAP.

​#5. Ask ​for Year-round Dorm Housing Upfront

I’ve read a lot of blog posts on dorm living tips and have never seen this topic discussed. It’s assumed everyone moves out of the dorms come summertime. But it’s possible to live in the dorms year-round. If you plan to stay on campus and take classes during the summer, ask for year-round housing upfront.

A lot of universities close most of their dorms for the summer. This saves the university money by not having to provide utilities to barely occupied buildings. It also gives the university time to clean the dorms and make needed repairs before the start of fall semester.


Students living in the dorms who want to stay on campus for the summer have to relocate to summer housing. This is usually a dorm on campus that is designated as a year-round dorm. Students will stay in this dorm for the summer, then move back to their permanent room just before classes start in the fall.

If you know you’ll be staying on campus for the summer, ask about year-round housing upfront. Most universities have at least one dorm that’s open all year. Try to get a spot in this dorm, so you won’t have to move twice in four months.

If you’re a freshman, be sure to check your university’s policies. Not all dorms are open to freshmen, so you may not be eligible to live in the year-round dorm your first year of college. However, by summer you should be classified as a sophomore, which could make you eligible for a room in the year-round dorm.

​#6. Have a Dorm Move Out Plan

If you’re not planning to stay in year-round housing, you need to plan what to do with your stuff at the end of the year.

Students moving home for the summer aren’t always able to take everything they’ve accumulated. As a result, dorm move out trash is a serious problem. End of every spring semester, students throw out thousands of pounds of trash.

This “trash” often includes barely used appliances, like microwaves, TVs and lamps. Other commonly tossed items include unopened food, nonseasonal clothing like boots, coats and ​sweaters, and new and barely used school supplies.

You can avoid contributing to this massive waste by being mindful about what you bring into the dorms. Given students’ generally limited amount of both money and space, college is a good time to try practicing minimalism. The less you bring to college, and buy while you’re there, the less you’ll have to worry about moving at the end of the year.

You can try to sell some of the larger items, like refrigerators, but campus will be full of other students trying to offload their unwanted stuff too. You can also explore options for recycling some items and donating others. If there are items you’ll need the following year but don’t want to move with you, look into renting a storage unit in your college town over the summer.

Whatever option you choose, try to avoid trashing perfectly good stuff. That’s not only environmentally unsound, it’s financially imprudent. And ​​you know I'd never endorse anything imprudent.


Hopefully my college dorm living tips have added to the good advice you’ve already found on the internet (yep, referring to those shower shoes again). Maybe, like me, you’re a minimalist at heart. Or perhaps you want to go all out and have one of those Pinterest perfect rooms.

However you decide to deck out your dorm room, just remember that it should be a comfortable space that not only reflects your personality but supports your goals and lifestyle.

​Until next time, best wishes and keep learning,

The Prudent Professor

The Prudent Professor is the alter ego of Amanda Coleman (BS, MS, PhD), who has taught, advised and mentored students for over 20 years. Amanda has worked with students in high school through graduate school, at schools ranging from community colleges to large state universities. Amanda spends most of her free time bookmarking crafts she’ll probably never make and planning trips she’ll probably never take. She also outlines plots for novels she will eventually write (maybe).