It may be small (and shared). But for at least one academic year, for thousands of college students, it's home.
Over generations, the dorm room hasn't gotten bigger. But the amount of must-have stuff including technology that needs to squeeze into that space has morphed into a much longer list.
"All our rooms now have Wi-Fi access and satellite TV packages," said Peggy Luers, coordinator for housing administration at California State University, Sacramento. "That was not an option when I was in school."
Luers, who has been in charge of Sacramento State's dorms for 22 years, expects 1,600 students to start moving in on Aug. 24, including about 1,000 freshmen.
"Students need to be aware that the space they're moving into is probably smaller than they're used to and they're sharing," Luers said. "Don't bring everything all at once. You don't want a crowded room. You need a place to study."
In Sacramento State's residence halls, the average room size is 11 by 15 feet; that's only 165 square feet. Including a full meal plan, housing costs each student $9,750 to $10,230 for the academic year.
The rooms come furnished with extra-long twin beds, desks and chairs. There are closets and a little drawer space.
The challenge is to make that spartan room feel like home.
"We want them to be comfortable. They have a place to bring out their personality, but they also should use some common sense," Luers said.
And follow the rules.
Each college has its own variations of dorm do's and don'ts with some constants. No nails in the walls. No painting. No pets (except maybe fish).
But that leaves plenty of decorating options.
Major companies have taken notice, fulfilling dorm needs as part of their teen marketing. According to retailers, the average incoming college freshman will spend more than $900 this year to outfit his or her dorm room.
For example, Bed, Bath & Beyond partnered with Sacramento State to create sample dorm rooms for prospective students and their parents to tour. Target carries XL twin bedding and Room Essentials foldable furniture. Tuesday Morning made dorm living key to its back-to-school push.
Catering to this youth market, Pottery Barn recently opened its first West Coast PBteen store in Westfield Galleria at Roseville. The store also offers the PBdorm line.
"The PBdorm line is a little more sophisticated," explained Nancy Guettier, vice president of visual merchandizing for Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen. "The colors are more muted; a lot of plum and gray. (The brand) offers a smart, savvy solution to college life."
At the new PBteen store, soon-to-be college students can literally see themselves in dorm room settings. A digital design center allows them to put together their own combinations and share them with friends on video screens.
"It's the first place we went," said Jessica Lewis, who visited PBteen with college-bound friends Victoria Jennett and Kristyn Carl.
The three recent graduates of Grass Valley's Nevada Union High School did their homework before shopping, checking out the Internet before going to the mall.
Lewis, who is headed for dorm life at San Diego State University, debated color choices before picking a silver-gray jersey-covered duvet.
"If I pick a color, I'd get bored with that color," Lewis said. "This way, I can mix and match around it."
Jennett, who will live off campus during her freshman year at San Diego Mesa Community College, also chose gray with pops of color.
"Gray goes great with orange and mustard yellow," she said. "And it doesn't get as dirty."
That's an important consideration. Dorm life means laundry. (PBteen offers cloth laundry bags with instructions printed on the outside.)
Said Luers, "My advice to parents: Teach your teens how to do laundry before they arrive in the dorms."
Because linens may look alike, distinctive patterns or colors can help roommates tell items apart. PBteen also offers a monogram service for its linens.
Bedding and towels start the list of must-have dorm items. Pillows (especially an oversized back-rest variety) are a plus.
"Your bed is not only a bed, but also your couch and study spot," Luers said.
Most dorm rooms come in basic off-white. Area rugs are another way to add a splash of color and personalize its small space.
For friends who stop by, more seating is appreciated. That's where beanbags and collapsible chairs come in.
"The Hang-A-Round chair, for example, can be folded up and put in the closet or under the bed," Guettier said. "And it comes in lots of fun fabrics such as 'Furlicious,' " a sheepskin-look fake fur.
Lighting is important, particularly for study time. Consider task lights for desks or clip-on fixtures for reading in bed.
To keep clutter under control, maximize the dorm room's small space with organizers, another product area that's expanded greatly in recent years.
"Organization is key," Luers said. "Use that space, including under the bed and in the closet."
Said Guettier, "You're challenged by space. When you want to study, it's better to clear the clutter. You can put everything in its place. These products are both stylish and functional."
On the walls, poster putty and removable adhesive allow students to put up decorations and practical bulletin boards without messing up the paint. For example, PBteen's Style Tiles allow for mix and match of chalk, dry erase and cork boards to fit any wall.
A well-equipped dorm room needs a mini-fridge, microwave and television, but not two. That's another area where technology comes in.
Said Luers, "Students have access to so much more information now. They can go on the Internet and communicate with their roommates before they arrive.
"In years past, you didn't know anything about your roommate until you got here," she added. "Now, you can coordinate colors if you want to. You avoid duplication. That means less stuff that Mom and Dad will have to lug back home with them."
DORM ROOM 101
Read the rules. Every college has its own handbook for student residents. Get a copy (most schools have it online) before you buy.
Start with the bed. Most dorms provide extra-long twins. That means you'll need XL twin sheets (preferably two sets they'll last longer). Other standard twin bedding (such as blankets, quilts and duvets) will fit the XL beds. You're not the first one to use that mattress, said Ross Manning, senior marketing officer of Tuesday Morning. Get a good mattress pad.
That bed will get double duty as a couch. Get pillows that can be used as backrests. An oversized body pillow is a good option.
When shopping for linens, get two sets of towels. Label or monogram linens to avoid roommate confusion later.
Make the most of your space, Manning said. That includes under the bed. It's perfect for storage. At California State University, Sacramento, the height of beds can be adjusted, allowing for bigger items under those XL twins.
Organize from the beginning, said Nancy Guettier, vice president of visual merchandizing for Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen. By giving everything its own place, you get more space.
Make room for school supplies and a place to study with a good task light. After all, that's why you're here.
Think vertically. Claim the space on the walls. Use hanging storage in the closet. Get stuff off the floor and the room will seem larger.
You'll need a good power strip. Outlets are limited. Your gadgets will need a charging dock, too.
Use gel stick-ups for hanging items on walls. Poster putty or sticky hooks are other no-nails options.
The item most students forget when they move into the dorms? Coat hangers. Other must-have basics: Laundry basket, detergent, shower caddy and shower shoes.
Bring something that reminds you of home, such as a family photo.
Don't bring everything. Think of your dorm space as the size of a small bathroom. Leave the futon at home.
Don't try to stock up supplies for an entire academic year. You won't have enough room for that much bottled water and shampoo.
Make room for snacks as well as items for in-room dining such as plates, cups and silverware. Sacramento State has mini-fridges for rent for its dorm rooms, or students can bring their own. (There are size restrictions.)
Small microwave ovens are another popular option for in-room dining, but no items with heat coils are allowed. Forget the deep fryer.
www.dormco.com: This online retailer specializes in dorm rooms with more than 1,400 items including "move-in" packages of linens and sturdy metal trunks in school colors.
Ustyler: This online tool, offered by Target, allows users to put together a whole room while mixing colors and fabrics. The basic room features a bed, desk, beanbag chair, nightstand and lamp. Find it at http://college.target.com/ustyler.
www.dormdelicious.com: Students help students at this site, packed with real-life dorm decorating advice and how-to's.
PBteen: In the Westfield Galleria at Roseville, Pottery Barn's new teen store carries the chain's popular PBdorm line. The store features a design center to help shoppers see what their choices will look like and share it on the store's big video screens. Also, check out the helpful design tools at www.pbdorm.com.
More shopping options: Bed, Bath and Beyond has an entire online budget-minded section for college students. Click on www.bedbathandbeyond.com and look for the "Shop for College" link at the top of the homepage.
Ikea (www.ikea.com) features a "Back to College" department with inexpensive, easy-to-assemble furniture and dorm room accessories.
Tuesday Morning (www.tuesdaymorning.com) is a go-to source for quality linens and bedding at a bargain price, plus storage and shower options.
COMING WEDNESDAY IN FOOD & WINE
Lots of college students have meal plans, but that's not always enough. We've got recipes and some how-to tips for students using just a microwave oven in their dorm room or learning how to use a kitchenette.