No matter how prepared you may feel, heading back to college is full of unknowns, whether you’re leaving home for the first time or starting your senior year. Will you like your roommate? Will your classes be difficult? Was it really a good idea to sign up for that 8 a.m. biology class?
And then there’s dorm life. There are certain truths about college life: storage and personal space are at a premium, your dorm-mate will at least occasionally grate on your nerves, and there’s no place like home.
With just a tiny bit of planning and the right mindset, you can head back to college with confidence. Stay on top of your college game with these 10 simple tips for everything from dorm room living to navigating your newfound independence.
1. Find a planner (and use it!).
A quality planner can help you keep track of all those parties, er study sessions, that are part of college life — on top of class schedules, assignment due dates, campus club meetings, laundry day, and other mental chores that get forgotten when they’re not written down.
Sure, there are apps for keeping track of everything digitally, but there’s just something about the look and feel of putting pen to paper planner, as well as the satisfaction of crossing a task off when it’s done.
2. Think up not out when it comes to storage.
Dorm rooms are notoriously small. Storing items that might normally find a home in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room in one compact space is a challenge. The key to making it fit seamlessly is optimizing vertical storage.
That means bookshelves should be tall instead of wide. And closet storage systems and solutions should take advantage of every square inch of space, be they hangers that collapse or vertical storage that makes room for bags, belts and shoes. Another storage hack: bed risers to boost under-bed storage.
3. Get creative about when and where you study.
The bedroom might have worked as a study sanctuary at home. At college, however, dorm rooms are many things, but they’re generally not conducive to learning. Instead, seek out spots with minimal distractions.
Some people prefer quiet spaces like the library, while others focus better in places with ambient noise like coffee shops. It’s best to break up studying into manageable chunks and take about 10 minutes of break for every 50 minutes of study time.
Consider doing some group study sessions along with solo study time. Hot tip: Keep a book or batch of notes with you to glance at when you have a few free moments throughout the day.
4. It’s all about the bed.
The bed does triple duty in a dorm. It’s a hangout couch, a late-night study spot, and a place to catch a few Zzzs before that 8 a.m. comp class. That means two sets of sheets (general advice is to wash them weekly) and a comforter that doesn’t show stains from late-night pizza parties.
Since most dorm beds are extra-long, look for sheets and comforters in twin XL. Don’t forget a reading pillow with arms and a back to allow for lounging and studying. Choosing a pillow with bright colors will make your bed ensemble pop.
5. Liven up the walls.
There was a time when masking tape or sticky putty was the only way to tack up concert posters, pop culture favorites and photos of friends and family. Now, you’ve got options.
Use washi tape to create instant frames, opt for clothespins to attach photos from hanging Christmas lights or string, or bring several packs of Command poster and picture hangers to effortlessly put up artwork (even heavier framed pieces) without banging a single nail into the wall (generally a no-no in dorms).
6. Soften things up with lighting.
No one looks their best under fluorescent lighting, yet that’s often the situation in a dorm. Resolve never to flip that switch and instead bring some softer, friendlier lighting into the equation.
Pick a stylish floor lamp, pack a desk lamp for serious study sessions and don’t forget a small clip-on light to shed an unobtrusive glow on late-night study materials. Also, instead of real candles (fire hazard!), get a couple of flameless candles to create a relaxed mood without breaking any of those dorm rules.
7. Keep cleaning simple.
The good news about keeping a dorm room clean: It’s small so there’s less to clean. The bad news: Most college students have to clean things themselves. To make it easy, pack a Swiffer-style dry/wet mop (try reusable cleaning cloths for less trash), some antibacterial cleaning wipes or spray, and microfiber cleaning cloths to keep dust at bay.
Here’s an ingenious, money-saving trick: homemade cleaning solution. It’s surprisingly easy, effective, and easy on the environment. Fill a spray bottle with a half-vinegar, half-water solution, add a couple of drops of essential oil, and it’s good to go.
8. Don’t forget about your health and wellness.
Exercise is one of the easiest ways to keep your body and mind healthy, but that doesn’t mean you need to be training for a marathon or up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym (although that’s fine too). Instead, focus on getting your body moving for at least 30 minutes a day in a way you enjoy — throw a Frisbee on the quad, take a brisk walk with a friend or rollerblade across campus.
And try to schedule some time outside in nature. Simply being outside (no peeking at that cell phone!) and soaking in the natural environment can reduce your stress levels, improve your mood, help you sleep better and give you energy — plus it’s free and doesn’t require a prescription.
9. Bring only essential clothing.
When your closet is the size of a shoebox and your dresser looks more like a nightstand, it’s impractical to bring an entire wardrobe. Instead, pack only well-loved, seasonal pieces, and fold everything from undies to T-shirts a la Marie Kondo. File-style folding allows more clothing to fit in a drawer — and better yet, every item is visible, so there’s no need to root through the whole drawer to find that one shirt or pair of pants.
10. Flex those life skills muscles.
Going from living at home to being on your own means it’s time to take responsibility for everything, but don’t let that scare you. Independence has its rewards, especially if you’re prepared.
In your dorm room, start by keeping communication open with your roommate. With your professors, take ownership of your work and reach out if you need help. And if this is the first time you’ll be handling your own finances, set a budget and stick with it.
Most importantly: Be kind to yourself. Mistakes happen. Own up to them, learn from them and move on. That’s life, and college is just the beginning.
From creating a living space that recharges you for your next adventure (or your next exam) to staying active to avoid becoming overwhelmed, these simple tips will help you head back to college ready for any challenge that comes your way.
We hope you have an amazing school year. You’ve got this!