Hey Freshmen: 12 Surprising Things You Can and Can't Bring to College

Hey, freshman, we bet you're super excited about packing for college. But before getting started, you should know every square inch of your teensy dorm room is valuable real estate. So don't be surprised if there's not much space for your everyday things, not to mention the stuff you don't need. 

That's why the following list will help you pack wisely. Here are 12 surprising things you can and can't bring to college. These are general feedback but be sure to check your individual college for specific rules and regulations.

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Leave the Fairy Lights at Home


Pretty much every dorm room pinned on Pinterest features string lights. But that doesn't mean they're a campus staple.

The truth is many colleges don't allow students to deck their walls with strands of twinkling lights. Ditto for rope lights. 

You may be thinking, why the heck not?

In a nutshell, string lights that don't have a UL label are potentially risky to use. For some reason, string lights are one of those items that aren't always UL compliant.

So that you know, anything UL certified meets tough standards for safety when properly used. While everything sold in the U.S. is supposed to be UL approved, a lot of stuff sneaks by. The first generation of hoverboards is a good example.

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Bring a Pet to College

Biorb Fish Tank on Desk

Yep, you may be able to bring a pet to college, but that doesn't mean you can pull an Elle Woods and tote Bruiser to school. Only small fish that can live happily in a teensy tank of water are allowed in most dorm rooms.

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Don't Bring Your Armoire

Target Dorm Room Suitcases

The typical dorm room comes furnished with oak furniture. Each roomie usually receives a bed, desk, chair, and dresser that are all certainly sturdy, but not very pretty. 

While you may be hoping to pull a switcheroo, most residence halls don't allow students to remove or replace standard-issue dorm room furniture. Also, while your favorite chair from home may be welcomed on campus, that huge armoire you were hoping to bring is not.

So what can you do to create more storage space? Luckily most schools don't have an issue with extra luggage.

This decked-out dorm room used suitcases from move-in day to create useful storage under the bed.

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Bring a Color Scheme

color coordinated dorm room

Your place on campus is the one spot at school you can truly make your own. So before you hit Urban Outfitters for that wall tapestry you've been eyeing, consider this. Nothing spruces up a dull, bland dorm room like color coordinated bedding. Especially when it's used to create a color scheme that sets the tone for your space. 

For example, this dorm room has an effortless yet stylish vibe because decor accents like the posters and chair match the red, white and navy bedding.

Here's a useful tip. While it may be weird to ask your roommate to buy identical sheets and blankies, see if they're interested in agreeing on a color scheme, so the entire room has a cohesive look.

FYI, your college bed may not be a typical twin. Most dorm rooms have extra-long twin mattresses that are five inches lengthier than a standard one.

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Should You Bring a Micro-Fridge?


Every dorm room has a micro-fridge right? You betcha... but there's a catch.

Anything you keep in your dorm room must be campus approved, especially appliances. So it's best to check with your school's unique rules for what's allowed.

For example, some colleges will allow you to bring any darn micro-fridge you please as long as it meets the school's standards for safety.

Many colleges only allow fridges that you lease from the school. The bad news is appliances like these aren't easy on the eyes. When that's the case, you can dress up a basic rental with washi tape and stickers that you can remove later.

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Bring a Stylish Desk Lamp

rose gold desk lamp

A desk lamp is one of those must-have things students need to bring. A stylish option like this beauty we spotted at Target is a great way to personalize your space. 

When shopping around for that perfect lamp, keep in mind what most schools prohibit:

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You Can't Bring a Better Mattress

mattress pad dorm room

To be honest, you're not going to be the first person who slept on your dorm room's mattress- you may be the fifth, sixth, tenth- who knows. 

Also, unlike that cushy pillow top at home, it's a mere six inches thick so it won't feel too comfy.

Luckily, there are things you can do to finesse your dorm room mattress. Most schools suggest the following:

  • Twin XL Mattress cover. For the most bang for your buck get one that's bed bug resistant. If you have dust mites allergies, it will keep you protected while creating a clean slate for your fresh bedding.​
  • Twin XL Mattress pad or foam topper. It will make a lumpy or hard mattress more comfortable.

Here's a handy idea. Your mattress pad can double as a floor seat as shown.

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Bring Washi Tape

Washi-Tape wall decor

Nope, you're not allowed to paint or wallpaper your dorm room's walls, but you can always use washi tape to make it look like you did.

The tape stays stuck but also peels off easily, so it will be a cinch to remove at the end of the semester.

This confetti wall was created using dozens of pieces of tape that were all cut to the same size. 

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Don't Bring Window Treatments

Pretty and simple dorm room decor

If you ever perused sites like Dormify or Dorm Co, it's easy to think curtains are a must-have for college. But listen up Freshmen, curtains are a no-no in most residential halls. That's why the typical dorm room comes with window blinds.

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Bring a Stripe Blanket

Dorm Room Decor hacks stuff under bed

Every college student should have a Mexican Falsa Blanket. They are woven stripe throws that you can use inside to stay warm or bring outside to sit on. The blanket shown here shares another smart use. It's concealing all of the stuff stored under the bed.

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Don't Bring a Toolbox

Command Strips College Dorm Rooms
Command Strips 3M

Hammering nails into your dorm room walls so you can display your hat collection or anything else, is a major no-no. Lucky for you, there are many damage-free hanging solutions available that use removable strips by 3M Command

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Bring Something to Conceal Ugly

wall tapestry dorm room

Cinderblock walls can make a dorm room look like a prison cell. Another bummer, they can get pretty cold during the winter. A wall tapestry is a decor fix with a practical purpose. Not only will it give your room a boho hippie vibe, but it will also warm up chilly walls.

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Your Citation
Sullivan, Deirdre. "Hey Freshmen: 12 Surprising Things You Can and Can't Bring to College." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/surprising-things-you-can-and-cant-bring-to-college-4059907. Sullivan, Deirdre. (2020, August 26). Hey Freshmen: 12 Surprising Things You Can and Can't Bring to College. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/surprising-things-you-can-and-cant-bring-to-college-4059907 Sullivan, Deirdre. "Hey Freshmen: 12 Surprising Things You Can and Can't Bring to College." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/surprising-things-you-can-and-cant-bring-to-college-4059907 (accessed April 20, 2021).

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