Heading off to college has a way of wiping everyone’s slate clean. No one cares if you were voted coolest, funniest, or best-dressed in high school, but moving forward, they might care if you have a video projector, comfortable seating, extra snacks, or, according to Stanford University senior Amanda Tu, Lord Jones CBD gummies in your dorm room. The things you use to decorate your dorm room can help curb homesickness, break the ice with fellow students, host fun parties that attract lots of students or potential new friends or, if that’s not your thing, keep socializing to a minimum. When it comes to the latter, Reed College junior Zack Youcha advises against making video games a focal point in your room because they often attract lots of people and make it hard to kick them out. “I had a guy who would just walk into my place and play PS4 without asking all the time. It was awful,” Youcha tells us.
While some may think that the clean slate that comes hand in hand with going to college is a bad thing, we see it as a major positive. Your four (or more) years on campus present the enviable opportunity to reinvent yourself. To help you self-reinvent in style, we asked Tu, Youcha, and 20 more intimidatingly cool and design-minded students from 19 universities across the country (and across the pond) to tell us about all the statusy stuff to bring to school so that you’ll look like the big man — or woman — on campus. Read on for 33 things (excluding video games) that will help you make friends and influence people outside of the classroom, according to our cool college students — who, if you’re interested, come from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Columbia, the University of South Carolina, Tulane, Haverford, Reed, George Washington University, Syracuse, Barnard, Boston College, Stanford, Eton/Imperial College London, Ohio State, Leeds University, Goldsmiths, Lehigh, Goddard College, and Philadelphia University.
Nearly every student we talked to agreed that the quickest way to zhuzh up a sterile dorm room is to add soft lighting. More than half of our cool students — 12, in total — say they use string lights to create mood lighting in their own rooms, or have seen some kind of string-light configuration (ranging from full curtains of twinkly fairy lights to remote-controlled, color-changing bulbs) in their friends’ dorms. Daniella Isabel Apodaca, a senior at Columbia University, told us she hangs slightly larger globe-shaped string lights like these “around my room every year.” In addition to softening the often unflattering standard dorm-room lighting, she says the bigger exposed bulbs solve another problem: “If you want to sleep or watch a movie, but your roommate needs some light, usually having just the string lights on provides a happy medium.”
Stella Vujic, a sophomore at Yale, told us these remote-controlled lights give her the flexibility to quickly change a dorm room’s vibe. “I know several people that have string lights that can change color around their room,” she says. If you’re going for something chill and relaxing, switch them to white or warm yellow, and if you’re “fixing to have a party,” switch them to blue or green.
In addition to string lights, Tu says that pink Himalayan-salt lamps are definitely a thing on her campus. “I’m hard-pressed to think of a single cool girl on campus who doesn’t have one in her room. The glow is super mellow, they’re not that expensive, and people have fun licking them when they are intoxicated.” When we followed-up on the lamps’ lickable appeal, Tu told us: “I think every single person I’ve talked to who owns or knows someone who owns a salt lamp has licked it once. It’s not a trend so much as the intuitive thing to do, I guess.”
Gunner Park, a junior at Cornell who spent his summer interning at HypeBeast, first discovered this design-y but still affordable alternative to your standard desk lamp in a friend’s room. He told us he was surprised that the sculptural piece — which would look just as nice in an adult apartment — didn’t cost a lot more than the more run-of-the-mill desk lamps you can buy.
Photos and art for a gallery wall
Once you’ve secured your mood lighting, the next most agreed-upon way to inject style into your dorm room is through a gallery wall. Eighteen of the rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors we talked to say they like to use a mix of posters, framed art, and personal mementos and photos to do so. Many of the students expressed a fondness for using vintage-looking photographs, telling us about several different ways they get that aesthetic, including using affordable instant cameras or going even more low-fi with a cheap disposable one and drugstore prints.
Lillie Walsh, a Junior at Goddard College, has a collection of old and new instant cameras that she uses to help decorate her dorm. “I use my father’s old Polaroid 600 from the ’90s, and I also own a couple of Fujifilm Instax Mini cameras.” Christel Langué, who graduated from Lehigh University last year, also likes using instant cameras because they create photographs that are more lasting than the ones filling up her cell phone. “One thing that makes me sad about smartphones is that we take so many pictures and never look at them again. Polaroid walls are a fun way to make memories and not forget about them.” If you do prefer using your smartphone as a camera and want to make prints of your digital images, our panel of cool students told us to check out Framebridge for affordable printing and framing, Parabo Press for customizing photos using retro filters and square formats, and Snapfish, which lets you print tons of photos cheaply and quickly through an app.
Nicolas DeStevens, who graduated from Philadelphia University with a degree in fashion marketing last year, told us he has seen a lot of students using disposable cameras instead of instant ones. “One trend that is pretty big right now is using disposable cameras, like the ’90s. Once the pics are developed, just stick them on your wall.”
Carl Escoffier, a recent graduate of Leeds University who is about to start at Goldsmiths, recommends this framed limited-edition vintage print of Muhammad Ali to anyone who, like him, could use some help him with “Monday morning motivation.”
A handful of students recommend buying poster versions of famous works of art, including Youcha, who directed us to this poster of a Mark Rothko painting. He says it will make you “seem educated” in addition to “adding color to an otherwise bland room.”
Apodaca says her favorite posters come from artist Paul Baxendale, who shares his work on Instagram via the handle @fieldstudieseditions. She likes them “because they add a modern, southwestern vibe to my room.” This print is available in a bunch of sizes so you can tailor it to your gallery wall.
Both Annabelle Williams, a senior at the UPenn, and her friend and recent UPenn graduate Shiv-Louis van de Ven told us that vintage-looking city maps are a great way add a touch of home to a dorm-room gallery wall. Williams directed us to this brand for its map of Philadelphia (where she hails from); that map is currently out of stock, but there are a ton of other available options, like this print of Atlanta.
Many dorms have rules against candles because they pose a fire hazard. But of the 14 students who say it’s important to have something to mask dorm-room funk, candles were the most recommended thing to do so by far, with eight students telling us that scented candles are essential to creating an inviting atmosphere. “You really never want to be in someone’s space if it’s dirty or smelly,” says Langué, who suggests getting an essential-oil diffuser if your dorm doesn’t allow candles (or you don’t think you can sneak one in). Van de Ven likes this one from Malin & Goetz because of its “rich earthy notes that say style, not skunk.” Vujic adds that, despite her campus’s no-open-flame rule, in her experience, “people just have candles anyway and hide them when it’s time to check on dorms.”
For those who believe that rules aren’t made to be broken, this essential-oil diffuser from Muji is another effective way to freshen dorm-room air. Three students, including Park (who has used this to mask the aroma of his frat house), say they prefer using electric oil diffusers because, while candles look nice, a diffuser does a better job at improving the scent of an entire room.
Another three students say they like reed diffusers, which freshen air through the slow evaporation of essential oils and require neither flame nor electricity. Theo Hales, a former Eton student and a current second-year student at the Imperial College of London, says that his reed diffuser was a worthwhile investment because it became an integral part of his dorm décor. “I had a reed diffuser in my room for the last two years and the improvement was massive,” he says.
“It’s really hard to have people over when the only seating options are the floor or crowding onto someone’s bed,” says Tulane junior Sanjali DeSilva, 1 of 12 students who mentioned extra comfortable seating as a must-have for dorm-room hangs. Six students said the best kind of extra seating is a structured floor pillow that can either be sat on or leaned against. Meg Schwieterman, a sophomore from the University of South Carolina with her own style blog, and Tu specifically recommended these square pillows from Urban Outfitters. Schwieterman says they’re “the perfect extra seating to pull out when you have guests, like a beanbag’s cool older sister.”
Floor pillows have not entirely replaced beanbag chairs in our cool students’ dorms, however, with Hales and Vujic telling us they prefer them in their spaces. Hales says he uses his for hanging out or studying, telling us there’s nothing quite like the feeling of crashing onto one at the end of a busy day. He suggests buying a few, so “you’ve got plenty of space for friends to join.” Vujic agrees, telling us she likes beanbag chairs because they’re affordable and versatile. This extra-large model isn’t the cheapest option, but it’ll offer more support and the cover is machine washable.
Several students told us that the best type of extra seating is something that can fold out into a bed for sleepovers. Not all of them have room for such pieces, but DeSilva recommends this style, which she calls the “perfect” futon chair for her and her roommates. “It made it so easy to have guests over, and they could even spend the night, no need for the hassle of an air mattress,” she explains.
If you don’t have room for extra seating, 12 students say putting down your own rug can be an alternative that doubles as a way to hide some dorm rooms’ less than nice-looking wall-to-wall carpeting. “Put down a rug!” implores Schwieterman, who says the ideal style is one that’s “easy to clean while still being soft.” This rug, from Urban Outfitters, is the one she went with after “a ton of research.” Williams agrees that any rug is better than being “barefoot on linoleum or wood dorm floors.” As does Dani Goodman Rabner, a sophomore at Barnard, who told us that covering up an “ugly linoleum dorm floor” is key. She adds that bringing your own rug will “make you think less about how many other people have stepped on your floor before you.”
While all of our students had something to say about cool-looking storage solutions, one recurring item stood out among their responses — plastic, multicolored milk crates. Three of the cool students we spoke to (coincidentally, all men) told us that plastic milk crates are a storage trend they can get behind. Both Park and Youcha say they like using milk crates for storage because they make your dorm room look cool in a kind of bohemian or utilitarian way, and they’re actually super useful. “You can make bookshelves, fake dressers, stools, stairs, and Halloween costumes, and everyone will recognize you as modest, yet crafty and awesome,” Youcha explains. DeStevens likes milk crates for their throwback appeal, as well as for how affordable and widely available they are — though, if you’re looking to splurge, he suggested crates from cult-y artist collective–cum–fashion brand Braindead (which are currently out of stock). “If you’re lucky, your parents will have some from the ’70s in your basement that you can take,” he says. “But if you have the money totally buy the Braindead milk crates.”
Stuff for entertaining
While video games were somewhat controversial among our cool students, eight of them told us they either have a projector, know friends with a projector, or wish they owned one. As Caroline Tien, a senior at Haverford, puts it, “You can’t go wrong with a projector,” and having one will score you major cool points, whether you’re hosting bigger groups or just your new best friend. This model comes recommended by Schwieterman, who says it’s easy to “tack a sheet up on the wall, make a batch of microwave popcorn, and host a movie night!”
Pia Mileaf-Patel from Brown says she uses this inexpensive mini-projector, which hooks up to her Bluetooth speaker, to screen movies. Vujic agrees that the mini-versions are the way to go. “The smaller ones are definitely a thing for movie night,” she says.
For a low-tech way to host a fun gathering, six people say that Cards Against Humanity is still very popular. “Cards Against Humanity never fails to enthrall,” says Hales. Antonia Bentel, a senior at Barnard, explains that it is particularly popular among freshmen, and “a fixture during orientation,” but that the game’s appeal is not lost on upperclassmen. “I know at least two people who still have Cards Against Humanity.” Several students who recommended Cards Against Humanity said they have moved on to the later editions and special packs of the game, which offer tons of new cards. And although Cards Against Humanity emerged as the most common low-tech way to entertain among our cool students, some alternative suggestions included playing cards, tarot cards, What Do You Meme, and a game called Buzzed (which carries a warning that it is indeed a drinking game).
The status appliance
Hales told us that the tiny mini-fridge his friend sneaked into the dorms was a “power move” because it circumvented the no-fridge rule in his dorm. And Youcha says that stocking one with a collection of rare sodas, like Surge or Cactus Cooler, “will impress people way more than any alcohol.” They were two of the seven people who told us that mini-fridges are a coveted appliance for a dorm room, and also came recommended by several RAs in our comprehensive guide to practical dorm essentials. Strategist’s resident Cool Guy, Chris Black, agrees that mini-fridges are a way to flex your décor know-how on campus. He recommends the extremely sleek-looking SMEG mini-fridge (with a $1,000 price tag that reflects its high design). But for something slightly more budget-friendly that’ll still turn heads, consider this retro mini Frigidaire.
A nonschool hoodie or fleece
Status hoodies — whether from expensive designer brands, streetwear labels, concert merch tables, or a vintage store — are popular among fashionable people of all ages, so we wanted to know more about the ones our cool students wear. Six of our panelists told us that they see more Champion sweatshirts on campus than any other brand. Bella Morford, a senior at Boston College, explains their appeal: “Students like them because they are simple, comfortable, and on the cheaper side.” Another popular hoodie trend, according to Vujic, is to wear ones (whether new or vintage) from colleges that aren’t your own. “Honestly, a lot of people wear hoodies from other colleges. I guess when you’re at school, everybody knows you go to Yale or wherever, so people don’t wear Yale gear as much here. If people have a sister or brother who goes to another college they’ll wear that college’s sweatshirt.”
Four students told us that their favorite nonschool hoodies come from Shadow Hill, another brand they often see on campus. Morford is a fan, as is Langué, who says Shadow Hill hoodies are appealing because they’re “affordable” and so soft that “I literally sleep in it.” Other brands mentioned for their hoodies include Kith, Seam, Bianca Chandon, Supreme, and Heron Preston.
A few students said that Patagonia fleeces are universally beloved for their gorpcore appeal, especially at schools where the winters are really brutal. Park says that “the Patagonia fleece is very popular since it’s functional, somewhat dorky, and appeals to everyone.” Vujic also likes Patagonia, but says its quarter-zip styles — which she says are sleeker than the teddy-bear fleece — are more ubiquitous on her campus.
Other essential gear
Beyond hoodies and fleeces, our panelists told us about their favorite brands of some staple, non-gendered gear common on all college campuses, including backpacks, shower shoes, and water bottles. When it comes to backpacks, our panel of cool college students gave us a ton of great ideas for stylish and functional options. But the most mentioned and coveted backpack was the Fjällräven Kanken, which six students told us is by far the one they see the most among style-minded students. “Good God, they are everywhere,” says Mileaf-Patel, who adds that she tends to see them in the khaki-green color, specifically. Tu agrees that “the No. 1 status backpack is definitely the Fjällräven Kanken,” but says she sees the above “warm yellow color” more often. Cool students aren’t the only ones noticing the Kanken — three RAs also mentioned it when we asked them about practical dorm-room essentials.
The overall most popular shower shoes, according to our student sources, are Adidas slides — specifically the black ones with the white stripes. As Tu puts it, “Adidas slides are a trendier option for shower shoes, for folks who want to level up from basic Old Navy flip-flops.”
Two of the students we spoke to, however, say they prefer wearing Birkenstocks EVAs in the shower, and have noticed an uptick in others doing the same. “I wear plastic Birkenstocks, they’re cute and I can wear them other places,” says Morford. Vujic also told us that a lot of people on her campus have the EVA Birks, too.
Six students mentioned Hydroflask, the same water bottle that Strategist managing editor Maxine Builder swears by, as the hands-down “it” water bottle for college students. Tu says the brand is a “classic choice,” and told us that most students cover their Hydro Flasks “in stickers, of course,” so there isn’t one specific “It” color. The RAs we spoke to for our other dorm-room guide agreed that Hydro Flask is a brand that’s super prevalent on campuses.
A handful of students — five to be exact — told us S’well water bottles are super popular, too. Park was one of them, noting that the brand’s titanium bottle is one he sees a lot. “A lot of people, including myself, have been using the S’well titanium water bottle. It has a really sleek design, and it’s really light.” Like Hydro Flask bottles, S’well ones were also mentioned by RAs in our companion guide.
Nalgene, the maker of what we declared the next status water bottle earlier this year, is considered the coolest brand by four students, including Escoffier, who says bigger is always better when it comes to water bottles, and describes his favorite Nalgene as “a big-ass water bottle.” The size comes particularly in handy after a late night partying, he adds. “You may think it’s too heavy, but you’ll thank me when you’re hungover in your bed and realize there’s still a good few glugs of water left in there.”
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