For most incoming college freshmen, dorm living is an unavoidable reality.
Often cramped, small, with bare walls and shared bathrooms, dorms aren't the homiest places to live. But students can find a number of ways to make dorm life more hospitable.
According to Tammy Schoppet, founder of Rental Decorating Digest, students should plan ahead how they are going to decorate their rooms.
"You want to start out right," Schoppet said. "As the year goes on you won't have time to decorate."
The first thing students need to do when planning to decorate their dorm rooms is to know the rules. Most campuses have explicit regulations on what students can and cannot bring.
"Anything that could potentially create some kind of fire hazard we can't allow," said Liz Towle, assistant dean of student affairs at McDaniel College.
That means most cooking is out unless students can make it using a microwave. Most pets are also prohibited.
Living in a dorm also usually means living with a roommate. Students should get in touch with their new roommates as soon as possible and figure out who should bring what. Often large items, like televisions, can be shared. Roommates should make sure they're both not bringing the same things, since conserving space is important.
"Space is always a big challenge," Schoppet said.
Because of the tight living quarters, students should be choosy about what they decide to bring or leave home.
"I tried to minimize the amount of stuff I brought," said Chris Slemp, a senior at McDaniel. "They don't give you much space."
When Christina Allen, a senior at McDaniel, moved into her dorm room four years ago, she found herself with two roommates. Because of overcrowding at the school at the time, some double rooms housed three people.
"There was no maximizing the space," Allen recalled. "My desk was under my other roommate's bed. I couldn't do much without hitting my head."
To conserve space, many students choose to install loft beds and put their desks underneath. Students at McDaniel can call student housing to have a loft installed in their room. Other students opt for the bunk bed approach.
Besides beds, most colleges also provide dressers and desks. Other furniture is up to the individual student.
"It's really hard to get creative with furniture when you have so little space," Allen said.
The choice often depends on how much floor space is important to the dorm resident. Some students purchase couches while others go for the foldable futons. Beanbag chairs are perennially popular in college dorms.
Other popular items are shelving units to help keep things organized and off the floor. Plastic shelving units that stack and snap together can be purchased inexpensively at many stores. Students really desperate for space also try putting their dressers in the closet, though that can lead to "a lot of wrinkled clothes," Allen said.
Slemp used his computer to double as his television set - he could plug the room's cable connection directly into his machine - and saved space that way.
"It was one less thing to carry around," Slemp said.
For Allen, one important part of making her dorm room livable was lighting. Most dorm rooms come with harsh fluorescent lighting or a single ceiling light. Students are encouraged to bring their own desk lamps. Allen, who enjoys soft lighting, strung clear Christmas lights around the room to create a nice glow.
Many students decorate their rooms mostly by what they put on the walls. Since colleges usually don't allow students to paint their rooms, posters are an important decorating tool.
Boutique prints and poster reprints of works of fine art are popular in the girls' dorms, Allen said. Some students also hang quilts or tapestries. Other popular wall decorations are bulletin boards containing pictures of friends and family.
If students aren't allowed to put holes in the wall to hang pictures, Schoppet suggests using adhesive hooks that can stick to all kinds of surfaces. She said a brand called "3M Hooks with Command" stick the best and can be found in most hardware stores. Students could even use the hooks to hang plants, wall decorations or drapes.
As resident assistants at McDaniel, Allen and Slemp have heard stories about clever, and sometimes contraband, ways in which students decorate their rooms. Allen remembered a student who, desiring more privacy, made a little canopy around her bed using cloth that hung on hooks in the ceiling.
Slemp remembers hearing about a student at another school who created an entire bar out of wood in his dorm room.
"I think they made him take it down," Slemp said.
Slemp also remembered hearing about Air Force ROTC students at another institution who created the airforce logo out of bottle caps on the ceiling of their dorm.
"People do all sorts of stuff," he said.