This room in Watson Dormitory, part of new dorms, is home to Jennifer Bolam Kim and Ekaterina Beletskaya Luca DiCecco

Concrete walls, cold tile floors, tight spaces and stacks of milk crates—realities many UVA grads remember about their first-year living arrangement.

Today’s dorm life is a different experience: brightly hued bedding complements plush carpet and colorful lamps. Flat-panel televisions, laptops and video game systems are integral components of room design. Framed posters, picture collages and message boards adorn the walls.

“My mom and I went out about three times a day to Bed, Bath & Beyond,” says Maupin dorm resident Michelle Henry, recalling her back-to-school preparations. “On move-in day, it took six volunteers to haul up my 25 boxes.”

These dorm room transformations come with a steep price tag. According to the National Retail Federation, college students and their parents are projected to spend $36.6 billion this year on dorm décor, electronics and textbooks. Henry estimates she spent close to $5,000 before moving in.

Women aren’t the only ones spending. Brent Via, a Dunglison dorm resident, already had a computer. Still, he says, “I don’t even want to know how much we spent. Maybe $900? $1,000?” Dave Gupta, Via’s suitemate, was lucky to get some hand-me-down furnishings from his older brother. His summer job allowed him to foot the bills for a new laptop, surround sound speakers and a subwoofer. While these high-tech gadgets are functional, Gupta, like other students embracing the dorm décor trend, is also trying to make his room more personal. “Music is home to me,” he says.

Henry laughs when she recalls her father’s observation that her room was better appointed than her parents’ first apartment. Most students realize how fortunate they are. “My dad said his dorm room was half the size with twice the people,” Gupta says.



A laptop has become a college staple, and the majority of students purchase one specifically for school. Like their other high-tech gadgets, a computer is often an important design element in their rooms. “I ended up going with the MacBook Pro because it was prettier,” Michelle Henry says.


“The microfridge is a must,” says Henry. Though first-years generally haven’t met their roommate before move-in day, they all coordinate who is bringing this necessity. Like college students before them, much of their diet consists of frozen dinners, Ramen noodles and cereal.


As students spend hours in their computer chairs, many are loathe to accept the standard-issue wood-backed chairs waiting in their dorm rooms when they arrive. Many students replace this institutional seating with cushier, ergonomic executive chairs.


Technology is seamlessly integrated into living spaces. Gupta says that aesthetic appeal was a big part of his decision making when he purchased his surround sound system. Instead of traditional alarm clocks, iPods docked into sleek-looking speakers sit next to many students’ beds, so they can customize their wake-up tunes.


Televisions aren’t as ubiquitous as other pieces of technology. Students estimate that about half of their peers have TVs in their rooms. Those who don’t have TVs have friends who do. These televisions are often accompanied by multiple video game systems and DVD players.


Senior-year pictures and family photos personalize many dorm rooms. But students also bring objects from home to make the transition to college a little easier. “I brought a pillow from my old bed,” says Brent Via. “It’s just what I’m used to, I guess.”

Dorm Restrictions

For the sake of fire safety, all wall hangings must use flame-retardant paper and can only cover 10 percent of the total wall and ceiling area. Students must come up with creative ways to decorate without violating dorm rules. Other restricted items include candles with wicks, extension cords and halogen lamps.

Compare modern dorms to a room of yesteryear. See Winter 2006 Retrospect.