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5 Steps to a Better Dorm Room for College Freshmen

Brian O'Connell

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Getting ready for a first year in college goes way beyond choosing a major and selecting the right class load. First-year students have to prepare for dorm living, too, and that isn't easy -- especially when it comes to a college budget.

According to a UCLA study, the U.S. had 1.5 million first-time, full-time undergraduate students beginning college at 1,583 four-year institutions nationwide in the fall of 2013.

"In past years, students used to live on ramen noodles and dorm rooms were sparse at best, but that's no longer the case," says Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a Phoenix, Ariz., national nonprofit credit and student loan counseling agency. "Today, retailers aggressively target freshmen to advertise dorm-room 'necessities,' but students are wise to minimize spending, especially if they're borrowing money for college."

Sullivan recommends incoming freshmen and their parents follow these tips, especially concerning what to bring to college and what not to bring:

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Know what your college is offering in a dorm room. Families often don't ask college housing offices what is included in dormitory space and what colleges don't allow. "Before buying a new toaster or candles, students should contact their housing office to fully understand rules and regulations," he says. "Many residence halls don't allow toasters, hotplates, halogen bulbs, air conditioners, candles, waterbeds and extension cords."

Bring the basics. Most dorm rooms obviously do provide a bed, desk, mirror and trash can, but it's up to students to bring "must haves" such as linens, toiletries, pantry basics, cleaning supplies and a first-aid kit. "If an item isn't used on a daily or weekly basis, consider leaving it back home," Sullivan says.

Be creative, but to a point. You don't have to spend big wads of cash on dorm room decorating. "Framed photos, posters and a houseplant add a homey touch to any space, but it's wise to skip the fancier furnishings and redirect funds toward tuition and books," Sullivan says.

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Go the discount route. Dollars stores, Wal-Mart, and even flea markets and yard sales are all "good hits" for reasonably priced dorm goods. "Students can find low prices on linens and dishes at discount stores and yard sales," he says. "They can also reap savings with price-comparison apps or online auctions."

Bring a small fridge. You won't find too many luxury amenities in the average college dorm, but having a small space reserved for a refrigerator can make a big lifestyle difference.

Outside your dorm room, Sullivan advises checking out other mood-lifters such as campus fitness centers and intramural sports and activities. "That will also save you money while enriching your college experience," he advises.

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