Amid the escalating costs of tertiary education, students are significantly increasing their expenditures to adorn their dorm rooms. From $300 studded headboards and $100 coffee table books to bespoke cabinets for concealing mini fridges, overhauling personal living spaces is no small feat. Some students are pushing the envelope by employing professional interior designers to revamp their compact 12 by 20-foot spaces.
Eighteen-year-old Lesley Lachman, a native of Rye, New York planning to attend the University of Mississippi, meticulously planned her dorm room arrangement together with her roommate. Lachman drew inspiration from websites like Pinterest and embarked on her dorm room design with a dynamic spectrum of pink, purple, and green. She sourced items from high-end brands like Essentials with Eden and budget-friendly alternatives from Ikea and Facebook Marketplace. Her parents shouldered the hefty $3,000 bill.
Lachman was prompted to revamp her room because it lacked a sense of homeliness. To emphasize her room’s transformation, she shared before and after videos on TikTok. Her dorm room’s transformation was evident. From austere yellow cinderblock walls and a bleak mustard-tone desk, she introduced lacey closet curtains, embroidered pillows, a plush white headboard, and customized wall art depicting hearts. Lachman expressed her deep fondness for her redesigned room, aspiring to share its beauty with everyone.
The back-to-school season is a massive commercial opportunity. According to the National Retail Federation and market researcher Prosper Insights & Analytics, families are projected to spend an average of roughly $1,367 per person, a 14% increase from the previous year.
The overall cost of college—encompassing tuition, fees, room, and board—almost doubled between 1992 and 2022, escalating from an average of $14,441 per year to $26,903. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that dorm costs have followed suit, rising from $3,824 to $7,097 over those three decades.
Sara Hunt, a 19-year-old sophomore at New York University from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, sought a cozy aesthetic for her dorm room. Hunt, who covers approximately $30,000 or 30% of her NYU college bill annually, had a budget of just $100. She managed to find inexpensive decor and essentials by combing through items in Goodwill stores, Dollar Tree, T.J. Maxx, and Five Below, as well as discarded goods from major retailers in her hometown’s discount bazaar.
The surmounting divide in dorm furnishings underscores the unspoken reality of financial disparity among students. The discrepancies in dorm decor expenditures could instigate feelings of inadequacy and impostor syndrome among less privileged students., warns Jamel Donnor, a professor at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Dorm supply retailer Dormify is taking a broad strategy, catering to both budget-conscious and lavish spenders. For those on a budget, they’re offering essential bundles, like a 19-item pack for $159, including bath towels and a comforter. For high spenders, they have introduced an interior design service featuring decorator Jen Abrams, priced at $450.
Amanda Zuckerman, co-founder and president of Dormify, credits TikTok with setting high aesthetic standards for dorm rooms, which has led to an increase of 15% in order size this fall.
Dawn Thomas, the founder of After Five Designs in Jackson, Mississippi, has noticed a growing trend of decor-related budgeting among parents who are feeling the pinch of a faltering economy. One of her creations, a $1,900 bespoke refrigerator cover, is among the popular items parents choose to splurge on for their children’s rooms. But they are still becoming conscious of their expenditure and reining it in when required.
Despite her tight budget, NYU student Sara Hunt feels content with her dorm room decor. Regardless of others’ lavish spends, she asserts that even with unlimited finances, she would likely stick to her original design choice.