NEW YORK (AP) — From $300 inlaid headboards and $100 coffee table books to custom-made cabinets to hide your mini-fridge, students are spending big to decorate their dorm rooms, adding another layer to soaring college costs.
Some even go so far as to hire interior designers to spruce up their 12-foot by 20-foot space.
Leslie Lachman, 18, planned her dorm room furniture with her roommate immediately after she decided to attend the University of Mississippi in May. The Rye, who is based in New York, scoured websites like Pinterest and designed her room herself — with pink, purple and green tones drawn from a mix of expensive brands like Essentials with Eden as well as less expensive items from Ikea and Facebook Marketplace. Total cost of design? About $3,000, covered by her parents.
“There was a lot of work that had to be done because it looked faded. It didn’t feel like home,” said Lachman, who posted a “before” and “after” video of her room on TikTok.
The “before” video shows bright yellow brick walls, a mustard-colored built-in desk, and an open closet. The “Aftermath” video shows a complete makeover, with lacy curtains to cover the closet, embroidered pillows and a soft white headboard to adorn her bed, and custom framed hearts art.
“I love the room so much,” Lachman said after her redesign. “I want to leave the door open and I want everyone to walk through and admire it.”
Overall, back-to-college season is big business, with families expected to spend an average of about $1,367 per person, up 14% from last year, according to an annual survey conducted this summer by the National Retail Federation and market researcher. Prosper insights and analysis. Spending on big-ticket goods such as electronics and residential furniture as well as necessities such as food accounted for more than half of the increase, the NRF said.
Meanwhile, the total cost of college — including tuition, fees, room and board — has nearly doubled between 1992 and 2022, rising from an inflation-adjusted average of $14,441 per year to $26,903 across all types of colleges, according to the National Center on Education. Statistics, Statistical Branch, Department of Education. Housing costs saw a similar rise over the same time period, rising from $3,824 to $7,097.
Sarah Hunt, 19, an NYU sophomore from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, wanted her dorm room to look comfortable but her budget was $100. That’s because she picks up 30% — or roughly $30,000 a year — of NYU’s annual college bill. Financial aid picks up the rest.
“I definitely try to work on being positive and not comparing myself to other people because I’m so lucky with what I have,” said Hunt, who worked more than 60 hours a week last school year and took a job as a pastry chef this summer to help pay for her college expenses. “Really exhausting.”
In search of decor for her dorm, Hunt searched Goodwill, Dollar Tree, TJ Maxx and Five Below stores for deals on neon lights, wallpaper stickers and bedding. She also rummaged through boxes of returned items from major retailers in her hometown’s discount market.
The large gap in college dorm furniture points to “an unspoken truth between the haves and the have-nots,” said Jamal Donor, a professor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and a leading expert on educational inequality. Dorm decorating between those who have money and those who don’t can make some students wonder if they should be in their college.
“There’s this imposter syndrome,” he said.
Dormify supplies Dormify electronic products to both ends of the budget. For the first time this fall, it’s offering various collections of basics including a 19-item set for $159 that includes bath towels and a comforter for those who are more price conscious. For the big spenders, Dormify has unveiled a $450 interior design service with interior designer Jen Abrams; She plans to launch the show with other designers next year.
TikTok has raised the bar for college dorm furniture, creating “the ability for TikTok to become famous or go viral because of how well your room is decorated,” noted Amanda Zuckerman, co-founder and president of Dormify. Average orders are up 15% this fall, she said.
Dawn Thomas launched her interior design service — After Five Designs — in Jackson, Mississippi, 20 years ago for college students after designing bedrooms for her children who were away to school. In the past few years, she said she has seen a lot of other designers now working with students.
Thomas noted that parents spend up to $10,000. One of the most popular items is a $1,900 custom cabinet that covers the refrigerator in the apartment building.
But she also noticed that parents were starting to back away from some items.
“The economy hasn’t been that great this year,” she said. “And I’ve noticed that the sky’s not the limit.”
Emma Kirk, a native of Grenada, Mississippi and a freshman at the University of Mississippi, used Thomas’ services and purchased a gold-encrusted headboard, custom-made pillows and bedding, among other items. She didn’t know the total bill because her parents paid for it. But she said that her parents used to restrain her whenever she chose something expensive.
“(Thomas) is going to work on finding something where we can get something similar,” she said.
Even on her limited budget, Hunt, an NYU student, says she’s happy with the decor of her dorm room.
“At NYU, a lot of parents pay for everything. But I’m not here to judge,” she added. “The truth is, even if I had all the money in the world, I would probably still decorate my room the way I have it now.”
Follow Anne D’Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio
“Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff.”