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For many college and university students (and their parents), back to school means a big step: leaving the family home. Whether they choose to move into a dorm or to off-campus housing, it’s a new experience. A lot of what they’ve taken for granted growing up won’t be there unless they bring it with them. Compact design will also be at a premium. Dorm rooms average under 250 square feet (76 square meters) in size, and in a shared apartment with roommates, a bedroom is likely going to be even smaller.

Here are some key things that students and parents need to think about to make the new living arrangements—and the new school year—as successful as possible.

Dorm Furniture

Some dorms come furnished or partially furnished, and some are a blank slate. Off campus housing is almost always an empty room. Either way, students can benefit from new furniture that maximizes the available space, making them more comfortable and more productive. 

Desks

The desk is a cornerstone of the student experience. A proper desk has the space to work on assignments, with room for a computer and other gear. Storage options like integrated drawers help to keep supplies organized and keep the clutter down.

back to school essentialsChairs 

Don’t fall for the trap of grabbing just any old chair and tossing it in the minivan; the extra dining room chair in the garage is not a good choice. A student will be spending hours at a time in a chair in front of their desk, so it needs to be comfortable, adjustable and ergonomic. 

Mattress

Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to success at school, so a good mattress is important for any student. Even in a dorm where the bed and mattress is supplied, consider a mattress topper to ensure a customized sleeping experience.

Desk Lamp

Poor lighting is bad for eyes, especially when trying to read. And believe it or not, the light from a computer screen isn’t good enough. A desk lamp can make a world of difference, helping to reduce eye fatigue and adding much needed ambient light to accommodations that can be low on natural light. Some LED desk lamps even include built in USB charge ports, so they can do double duty keeping smartphone and tablet batteries topped up. 

Dorm Appliances

Students benefit from having their own appliances so they have quick access to things like hot food and drinks without having to go searching. But in a dorm or shared living situation, compact is key: that beer fridge in the basement is not going to fit in a dorm room … 

back to school essentialsKettle or Coffee Maker

Who doesn’t like to start their day with a hot, fresh-brewed coffee? With their own coffee maker, students can have a fresh cup ready in time for their first class, and coffee on demand for those late night study sessions. If coffee isn’t their thing, a kettle lets them brew tea, or make a cup of hot chocolate instead. It’s also great for that student staple: instant noodles.

back to school essentialsBar/Mini Fridge

A bar fridge or mini fridge is one of the most popular student appliances. These are small enough that they can be tucked away under a table, or in a closet (with an extension cord). Put a cloth over one, add a lamp and you have an end table. With a mini fridge, cold beverages are always available, and they can safely stash snacks like leftover pizza. You can even find models that will accommodate a keg! And with a fridge in their own room, there’s no fighting over the food and drinks in a shared kitchen refrigerator.

Toaster Oven or Microwave

Add a toaster oven or microwave to the mini fridge in a dorm room, and students have a miniature kitchen at their disposal. They are no longer reliant on fast food or meal plans for a quick, hot meal.

Instant Pot/Multi-Cookers

Instant pots and multi-cookers give students flexible and easy to use methods for cooking a huge range of meals, while taking up minimal space. With these self-contained cookers, they can prep food, set the timer, throw the ingredients in and have dinner ready and waiting when they get back from class. 

back to school essentialsHandheld/Stick Vacuums

Handheld and stick vacuum cleaners are one of the best tech developments for students since the laptop. The latest generation of these battery-powered vacuums can compete with a regular, plug-in vacuum for suction power, but they are small enough to easily manoeuvre around tight spaces. No cables, no huge dust bags to replace and no big production to clean the floor—just pick up the hand held vacuum, run over to where it’s needed, then stash it back in a closet, or wherever is convenient.

Dorm Tech

Of course I’m going to talk about technology! High tech gear is a must-have for students, but it’s not just the obvious stuff like a laptop or smartphone.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

 

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Whether living in a dorm or off campus with roommates, one of the biggest challenges any student faces is noise. With other people doing their own thing in the background, noise is constant, and it’s a big distraction. Noise cancelling headphones are the perfect solution. They let students enjoy their favourite music or podcast, but are designed to actively block background noise. This makes it easier to focus when studying. It’s also a handy feature to help relax if they take the bus to classes.

Bluetooth Speaker

A Bluetooth speaker is another must-have. Most of these are portable, battery powered and the perfect size for a dorm room or apartment. Stream music wirelessly from a smartphone to a Bluetooth speaker for all those infamous college parties—indoors or outdoors. A Bluetooth speaker also significantly boosts the audio from a computer or TV for PC gaming, or watching video. Maybe not as good as the 7-channel surround home theatre system back home, but pretty good for a student setup.

back to school essentialsPower Bars/Surge Protectors

Power bars and surge protectors are the unsung heroes of student life. Look at the average apartment or dorm bedroom and you will probably spot two, maybe three electrical outlets. Now think of how much powered gear the average student will arrive with. And some of those devices are going to use power adapters that end up blocking half the outlet! Chances are, there are nowhere near enough electrical outlets. Enter the power bar, magically turning one electrical outlet into four, six, or more. If you’re going to add a power bar, it makes sense to choose a model with surge protection. High turnover student rental units may not have the world’s best wiring, and surge protection will help to protect expensive electronics.

This list may sound like a lot to think about, but the cool thing is many of these items are an investment. When a student moves out of the dorm or into their own apartment, products like a vacuum cleaner or coffee maker will come in handy. Owning one already means one less thing to buy when starting out.

Of course back-to-school means a lot more than equipping a dorm room. College, university, high school or primary students? Best Buy has all your back-to-school needs covered from computers to backpacks. Make sure to check out all this year’s handy articles, how-to posts, buying guides and easy-to-shop product categories for students and parents.

 

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Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.

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