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Ask A Sacramento Expert: Essentials When Dorm Shopping

Incoming college freshman have to make a lot of decisions, not the least of which involve where and how they are going to live. Dorms, now known as residence halls, are a good housing option for many, but knowing what needs to be brought or purchased can be challenging.

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Jane L. Heaton
California State University, Sacramento
Housing & Residential Life
6000 J St., Sierra Hall
Sacramento, CA 95819
(916) 278-6655

As Associate Director of Housing & Residential Life at California State University, Sacramento, Jane Heaton knows plenty about the changes incoming college students face. Her job, and that of others in her department, is to help make the transition from living at home to living on campus as easy and stress-free as possible. Since outfitting a residence hall room can be confusing and expensive, Heaton shares a few tips for students and parents.

Don't Bring So Much Stuff

"The problem is that they bring too much," says Heaton, noting that many new students "try to bring everything under the sun with them in August." Only take clothes suitable for hot weather, not every sweater, heavy coat and pair of boots you have at home. Most students make a trip home for holiday visits or other occasions later in the year and they can trade some of their shorts and tank tops for colder-weather gear when they do.

Think About Security

New students often view campuses as safe, friendly enclaves, and forget to keep their belongings as secure as they should. "Your residence hall room is equivalent to your front door at home; the people outside that door are unknown," Heaton counsels students. If a bicycle is brought on campus, make sure it has a sturdy lock. Personal electronics, particularly small, portable pieces like phones, tablets and laptops, should be engraved with the student's name and contact info. Replacing them is costly and it is all too simple for small electronics to "walk away" with someone else.

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Visit First

While virtual tours are available online, Heaton strongly urges students to come on campus for an orientation and tour. Sac State has a sample room in the residence hall that students can visit when touring. Seeing it firsthand can help them be realistic as they plan and shop, whether they are looking for under-bed storage containers or comfortable shoes for walking around campus. They can also learn about local resources for things like dorm-sized refrigerators, which can be rented rather than purchased outright.

Communicate With Your Roommate

Colleges like Sac State allow students to pick their roommate, based on mutual interests and lifestyle. Heaton suggests that roommates talk or email in advance; if one can bring a microwave or iron, for example, then the other does not have to. Heaton also urges students to be careful and honest when searching for a roommate to avoid potential conflicts. A person that needs plenty of quiet in which to study, for example, might want to avoid a roommate who needs to hear loud heavy-metal music in order to concentrate.

Read Up And Shop Smart

Most school's websites (including Sac State) provide a list of items students can bring, as well as those they are not allowed to bring. Read it carefully for details such as the size of bed linens needed, what can be used to hang items on walls and how best to utilize the small space of a residence hall room. At Sac State, students need to know they cannot bring things like outlet adapters, hot plates, electric blankets or alcohol.

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Valerie Heimerich is a freelance writer out of Sacramento. She typically covers animals and community issues. She has volunteered and worked for many organizations helping animals and people.
Her work can be found at

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