Preparing for Freshman Year in College

A short guide on dorm life in college with North Polk alum Amy Theulen


With graduation just around the corner, many seniors will be transitioning to higher education, or moving into the workforce. For those attending college, there are many questions as to what to bring, what to expect, and how to connect with others on campus and in the dorms. 

Amy Theulen graduated from North Polk in 2019, and is currently a sophomore at the University of Northern Iowa. As a freshman in college, Theulen learned all about dorm life, and how to go about it. 

What to bring: The Essentials

When living in a dorm, very few things are provided. So, it is up to the students to bring what they need for the semester or season. Theulen came up with a list of her top five essential items that freshmen should bring. 

“The first thing you need to bring is a good quality backpack,” Theulen said. “You will be carrying it with you everywhere!”

Here’s an example of a sturdy backpack like Theulen mentions, found from a list of best college backpacks.

It is important to find a backpack that is comfortable and a decent size for carrying things like textbooks, notes of any kind, and a laptop all over campus.

“Another great thing to bring for your dorm would be some comfort items from home,” Theulen mentioned. “Pictures of friends and family, a favorite decoration, or maybe a favorite pillow can make your new room feel so much better.” 

“Having a planner is a must. You are likely going to have lots of assignments, extracurricular activities, and maybe a job to balance,” Theulen said. “I think a planner is the best way to stay organized in college!”

Planning out your day or week in a planner is a very simple and easy way to stay organized, and like Theulen said, to balance your life in college. “You will need a sturdy laundry basket or hamper. You will likely be carrying your laundry down many flights of stairs, you don’t want your clothes to be spilling out of a flimsy bag or your arms onto the floor!”

Most dorms in college do not have a laundry area within the singular units, and so students must take their laundry to the laundry room in their dorm or area. 

“The last thing I would highly recommend freshmen to bring is a laptop,” Theulen said. “Now with many classes being online, this is an essential. Even before the pandemic, many of my assignments had to be completed and submitted online. Many professors are also starting to use online textbooks.” 

Life in the dorms: Roommates

Dorm life for many incoming freshmen is a huge change in their lives, which can make it difficult when trying to understand what to expect from living in a huge building with a lot of other people. Rooming with someone you don’t know that well can also be a bit awkward or uncomfortable at first.

“You should expect to make some great friends in the dorms! The greatest friends I have made at college were right across the hall from me,” Theulen recalled. “Also, expect some issues with your roommate, they are inevitable. Open communication with your roommate is the best way to lessen them!”

Communication, like Theulen mentioned, is incredibly important when it comes to having a good relationship with your roommate. It also is important when bringing appliances that the two of you may share. “ It is extremely important for you and your roommate to [communicate before moving in]. You do not want to end up with two refrigerators for one room!”

After becoming a sophomore, Theulen moved from her dorm to an apartment, along with her roommate and two of their friends. 

“[Dorm life] is completely different from living in an apartment,” Theulen said. “At UNI, I share an apartment with three other girls. I have my own bedroom, share a bathroom with one of my roommates, and the four of us share a kitchen and living room. Apartment life is much quieter and more private than dorm life.”

Life in the dorms: Things to bring

Theulen had two very interesting items that she used when living in a dorm that helped her store her belongings more efficiently. Dorms aren’t super big, and so storage is necessary in order to have some space, as well as overall practicality. “A bed shelf was one of the best things I brought. Since your bed will likely be lofted, you won’t have to get out of bed every time you may need a drink of water or a pencil! I also clipped a small fan onto my shelf since there isn’t air conditioning in the dorms at UNI. This was an absolute necessity in August and September!”

Here’s Theulen’s bed shelf; she has a fan and some other things on it to keep close to her bed.

Along with the bed shelf, Theulen brought a useful hanging organizer that she hung in her closet, as well as a small storage cart. “I bought a hanging organizer for my closet which I was able to store both shoes and clothes in. I also suggest getting a small cart for your room. My roommate and I used this to store our Keurig, dishes, and some cleaning supplies.”

Here’s an example of what a smaller storage cart looks like. Theulen used hers to store her Keurig.
This is an example of what a large hanging organizer might look like.

Advice for freshmen:

Theulen, having been in the place of many college freshmen, gave some words of advice for those who are uncertain or don’t know what to expect from dorm life in college.

“Don’t be afraid to change your major and minor!” Theulen said. “I have changed my major once and my minor three different times; and I am still on track to graduate on time. Your advisors will help you figure out how a new major or minor will impact your schedule.”

Thuelen’s last word of advice: “Getting involved in college is a must! The best way to do this is to join student organizations. Look on your school’s website for some student organizations you may be interested in before arriving in the fall. Along with this, talking to current students is a great way to find out about fun organizations on campus! An on-campus job can also help you get more involved with your school.”