July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Cover Story

Not your parent's dorm - learn what you'll need (and want) on campus

Take note, incoming college freshmen. Your homework starts now.

Yes, classes don’t officially begin until late August or early September at most Michigan universities. But as back-to-school sales ramp up and you prepare to head to your local Bed Bath & Beyond or Target, dorm shopping list in hand, it’s important to do your research first.

Why? Because the reality is you don’t need it all. Enticing back-to-school ads — back-to-school sales revenue is second to holiday shopping — will make you feel like you’re going to be totally unprepared for school unless you have that super handy door shoe-rack or toaster oven.

The reality is universities don’t even allow certain appliances or devices. Wireless routers, for example, are a no-no in most residence halls that are already wired because they can cause difficulties in accessing the network.

And computer printers and vacuums also aren’t a must for dorm rooms anymore either. Michigan State University has computer labs across campus where you can print up papers. The University of Michigan doesn’t recommend them because each student gets a printing allowance, and “printers just take up space in your room,” the university says on its housing website.

So we’ve boiled down your “must” list for you. Call it the “Dorm Dozen” — 12 items you really must have for your dorm room. On it, you’ll find the obvious — bedding (remember to get extra-long sheets), a TV, towels and a desk lamp. You’ll also find the not-so obvious: co-axial cable (to hook up cable TV) and a power strip.

Of course, there are extras to make your dorm room even more comfy: throw pillows, a microwave (less than 800 watts), a mattress pad and a mini refrigerator.

Jeanine Bessette, director of housing and residential life at Wayne State University, says unless an item is on Wayne’s prohibited list, “I really believe that students need to bring things that make them comfortable.”

Still, you don’t have to buy everything. Bedloft.com is a website that actually rents small appliances to students at Michigan State, University of Michigan, Central Michigan University and Ferris State University, including the the MicroFridge, a combination refrigerator, freezer and microwave. It also sells loft TV hangers, futons and safes.

Ray Gasser, senior associate director for residence education and housing services at MSU, says one of the first things an incoming freshman should do first is talk to his or her roommate. Roughly 15,000 students live on MSU’s campus.

If you don’t, “you both show up with a microwave and you don’t need a microwave,” says Gasser. By talking first and divvying up who will bring what, “you’ll save some money overall and get those essentials into the room.”

Gasser considers three items a “must” for every incoming student living on campus: a laundry bag or basket; a solid U-lock for your bike; and a shower tote or caddy. At the University of Michigan and in MSU’s Brody complex where many first-year students live, most residence halls have community bathrooms. Wayne State has private bathrooms, so Bessette says a shower curtain also is a must.

Another good tip: Don’t overpack, advises Gasser. “If they live within the state, it’s pretty easy to bring more stuff later.”

One example is winter clothes, Gasser says. “Save bringing your winter clothes until later in the semester when you start to need them,” he says.

And consider buying multifunctional items. Bed Bath & Beyond now has products that wirelessly sync up to student’s smartphones and tablets or have a built-in USB ports, says spokeswoman Leah Drill.

“We have great bed risers, lighting and surge protectors that have both outlets and USB ports,” says Drill.

So before you start shopping, do your research — most universities have detailed housing websites that will answer nearly every question you have, including rooms dimensions. Your pocketbook — and your parents — will thank you for it.

The Dorm Dozen

1. Bedding (with extra long twin sheets)

2. Bike lock

3. Cleaning products

4. Desk lamp

5. Hangers

6. Headphones/ear buds

7. Laundry bag

8. Power strip

9. Rug

10. Shower caddy or tote

11. Towels

12. TV/co-axial cable

Dorm Dozen, Plus

These items aren’t musts, but they will make your room feel more like home.

1. Batteries

2. Bluetooth speakers

3. Closet organizer or storage cubes

4. Dry erase board

5. Fan

6. Futon and futon cover

7. Hooks

8. Mattress pad

9. Microwave

10. Mini refrigerator

11. Throw pillows

12. Waste basket

Dorm optionals

These items aren’t musts anymore.

1. Printer

2. Alarm clock

3. Vacuum

4. Wireless router*

* If a dorm doesn’t have wireless Internet access, a router may be necessary. Check with your residence hall.

Drab to fab dorm rooms

It’s an annual quandary for any design-loving dorm dweller: personalizing your space without doing anything permanent. Jane Spencer of Jane Spencer Designs in Bloomfield Township says there are several ways to jazz up a dorm and make it feel like home. Blogger Leeyen Rogers of srtrends.com — which provides deals and discounts to college students — also has some guidance.

■Monogram your bedding: “Adding your initials to some shams plus a fun fur or patterned pillow will really spruce up the bed and make it ‘yours,’ ” Spencer says.

■Contact paper: It’s been around forever, but it’s a great way to jazz up a desktop or shelves, Spencer says. “It’s an easy way to add pattern that’s totally removable. Grab a cute lamp and desk chair and you’re good to go,” she says.

■Add some storage: Storage cube ottomans look nice and are wonderful for small spaces, Spencer says: “They can house anything from blankets to seasonal clothes, plus they provide extra seating.”

■ Don’t forget the rug: “Adding a rug to your dorm room cannot only personalize and brighten the space, but will warm up the room visually and physically,” Spencer says.

■DIY projects: Ideas abound, from hanging up photos on a clothesline to creating art on canvas, Rogers says.

■Choose a great comforter: Since the surface area of your bed compared to your room will make it the automatic centerpiece, Rogers says, make it really stand out. Shop for brights, fun prints, or whatever appeals to you.

(313) 223-4686

Before you start your back-to-school dorm shopping, do your homework about what's really needed and talk to your roommate. / Bed Bath & Beyond