NEW YORK (AP) — From $300 studded 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 their soaring college costs.
Some even go so far as to hire interior designers to beautify their 12-foot by 20-foot space.
Leslie Lachman, 18, furnished her dorm room with a roommate immediately after deciding to enroll at the University of Mississippi in May. The New York-based Rye searched websites like Pinterest and designed her own room—in pink, purple and green hues drawn from a mix of expensive brands like Essentials with Eden as well as less expensive items from Ikea and the Facebook Marketplace. The total cost of the design? About $3,000, covered by her parents.
“There was a lot of work that had to be done because it looked so lackluster. I didn’t feel at home,” said Lachman, who posted a before and after video of her room on TikTok.
The “before” video shows stark yellow brick walls, a mustard-coloured built-in desk, and an open closet. The “after” video shows her complete makeover, with drapery curtains to cover the closet, embroidered pillows and a soft white headboard to decorate her bed, and custom framed hearts art.
“I like the room so much,” Lachman said after the remodel. “I want to leave the door open and I want everyone to walk in 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 this summer by the National Retail Federation and market researcher. Prosperity insights and analytics. The NRF said spending on expensive items such as electronics and housing furnishings as well as necessities such as food accounted for more than half of the increase.
Meanwhile, the total cost of college — including tuition, room and board — nearly doubled between 1992 and 2022, rising from an average inflation rate of $14,441 annually to $26,903 across all types of universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Statistical branch of the Department of Education. Housing costs saw a similar rise over the same time period, rising from $3,824 to $7,097.
Sarah Hunt, 19, a NYU sophomore from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, wanted her dorm room to look cozy but had a $100 budget. That’s because she bears 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 to have what I have. But the thing is, Hunt, who worked more than 60 hours a week last school year and got a job as a pastry chef this summer to help pay for her college, said. Really stressful.”
In search of her dorm decor, Hunt searched Goodwill, Dollar Tree, TJ Maxx, and Five Below stores for deals on neon lights, wallpaper decals, and bedding. She also sifted through boxes of items returned from major discount market retailers in her hometown.
Jamal Donour, a professor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and a leading expert on educational inequality, said the large gap in college dorm furniture points to “an unspoken truth about the haves and have-nots.” He pointed out the stark differences in dorm decorating between those who have money and those who don’t can make some students wonder if they should be at their college.
“There is 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 a variety of basics including a 19-item set for $159 that includes bath towels and a comforter for those who pay more attention to price. For the big spenders, Dormify unveiled a $450 interior design service with interior designer Jen Abrams; She plans to release the show with other designers next year.
Amanda Zuckerman, co-founder and president of Dormify, noted that TikTok raised the bar for dorm furniture, creating “the potential for a TikTok to become popular or go viral because of how well you decorate your room.” It said average orders are up 15% this fall.
Dawn Thomas launched the interior design service After Five Designs in Jackson, Mississippi, 20 years ago for college students after designing the 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 apartment’s refrigerator.
But she also noticed that parents were starting to back away from some items.
“The economy has not been so great this year,” she said. “And I noticed that the sky is not the limit.”
Emma Kirk, from Grenada, Mississippi and a freshman at the University of Mississippi, tapped Thomas’s services and bought a gold-studded headboard and custom-made pillows and bedspreads, among other things. She didn’t know the total bill because her parents paid for it. But she said her parents would restrain her whenever she chose something expensive.
“(Thomas) is going to work out something where we can have something similar,” she said.
Even on a tight budget, the NYU student Hunt 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 said. “The truth is, even if I had all the money in the world, I’d probably still decorate my room the way I have now.”
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