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Dorm room must-haves

From swing-arm hangers to sarongs. By Teri Goldberg

Every year, cyber retailers load up their Web sites with more back-to-school content, especially for the collegiate crowd. This year, even posted financial tips from MasterCard and expert guides on almost everything and anything that might be relevant to the college experience — from relationships to roommates — courtesy of Kaplan, best known for its test preparations classes. And of course, the dorm room must-have lists get longer.

Part of the reason retailers devote so much space to college-bound students is they account for the largest share of back-to-school spending, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch for National Retail Federation last August. The survey also found college students would generate $25.7 billion in sales, almost double the $14.8 billion projected for the dollars spent for elementary through high school students.

"By recognizing a historically neglected market, retailers have found themselves in the middle of a gold mine," says Tracy Mullin, NRF president and chief executive officer, as quoted in the NRF press release.

Sex, drugs and …The trick is to make sure the gold mine doesn’t burn a hole in your wallet or retirement fund. With that in mind, I asked a few college students and recent graduates what they consider dorm life must-haves. Surprisingly, sex- or drug-related paraphernalia didn’t show up on anyone’s list. But music, movies and poetry scored high.

"Music is obviously important," says University of Montana recent graduate Colin Lazarro-Smith. "It's also nice to be able to watch movies, so a television or computer is needed," adds Lazarro-Smith, a literature major in the English department.

Bed, Bath And Beyond

Lazarro-Smith also recommends a sturdy mattress pad. "Dorm beds are awful," he says. "Some kind of pad is a must — the thicker, the better," he adds.

Just remember to buy extra-long twin, the size of most dorm beds. Bed Bath and Beyond stocks a hefty selection of mattress pads, ranging in price from $19.99 for a 100-percent, polyurethane-foam topper to $179.99 for an Isotonic pad. Linens ’n Things  and The Company Store also have a good selection of mattress pads in different price ranges.

Magnetic Poetry is a priority for Stefanie Simons, a Latin American studies and literary arts major at Brown University. The original Magnetic Poetry kit costs $19.95 and contains 440 refrigerator magnets that feature a word or expression. The kits are sold at specialty stores nationwide and at the .

These days, kits are as diverse as college majors. Language kits come in French, Spanish, Italian, German and even sign language. There’s also a Shakespeare kit as well as other “mini-kits,” priced at $9.95, designed for specific interests, such as book lovers and party animals.

Creativity is key when it comes to Magnetic Poetry, says Simons, who mix and matches the kits for diversity. She and her hall-mates also put the magnets in the bathroom stalls. “It's a silly distraction but always a good surprise when you sit down,” she says.

BYO lamp
Some must-haves actually have something to do with studying. In that vein, Simons strongly suggests students should bring their own lamp. “They always have crappy fluorescent lighting in dorms, it breeds unhappiness and squinty-eye-ness,” she says. “Get your own fun, bright floor or desk lamp so that you never have to turn on that depressing and loud-buzzing overhead,” adds Simons.

Bed, Bath And Beyond

Desks or standing lamps abound online, from a brushed-steel desk lamp in the Martha Stewart Everyday collection at Kmart for $19.99 to a Tolomeo desk lamp a la designers Giancarlo Fassina and Michele De Lucchi at high-end shop Design Within Reach.

Bed Bath and Beyond also has a good stash of cool, inexpensive lamps. This year’s crop includes a “Prismatic Uplight” desk lamp for $9.99 — available in indigo, orange crunch, purple haze and Kermit — and a flashy, five-light floor lamp for $19.99.

Space saversSpace or lack of space is also an issue for most dorm dwellers. Dorm rooms are notoriously small while college students tend to bring more and more stuff with them. Remember when a lava lamp and a toaster for pop tarts was more than enough to get by?

Now, there are swing-arm hangers. Each hanger holds up to four or five items per hanger. But Simons says, "You can put up to 10 items per hanger if you double up on each arm!"

Stacks And Stacks

A five-tier slack hanger at The Container Store costs $5.99. A set of two hangers with non-slip covers sells for $14.99 at Stacks and Stacks. And has four-tier skirt or five-tier pant hangers for $6.99, non-slip varieties for $8.99 and non-slip padded hangers for $9.99.

As for dorm-decorating ideas, Simons suggests bring "anything that you can use in multiple ways like a sarongs. They can be worn as skirts, scarves, hung on the wall as tapestries, or draped over desks and chairs for added décor." Sarongs are sold many places on the Web, from one-stop sarong shop to discount designer outlet

Other items on Simons’ list include:

Container Store

Sunisa Nardone, an English major at Brown University, would add to Simons’ list an often neglected but much needed item — quarters for the laundry. Not surprisingly, the Container Store sells a handy plastic device that holds up to 30 quarters for only $2.49.