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You'll never, ever need pesky twin XL sheets after this year, so embrace personality bedding with reckless abandon.
Sheets and comforters
Urban Outfitters nails the bohemian vibe (including some above-average bed-in-a-bag options); West Elm tops the heap for sophisticated-but-not-stuffy, while Crane & Canopy does subtle prep with panache, and no mom can argue with L.L.Bean's classic options.
Pillows, mattress pads, and other comfy things
Dorm beds aren't known for being plush—be sure to BYO comfort-enhancers. Bed Bath & Beyond (or any of the other megastores) should have your needs covered.
Give that standard-issue study station the best year of its life. And pro tip: There's no "right way" to get your desk in order. Just do what makes sense for your unique brain.
Muji has inexpensive, streamlined desktop organizers that perfectly reflect its Japanese roots (check out the stationery while you're at it); Ikea's Kvissle series is cheap Swedish design ingenuity at its best (this cable management box is genius—The Container Store has a whole cord control section, meanwhile); look no further than Poppin to fill your color needs.
Ikea has the work lamp down, and they start at just nine bucks.
Dry erase and bulletin boards
PB Teen has an assortment of dry erase calendars, wall-mounted to-do lists, and no-nails-needed bulletin boards sure to make any overachiever's heart sing.
Cram it in.
These aren't the most attractive, but super-slim, flocked hangers are the answer to cramming all your clothes when you're faced with a teeny-tiny closet.
Again, not great-looking, but an over-the-door organizer is really your best bet in small spaces.
These are really more of a "Is this stained?" checkpoint than something to judge your appearance by. You can find 'em in the $10 to $20 range at any big box store, but for a significant upgrade try this one from PB Teen (it's sturdy and has hooks for accessories).
There's no magic chute.
Hamper or bag
The crucial point here is finding something you can carry down to the laundry room with you. A pop-up hamper is a classic (this camo style from Wayfair is neat); Urban Outfitters has a good selection of cool-looking, backpack-style laundry bags like this ombre one; Crate & Barrel's Clean Slate has a ton of pretty hampers with removable liners and canvas bins on wheels if you want to get serious about the matter.
So much easier than an iron and ironing board. This compact Steamfast model is inexpensive, heats up quickly, and is powerful for its size.
Welcome to the world of roommates, where the passive-aggressive battle over whose stuff is (and isn't) where never ends.
Drawer and bin systems
The Container Store is all over this (its modular Like-it series is especially compelling); Bed Bath & Beyond is another no-brainer for modular storage (these cubes are perfectly sized for these fabric bins); PB Teen is a prepster's dream, classy storage cart included.
Baskets and boxes
Ikea hits the mark for form and function with stacking boxes, textural baskets, and bins that perfectly fit its bookcases.
Everything from bed risers to garment and shoe storage boxes can be found at The Container Store.
How to survive a shared shower.
Any big home or department store will have a cheap towel set that'll get you through the year. For something a little more exciting (but not too precious), try Nate Berkus at Target for solids in grownup hues and subtle prints or Trina Turk for full-on Palm Springs brightness. Check out Snowe for well-made, not-crazy-expensive basics that'll last you way past freshman year.
This canvas and mesh caddy slings over the shoulder and has ample pockets for the necessities, plus you can get it monogrammed so no one mistakenly waltzes off with your favorite products.
Make running to and from the shower as easy as possible by picking up a robe before you ship out. A waffled style is lightweight enough for the non-winter months while being more absorbant (and less clingy) than jersey. Plus you'll feel like you're at the (world's worst) spa.
Eventually, the dining hall/Chipotle will lose its luster. Be prepared with the basics: Stuff to cook with and things to eat off of. All of the mega-retailers—Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ikea, etc.—offer packaged sets for dining and cooking, but here are some even cooler ideas.
Plates and bowls
Unbreakable materials like melamine are king here. Target can be trusted for a huge variety of individual pieces and sets in a wide array of colors and prints, while Crate and Barrel has a substantial selection of solids you might actually want to take to your first apartment. It's also worth checking out the outdoor entertaining section at any home store, since they use the same durable materials and are typically on super-sale this late into the summer.
Tough acrylic doesn't have to be totally ugly. CB2 does awesome non-glass drinkware (check out this eight piece set from Amazon as well); World Market has some fun takes like these cheeky ribbed tumblers (not unlike the Solo cups you'll come to know and love/hate). For a splurge, check out Jung Lee's selection of gorgeous, unbreakable goblets and tumblers.
Embrace the shared kitchen and throw matching to the wind with this set of mix-and-match cutlery from Urban Outfitters.
Joseph Joseph, Core Bamboo, and OXO all make attractive, functional kitchen necessities. Case in point: This collapsable steamer basket, which folds into itself, taking up minimal room, and expanding for all of your berry rinsing/pasta straining/veggie steaming needs.
Especially useful if your dorm doesn't have a sink. You can always go classic Brita (available at any of the big box stores), or try the lovely-looking Soma pitcher, which is made of shatter-resistant glass.
Pick up a Nutribullet for easy smoothie making without all of the countertop real estate a blender requires and make sure you have a coffee maker. A pour over or French press is great for smaller servings, and you're instantly the sophisticated suite mate (an electric kettle makes either process extra easy).
Be sure to buy a set of food storage containers with a few different sizes (and understand that you'll lose 30% of the lids); try bento lunch boxes for transporting food with more than one component. Zojirushi stacks jars vertically, while Mon Bento more closely resembles the divided boxes you know from Japanese restaurants.