They've left behind the comforts and familiarity of their own beds and mom's cooking. So when students embark on new lives at college, they want a residence-hall room where they can feel, just a little bit, as if they are at home and not one of hundreds of anonymous tenants in a drab institution.
Colleges and universities are taking those student attitudes into account when they decide how to furnish student rooms and other areas of residence halls. Many schools are striving to outfit rooms with furniture that gives students the flexibility to create their own homes away from home.
"Students are going to spend a lot of time in their rooms, so they really want a place that feels kind of homey and comfortable," says Jim Malzewski, director of housing and residence life at Gonzaga University, Seattle. "They don't want furniture that looks too 'dorm-like.'"
Defining that concept isn't easy, but for many, "dorm-like" conjures up images of furniture that is institutional, uncomfortable, heavy, space-hogging, ugly.
"We've tried furniture that is very durable," says Tim Gennett, director of facilities, housing and food services at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. "It weighs a lot and is immobile and virtually indestructible, not comfortable or flexible. That model has not worked out well."
Colleges say they seek out furniture that is flexible. Students are assigned to rooms with limited space and, probably for the first time, have to share their living quarters with a roommate. In such a circumstance, students put a premium on flexibility.
Having residence-hall rooms that students actively like rather than merely tolerate can enhance the marketability of a college, says Purdue's Gennett.
In general, the goal for most colleges and universities is to let students fit the most amount of stuff in the least amount of space.
"They want maximum storage space with a minimum footprint," says Gennett. "They want something that looks nice and is in reasonably good condition.
"Our preference is to look at furniture that is flexible and can be rearranged."
Lofts have long been a popular way for students to increase living space and create a unique look in cramped residence-hall rooms. Some schools do not allow them, but at Gonzaga, Malzewski tries to maximize a room's size by looking for furniture that is "loftable."
"You want to be able to tuck away and hide certain things," says Malzewski. Baylor University in Waco, Texas, which is redoing some of its residence-hall rooms for the first time in 30 years, is making its furnishings more flexible for students.
"We're not going to have built-in beds and bookcases," says Larie McCluskey, interior designer at Baylor. "Students will be able to move them [beds and bookcases] around and set up the room as they like."
The desire for flexibility and comfort goes beyond the residence-hall room. In its cafeterias, Baylor chooses stackable chairs because they allow more flexibility.
The university also has added more large tables in its library to accommodate students who want to study in groups. And it has rid the library of many sofas and other lounge furniture, where students often slept, and replaced them with individual chairs where students can study in comfort.
Beyond making their students happy, colleges and universities have logistical reasons for choosing the right furniture for students.
"If the students don't like the furniture, they often end up putting stuff in storage rather than keeping it in their rooms," says Malzewski. "They bring their own stuff in, and we have to find storage space for what they don't use."