Your incoming freshmen might be dreaming of living in luxury. But unless you have a bottomless pocketbook, chances are installing a swimming pool in the courtyard or supplying Tempur-Pedic mattresses for all isn’t high on the priority list.

Room and board can cost students upwards of $9,000 per year at a public university. And often the amenities just don’t match the price tag. The disconnect is driving students to seek out off-campus housing instead.

Students will be more likely to choose dorms as their living quarters if they’re updated and offer amenities not available off-campus. Don’t worry — these renovations don’t have to break the bank. Here are a few budget-friendly ideas.

Common areas

College students are under a lot of pressure. In fact, nearly 30% of students report stress as a factor affecting their academic performance. Offering spaces where students can gather with friends is an excellent way to help them unwind.

Game space

Do you have a little extra space for a foosball, ping-pong, or pool table? How about darts or even just a table and chairs dedicated to playing cards and checkers?

Setting up a game space will encourage students to get out of their rooms and socialize with over some friendly (or, let’s face it, heated) competition. This tiny upgrade can cost well under $1,000 and still make a big impact.


At an average of about 130 sq/ft, most dorm rooms aren’t fit for hosting movie night. But that doesn’t mean students should have to go to the theater to enjoy a good flick!

If you have an empty wall, it could be the perfect real estate for a movie. If you don’t have a wall, you can hang a retractable screen. All you need is a projector, which you can use to screen films or air the big game.

New furniture

When you have hundreds of students coming in and out of your halls every year, your furniture is bound to look a little warn. Surprise returning students and wow incoming residents with some modern, comfortable couches and chairs.

Patio or courtyard

Does your campus already have breathtaking architecture and grounds? If so, take some of your common areas outside!

Students will love the opportunity to read a book or enjoy coffee with a friend out of doors without leaving their hall. This upgrade doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. Even just some lighting, a few picnic tables, and a handful of colorful plants can do the trick. For ideas, check out Apartment Therapy’s article Budget Garden Inspiration.

Student dorms

After spending time in a great common area, your students won’t want to retire to a stereotypical “prison cell” dormitory. Try to give their digs a little love too.

Lighting upgrades

Nothing says “outdated dorm/jail cell” like fluorescent lighting…. And it still plagues residence halls everywhere. Fortunately, there are much more efficient options available that will save you a ton of money in the long run. Consider swapping out eyesores for modern fixtures with efficient bulbs. Your residents and your pocketbook will appreciate it.

Fresh coat of paint

Nothing adds instant charm, whimsy, or sophistication to a space like a splash of color. Not adept at picking out colors? Try starting with a neutral hue like tan, white, grey, or sage and adding complementary colors from there.

Air conditioning

Especially in certain parts of the country, a small swell in the temperature outside can leave you and your residents sweating. This one’s a bit pricier, but if you can install air conditioning in your buildings, no one need live in fear of an impending heat wave.

Shared amenities

Students who choose to live in residence halls are looking for something they can’t get in off-campus apartments: the complete college experience. Enhance it with some amenities that will make their time in the dorms even better.

Package lockers

How many packages do you receive every month? Between care packages and online shopping, probably thousands!

Package lockers completely automate package delivery, taking the heat off of your staff. They can be a lifesaver during busy times, like when those Amazon boxes of textbooks start to arrive. They also give residents 24/7 access to their packages. No more waiting in huge lines to sign for packages, no more overworked student staff, and no more rummaging around for packages that have been sitting there for weeks!

Learn How Smiota Helped UNLV Conquer Their Package Chaos

Office spaces

Do you have some room to spare that won’t cut it for bedrooms? Consider capitalizing on the coworking trend by turning them into offices students can escape to for some quiet study time.

Kitchen access

Food might just be the #1 priority for college kids, and it’s not just because they’ve been waiting 18 years to eat ice cream with every meal without judgment. Generation Z is crafting their own food culture.

If you have the space to install a kitchen, there’s no reason to leave culinarily-inclined students limited to microwave recipes. A shared kitchen will give students the opportunity to heat up a frozen pizza instead of ordering out, cook a meal they found on Pinterest instead of loading up on french fries at the cafeteria, or bake cookies just for fun. So whether they’re looking to save a couple bucks, trying to cool it on the calorie intake, or enjoy getting creative with recipes, students will appreciate it.

Practice rooms

Do you have musicians in your dorm? They might want to shred on the guitar, practice a monologue for an audition, or pick apart a solo they’re performing without disturbing their roommates… and the whole hall. If you have a room or two available, consider sound-proofing the space, ordering up some music stands, and implementing a signup process for your brand new practice room.

What are some strategies you’ve found effective for attracting students? And what’s next on your student housing upgrade list?