11 DIY Ways to Light Up Your Dorm Room (Without Burning It Down!)

No one wants to be that person, ya know?


Find a set of string lights that feel more "college" than these. I'll wait.

College is the best. Living in the dorms? Not the best. (An opportunity for emotional and intellectual growth? Perhaps. But, the best? Not even a close second.)

The bunkbeds, the unflattering fluorescent lighting and, of course, the prehistoric communal bathrooms — suffice it to say that dorms are a far cry from the comforts found in the childhood home. Our go-to way to remedy a classic case of dorm room dreariness is to add warmth via lamps, pendants and string lights and more. Flip the switch and bring some much-needed cheer (and style!) into your dorm with these lighting ideas.

What's Your Sign?

Create modern art that doubles as ambient lighting from plywood, trim and twinkle lights.

Create modern art that doubles as ambient lighting from plywood, trim and twinkle lights.

Photo by: Rustic White Photography, LLC

Rustic White Photography, LLC

This question is more than just a bad pick-up line. In fact, it is exactly the question you need to ask your future roomie before harnessing your star power and creating this crazy-cool constellation light board! Cross your fingers for astrological compatibility, then get down to business. Add their constellation alongside yours for a striking star centerpiece that both of you are sure to enjoy. Color me obsessed, you guys.

String 'Em Along

Ah, string lights. I consider these bad boys to be the cornerstone of every successfully-decorated dorm room. There are endless ways to use them and they work for each and every design style imaginable. Forego the boring strand and string up your Edison-style bulbs in a fun, layered pattern like designer Claire Esparros did here.

Contemporary Neutral Living Area With Black Sofa and White Rug

Cozy Family Room Features Playful Lighting

Whimsical lighting steals the show in this cozy family room. Behind the sofa, string lights gracefully adorn the wall, and above the armchair, a lighted art installation adds a cool, crisp pattern to the space.

Photo by: Claire Esparros for Homepolish

Claire Esparros for Homepolish

Dorm Sweet Dorm

Usher in the warm and cozy vibes from home with a classic table lamp. I find that traditional lamps evoke a more settled feeling in spaces that tend to feel transient and temporary. We all know that feeling settled = feeling relaxed. And relaxation, my friends, is of upmost importance during a stressful school year.

Eclectic Blue Girl's Bedroom

Girl's Bedroom With Coral Dresser and Light Blue Accent Wall

A beautiful coral dresser separates the twin beds in this shared girl's bedroom. Floral throw pillows add a mix of great colors and echo the pink border of the bright bed linens. A light aqua accent wall with sunburst decoration brings life and light to the design.

Photo by: John Woodcock Photography

John Woodcock Photography

Flameless FTW

Candles make spaces smell like all things good and pure in this world and they give off the most calming, transcendent glow. Problem: College freshmen are forced into a sad, sad reality — a reality in which they are banned from burning candles. No need to forgo their glorious glow, though. Solution: flameless candles. They last forever, never melt down and ultimately grant spaces that same, soft lighting that regular burning candles do. (Without the risk of burning down the building!) To make these flameless beauties look a little less faux and little more chic, arrange candles of varying heights on a gorgeous mirrored tray.

flameless candles

Add Candles

Nothing adds mood and warmth as easily and inexpensively as flameless candles. Displayed on a stylish gold and glass tray to enhance the candlelit ambiance, this small touch transforms a room.

Photo by: Red Arrow Industries

Red Arrow Industries

Spell It Out

Who doesn’t want to read a positive affirmation that quite literally illuminates their room? Stick a light-up board on your desk and switch out the message throughout the year. Add uplifting quotes, remind yourself of deadlines or even add a bit of school spirit during football season. (Mine would read: “Go Vols, Y’all!”)

DIY marquee-inspired light box.

How to Use Icicle Lights to Make a Light Box

Light up a room with a DIY marquee-inspired light box sign. This one was created using a shadowbox frame and a strand of colorful LED icicle lights.

Photo by: Emily Fazio

Emily Fazio

Neon Nightlight

Add neon signage and saturate your space with an urban, eclectic and colorful glow. This prickly, neon green nightlight adds effortless design-savvy and up-for-anything vibes to a dorm. I believe that kids these days refer to the look achieved here as “#goals” – and I can see why. #Goals, indeed.

Make It: DIY Neon Sign

Oh So Boho

You can go the simple route with a pendant light, sure. But, sometimes you’ve got to kick it up a notch, am I right? Do just that and make an over-the-top statement with a beautiful, beaded chandelier. From glam to bohemian, beaded chandeliers are suited for all kinds of design styles and will up the wow-factor in even the dreariest-of-dreary dorm rooms. Just be sure to get the go ahead from your roomie beforehand, of course.

White Bedding, Tan Chandelier & Sheer White Curtains in White Bedroom

Breezy White Bedroom Feels Whimsical, Feminine

The handmade bedspread brings a soft pattern and texture to this bedroom. A unique rock light fixture hangs above the bed, which is decorated with a wood breakfast tray and patterned throw pillows. A wood chair with a hot pink pillow adds a bright pop of color against the neutral and white tones. Fresh flowers and sheer curtains complete the look.

Photo by: codyulrich.com


Twinkle + Tulle

The word on the street is twinkle lights and tulle are the top trending combination for headboard backdrops this upcoming school year. Throw this easy DIY backdrop behind your headboard for a low-cost, high-style upgrade that produces just the right amount of soft lighting for any bedtime reading. (Or, Netflix binges. I'm not one to judge.)

Double Duty Desk-Lamps

If you’ve done any shopping around for lighting, you understand lamps can be rather costly. My top tip for cost-effective dorm lighting is to forego the traditional lamps all together. Go in with your roomie and purchase two sleek, reasonably priced desk lamps. Place the pair together, between the beds and utilize them as bedside lighting. The results will emulate the same look as the duo-lamp featured above, but for far less money.

Light Pink and Gold Bedroom Nightstand With Gold Metal Lamp

Pink and Gold Girls' Bedroom With Feminine Nightstand

This quintessential girls' bedroom features a stylish pairing of gold and pink hues. A gold metal lamp sits atop a soft pink nightstand with a ruffled edge and gold legs. White and gold polka dot bed linens dress each of the twin beds, while the pink and yellow upholstered headboards add a finishing touch.

Photo by: YouthfulNest


Make Your Mark

Or rather, “Make Your Marq”. Add a funky, whimsical marquee light that mirrors your youthful, sprightly spirit. Bland dorm walls will welcome a large, colorful marquee fixture and the personality it packs along with it. Many marquee-lovers select the first letter of their first name, but the options are truly endless.

Marquee sign of a letter d for the wall of a child's bedroom.

DIY Marquee Initial Sign Lights Up Kid's Bedroom

HGTV Magazine: For this marquee-inspired sign for her 4-year-old daughter's bedroom, mom Mandi Gruber drew a letter d on a 2-foot-by-4-foot piece of plywood and used a jigsaw to cut it out. (A lumberyard that has a jigsaw can cut it for you if you draw the shape.) Then she drilled holes for the lights. To make the d three-dimensional, she stapled flexible MDF around the outline. The bulbs inserted in the holes are a string of globe lights from Target. Step-by-step instructions for this project can be found at HGTV Magazine online.

Photo by: David A. Land

David A. Land

Pendant Perfection

Pull out all the stylish stops with a dangling pendant light. This subtle addition provides a polished, intentional design for your dorm. Opt for a modern chrome piece, an industrial wire fixture or go boho with a rattan pendant, instead.

40 DIY Dorm Room Decor Ideas

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