10 Common Dorm Room Tech Troubles & How to Fix Them

DIY tips for handling tech on campus

School is hard enough on its own, and problems with technology only make it worse. If you rely heavily on your smartphone or computer (which you probably do at school), chances are good that you'll hit a snag now and then.

While you can definitely call up tech support to help with things that are school-sanctioned, you might not find much help from the IT department if the problem is with your own personal hardware or software. Plus, calling or emailing for help, waiting on a response, and then handing over your tech might not be something you want to wait around for.

See how many of these common problems you can fix on your own before asking for help. You might surprise yourself.

Spotty Wi-Fi Connections

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Not all college campuses have the most reliable Wi-Fi connections, which can be really difficult to deal with if wireless access is your only means of getting online.

If you don’t have a solid internet connection at school, your phone, laptop, gaming console, and other devices probably aren't working as well as they could or should.

The easiest way to get better Wi-Fi in a dorm room, at least for your laptop, is to attach a USB Wi-Fi adapter to one of the open USB ports. If the adapter supports antenna add-ons, you can attach a large antenna to the adapter and aim it directly at the nearest access point.

If that doesn’t improve the Wi-Fi connection, another option is to install your own router so the network is originating right there inside your dorm. Plug the network cable from the wall into the router to create your own network for all your wireless devices.

Some universities have rules in place that forbid you from adding routers to the existing network, so be sure to contact them first for approval. Also, some schools might only permit one IP address per dorm room, meaning that a wireless router would only be useful for one device at a time.

However, even with your own router, given how close the rooms are in a dorm it’s no surprise to still experience Wi-Fi connection problems. You might have an awesome router just several feet from you at all times, which would otherwise be just fine, but if your neighbors are using Wi-Fi, too, and both routers are set to the same frequency range, you’ll probably notice some problems.

Maybe your phone keeps connecting and disconnecting from the internet, or Netflix streams keep buffering and won’t play smoothly, or you can’t even see your Wi-Fi network from the list on your phone.

One fix is to log in to your router as the administrator and change the Wi-Fi channel so that your router uses a different frequency range, one that’s not the same as any neighboring routers. If you can manage to change that, it’s less likely that the routers will be fighting with each other to deliver a connection, which hopefully means that yours will have the clear go-ahead to work without any interruptions.

Another “fix” is to drop Wi-Fi altogether and go wired, either by plugging the Ethernet cable from the wall directly into your laptop, or better yet, a switch so that multiple wired devices can use the same connection. This would eliminate the need to make any router changes, or even to need a Wi-Fi router or adapter at all. However, this obviously isn’t ideal if you want to use your phone or tablet on Wi-Fi, or connect your laptop to the internet away from the wall.

Slow Internet Speeds

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Some colleges have thousands or more devices using the same internet at once, which is one of the biggest reasons for slow connections. Aside from Wi-Fi interference and weak connections, the speed of any network is most determined by how much bandwidth is available.

If videos are slow to load, files take forever to download, and web pages load in chunks, you’re probably suffering from low bandwidth. Unfortunately, you can’t install or upgrade anything in your dorm room to get more bandwidth from the school.

However, you can get into the habit of doing only one or two things at once to relieve some of that congestion. For example, if you need to stream a video for class, don’t also watch Netflix at the same time; doing both at once makes it that much harder for either one to work very well. When adding attachments to an email, don’t also be downloading files or streaming YouTube. The basic idea here is to stop trying to do everything at once; the more you’re using the network at any given moment, the less bandwidth there is available for other things and for other people.

Another way to get faster internet speeds in your dorm is to use your phone as a hotspot to deliver internet to some of your Wi-Fi devices. For example, if you’re playing video games in your dorm but need to also use your laptop to download files, connect your laptop to your phone's internet so that it can use the bandwidth available from your cell phone carrier instead of the school.

Unless your phone plan includes unlimited data usage, be very careful when using your phone as a hotspot. It can be really easy to go overboard and use up all the data in your data plan.

Programs Don’t Run On Your Computer

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It’s common for classes to assign specific software for students to use, or at least a website for them to visit to see due dates, lecture notes, etc. However, to install that software or view that website, you have to make sure your computer is fully updated and has some core components installed.

For example, maybe you need to install a CAD program for your engineering class, but it only runs on Windows. If you happen to only have a Mac, instead of buying a new PC, you could just install virtualization software on your Mac to emulate the Windows OS. It isn’t the best setup if you already have a slow computer, but it does work if you need it to, and will save you lots of money versus buying a brand-new computer.

Similarly, some websites you visit for class might require things like Java to work correctly. You can install them for free to fix most problems with components that won’t load on certain websites, like videos or interactive online tools.

Another important thing to remember with software compatibility is to ensure that your web browser and operating system are fully up-to-date with the latest features and patches. It’s easy to update Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc., and the same goes for your Mac or Windows computer. 

Before you update your Windows computer, read What Is Windows Update? to learn how to access and use it. Learn how to update your Mac if that's what you have instead.

Can’t Connect to the Printer

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If your printer doesn’t work right away, it can be super frustrating, especially if you waited until the last few minutes to print off what you need! Fortunately, most printer issues focus on missing or incorrect print drivers.

A computer that doesn’t see a printer you’ve plugged into it, or a printer that won’t queue up any print jobs, is most likely due to a driver problem. The easiest way to fix this specific problem is to simply download the proper driver.

You can get the right driver from the printer manufacturer's website, but in a pinch, the easiest way to download and install it without needing to know the printer maker’s website and how to find the download, is with a free driver updater tool.

If the printer you want to use is one provided by the university (like a wireless printer located in a nearby room), talk to the IT department to get things working again. However, if you have your own local printer right there in your dorm, you probably have to service it yourself.

Your Phone Is Always Dying

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If your phone isn't just your phone but also your reminder, calendar, calculator, and more, it’s clearly important enough to you that you need it to be on all the time—before, during, and after every class.

There are lots of things you can do to keep your phone juiced up. Many people are now using Qi wireless charging pads, but even those require a plug-in to connect the pad itself to power.

Before considering buying an extra battery or portable charger, remember that the Airplane Mode feature in your phone is one of the best ways to conserve battery. When you enable it, the radios are completely shut down, forcing your phone to work in offline mode, which saves loads of battery power.

When in Airplane Mode, you can’t make or receive calls, texts, or emails, but you’re still alerted for calendar events and reminders, and every offline app works just fine.

However, maybe you depend heavily on having your phone working fully all the time. If so, your next best option is to purchase a portable charger. These are usually small enough that you can keep one in your bag or on your desk and still use your phone while it’s charging.

They work much like a regular wall outlet where you plug your phone directly into the device to charge it, but they, of course, don’t require a wall at all (except when charging the charger itself).

People Are Stealing Your Wi-Fi

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Another problem you might run into that pertains to Wi-Fi is people stealing your internet. This only pertains to someone who's using their own Wi-Fi router or hotspot, and only if the password is too easy to guess or if there isn’t a password at all. Open networks are very easy for anyone to connect to, especially in a dorm setting where everyone lives so closely together.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to lock down your Wi-Fi network so that not just anybody can use it. The most obvious way to stop people in a dorm from stealing your Wi-Fi is to make a password that they can’t guess, which involves picking a strong password that’s still easy for you to remember.

Weak Cell Phone Reception

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Some buildings just don’t accommodate cell phones. Maybe your phone gets texts much later than they were sent, or images won’t send over text, or incoming phone calls go straight to voicemail. If your phone works great when outside but is spotty inside, chances are you’re experiencing bad cell phone reception.

If you can’t seem to get reliable service from inside your dorm room, there are several ways to still use your phone to contact the outside world. For example, instead of relying on your carrier to deliver your texts and calls, use Wi-Fi to send texts online or make internet phone calls, or utilize your phone's built-in Wi-Fi calling feature.

Another way to get better reception in your dorm room—so long as you’ve been given explicit permission to do so—is to install a cell phone signal booster. With a bigger and better antenna to work with, you might be able to amplify the weak signal into a bigger one to provide better reception inside.

Video Games Don't Work

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When you're playing video games at home, it's usually no problem to power on the console and start playing just a few minutes later. However, if your gaming device doesn't work in your dorm, be it a Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, etc., there probably isn't anything you can do yourself to make it work.

Instead, most schools make you register the device so that they can approve it for use on the network. Some colleges let you do this through a website like MyResnet, but not all schools work the same way, so talking with the IT department is the right thing to do.

If online games played through a web browser aren't working, it's less a problem with device registration and more of an issue of content restrictions. See the section below for more on that.

Websites Are Blocked

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Some schools block everyone from accessing certain websites, like ones that contain adult content, torrents, illegal movie streaming sites, and more. However, they might also block more “common” websites, too, like legal movie streaming sites and gaming websites. The easiest way around this type of content restriction is to use a VPN service.

You can use a VPN with almost any device, be it your phone, tablet, or laptop. Once it's enabled, all your internet traffic is sent through one connection to the VPN server, after which you can access any website you want without the school knowing what you’re doing. Since they can’t monitor your internet traffic, there's less of a chance they'll block what you’re doing.

You can also try site-specific tricks to unblock a website, such as running it through a web proxy.

There are usually legitimate reasons for colleges to block some websites. For example, they might be known to deliver malware, so if your VPN server lets you do that without any restrictions, you could very well infect your computer and maybe even other network devices at school.

If you can’t get a VPN to work in your dorm room, chances are the IT department has a block in place, in which case there’s little you can do to get around it, apart from using your own internet connection, such as from your phone.

Your Tech Is Exposed

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There might be many people coming and going in your dorm, people you might not fully trust around your expensive and important tech products. There are some things you can do to physically lock down your computer and digitally hide away your data to ensure your files remain safe.

On the physical side, consider something like the Kensington desktop computer and peripherals locking kit. This isn't so much of a concern if you don't have a roommate, but if you do, and locking the door isn't something you have full control over all the time, the next best way to physically secure your PC (apart from hiding it or always taking it with you) is to chain it to an immovable object, like a desk.

If your school materials and other important files are stored on your computer, first ensure there's a password for your user account, and then also do one or both of these things: back up your files online or encrypt them.

There are lots of paid and free online backup solutions that will do a great job creating copies of your files in case your computer is stolen or breaks, and file encryption software can prevent your data from being compromised if someone manages to access your files.

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