Learn and Live With the Benefits of a Residential College

Residential colleges are a great way to get the resources of a large university but the community of a small college. Here's what to know about these special programs.

College is all about living with and learning from others. But what if you could do both—live and take classes with other students in your major—all in one building? That’s the idea behind the residential college model. Residential colleges are a great way to adjust to the demands of a college course load and being away from home. Unlike special interest, Greek, or other unique on-campus living options for students, a residential college acts as a “college within a college” that offers living and learning experiences and is primarily targeted toward first-year students. Typically part of a university, residential colleges give students the best of both worlds: the intimate academic and residential setting of a small liberal arts college with access to other larger university campus resources like extracurriculars, athletics, student centers, and more. Here’s a deeper look at what to expect at a residential college, the benefits of applying to one, and how you can get in.

Learning in a residential college

Most residential colleges are targeted at a specific school or program of study within the university—for instance, a School of Education, Business, or Arts and Humanities. Another unique feature of this learning model is the access to faculty. Students at large schools often feel like they’re just another face in the lecture hall. But classes at residential colleges are held right in the same building with a layout that’s more like a welcoming classroom than an intimidating lecture hall. Classes are smaller in size so you can get to know your professors and classmates, and your professors will know you by name, which is typically hard to do on a campus with thousands of other students. Professors will always teach the classes, not teaching assistants, which makes it easier for you and your instructor to learn from each other. Many professors have office hours within the residential college’s building as well—some faculty may even live in the same building. And yes, you can just drop by a professor’s office to discuss an assignment, ask a question about something covered in class, or talk about anything else that’s on your mind.

Related: How to Build Better Relationships With Your Teachers

Programming in a residential college

Just like everything else in a residential college, programs are tailored to students’ majors and areas of interest. Programs are as wide ranging as lectures and informal talks with industry experts to personal and professional development workshops that you can use in your post-graduation life. Best of all, if you’re part of a residential college, you can still take advantage of any programs and events available to all students across campus. 

Living in a residential college

Living in a residential college is just like living in a dorm or on-campus apartment. Most have residential advisors (RAs) and peer mentors who are available to help you adjust to life at college. They can help you navigate campus, direct you to the office or building you’re looking for, mediate roommate issues, or be a sympathetic ear if you’re feeling a bit homesick or overwhelmed. RAs also help plan fun educational programs and socials to help students get to know each other and foster a sense of community. Many residential colleges feature dining hall–style meal options as well, so you don’t even have to leave the building to eat breakfast. 

Related: What Are Living–Learning Communities All About?

How do I get into a residential college?

If a residential college sounds like a good fit for you, it’s time to do some research. First, understand that not all universities offer this option. Be sure it’s available before you submit an application to a school. Second, not all universities with residential colleges offer them for every major. The schools you apply to may not have this option for the program(s) you’re interested in. This is something to consider when you’re researching colleges and scheduling campus tours

The application process for residential colleges will also differ for each school. Typically, the residential college option will fall under an Office of Housing or Residence Life. Some schools might automatically assign you to the residential college for your program for your first year. For others, you may have to specify your preference on your housing application. Since it varies so much, this is another aspect to thoroughly research when looking at housing options for your first year. 

Related: 4 Things to Look for in Your College Search

There are many benefits to residential colleges. One of the biggest is this model simply helps students get used to the college environment. It also reduces stress, allows students to interact with others in their major, and helps them establish connections with faculty. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle on the campus of a large university. The close-knit, intimate environment of a residential college can help you feel more at home on campus, make friends, and still take full advantage of everything your school has to offer.

Start exploring colleges to find great residential housing programs on our Featured School Profiles page. 

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