A Handy Guide to Surviving Dorm Life

A freshman living on campus shares her experiences and what's she learned about the joys and sorrows of dorm life.

A Handy Guide to Surviving Dorm Life

College can be a difficult time for students. Freshmen often come to college expecting to make new friends, take classes suited to their interests, and have a good time on weekends. What they sometimes are not prepared for is the pressure of finishing assignments on deadline, juggling finances, and maintaining good grades. Not to mention keeping sane while living on campus.  You might think, “what?” Living in a dorm does not seem very stressful to people who have not experienced it. Just be nice to your roommate and everything will be fine, you might hear some well-intentioned people say. But dorm life is more than being friendly with your roommate.

Living on campus is just another challenge students must face. You might be excited to live away from home and experience seemingly unlimited freedom for the first time. But when you live in a college’s residence buildings, you are not totally free. You have to comply with the rules the college has set down or risk penalties for your behavior. You also have to responsibly share a room with a complete stranger. Lastly, you must deal with the distractions, noise, and sometimes even fights that inevitably come up when living with dozens of other college-aged kids. Here are a few tips from a freshman who is experiencing the joys and miseries of living on campus.

Be respectful and considerate to your roommate

While it won’t guarantee a good relationship with him or her, being nice to your roommate is one of the first steps you can take to improve your life on campus. In every college there are a few horror stories of nasty roommates who are impossible to live with or who steal. You can’t always control who residence life assigns you, but you can make sure you aren’t that roommate. Be courteous and always say hi to the person you share the room with. Do not take their stuff without permission, and talk with them about simple guidelines, like the hours music can be played and when guests can visit. Also, give your roommate space and privacy, especially when they have upcoming exams. If you treat your roommate with respect, they are more likely to reciprocate.

Discuss your roommate issues with the right people

Is your roommate unbearable? Do they wake you up every night stumbling back from parties? Can they not stop stealing your clothes? Hopefully you won’t have to face these problems, but if you do, keep one thing in mind: when you complain about your roommate to other people on campus, it can come back to bite you and make your living situation even worse. Instead of passive-aggressively badmouthing the person you have to live with, talk with people who can fix the issue. First, start with your roommate. Politely but firmly explain what’s bothering you and try to figure out solutions with them. If they refuse to cooperate or you can’t come to an agreement, get help from an RA. They can help you work out your problems or help you switch roommates, if necessary.

Respect the rights of other people living on your floor

Besides being aware of your roommate’s needs, it is important to be polite to the other people living next door. Loud music and noisy conversations in the middle of the night are two major complaints residents have about living in a dorm. You don’t have to be as quiet as a mouse, but remember that other people live near you and may not be understanding when you blast Justin Bieber at midnight. Also, yelling “Grandma” to students who tell you to keep the noise down does not win you any points with residence life. (Unfortunately, both events have happened in real life.) Just watch your noise level and you should be fine. Also, if other students are constantly keeping you up at night, don’t be afraid to speak up to your RA. Complaints can usually be made anonymously, so you won’t be labeled as a snitch.

Familiarize yourself with campus policies

Students come to college expecting to have fun in college. This is completely normal, but you must balance your desire to have fun with adult responsibilities. Most people who enter college as freshmen are over 18 years old and therefore held more accountable for their actions than high schoolers are. To avoid getting in hot water with your university’s faculty or even the law, familiarize yourself with the rules set on campus. Know that some actions have negative consequences, like withdrawals of scholarships, fines, and even dismissal from school. Before you choose to do something, make sure you will not regret it later on and avoid things that could hurt your academic career.

Finally, remember to take care of yourself

Stress, from mild pre-test jitters to full-blown panic attacks, is ever present in college students’ lives. Sometimes, living on campus can only intensify this anxiety. You may have a disagreement with your roommate, or you might get frustrated because you need to study for a test and the people across the hall are being too noisy. Whatever the reason, do not let this stress bring you down. You can’t always find solutions to problems right away, but it is possible to stay sane, even in your dorm. Find quiet places where you can escape from everyone for even just a minute and relax. Read a book, listen to music, or do yoga. Once you have calmed down, you will be refreshed and ready to take on college again. Living on campus may not be the life you always dreamed about, but it is possible to survive.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

campus life dorm life relationships roommates student life

About Marcella McHenry

Marcella McHenry is a student at Ursuline College. She was homeschooled for most of her life and has lived in over 10 states. Her hobbies include reading, writing, running, and shopping. She loves big cities and cats and she hopes to work as a newspaper reporter/editor after college.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Maria  Fernanda

Maria Fernanda

High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress is always telling you with time to spare when to apply for certain scholarships, what they require, and if you’re eligible or not. They also provide helpful tips for both incoming college students and current college students, such as what to absolutely have in your dorm.



High School Class of 2019

My favorite feature of CollegeXpress is the scholarship search. As someone going out of state for college, I needed all the financial help I could get, and CollegeXpress helped me easily find scholarships I could apply for to help fund my education.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me organize the schools I wanted to choose from in one place, which I could then easily compare and find the school that was right for me!

Nazira Abdelkhalek

Nazira Abdelkhalek

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2014

I am very honored to be this year’s recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship! This scholarship is vital to helping me achieve and fulfill my dreams, and gives me confidence and motivation as I begin my college career. The CollegeXpress website has been invaluable over the past year as I planned my educational and professional goals. I highly recommend it to all students as they begin to focus on their college and career interests. The website is a wonderful guide to schools and scholarships.

Kelly Nogueiro

Kelly Nogueiro


For me, CollegeXpress has given me a valuable tool to use with my students to explore colleges easily beyond objective data. It helps me find colleges for students that fit their needs and wants that aren’t quite so black and white. It's a wealth of knowledge, and the Type-A side of me loves all the lists and the fact that I know they're coming from folks who know what they're talking about. I share it with colleagues and students alike, and it's always well received.

College Matches