To dorm or not to dorm…that is the question. If you’re making this decision for the first time, congrats! For many students, leaving home and going to college is a big step into the unknown. If your academic plans take you to a location away from your family and friends, then considering a living situation with peers who are experiencing it for the first time too may help you feel more at ease. There’s no better way to get in touch with the overall vibe of collegiate life than to live and breathe it 24/7—though living off campus may appeal to you more. Here’s how to decide if dorm life is right for you.
You’ve seen it in the movies, heard about it from older siblings, or maybe even experienced it firsthand on a trial run or extended campus tour: living in a college dorm. Roommates, Greek life, cafeteria food, late-night insomnia cookies—these are all offerings of the little things that await you on this journey. There are some universities that require out-of-state students to live on campus for at least freshman year, and some even beyond that. Research shows this model of higher education creates a sense of belonging. Helping acclimate undergrads to a new life of independent living builds self-reliance and a sense of comradery, thereby curbing homesickness that can sometimes result in a student’s decision to leave or transfer to a school closer to home. Living in the dorms provides an invaluable support system as students find their way in an environment devoid of the rules they may have lived under while in their parents’ home.
Related: The Do’s and Don’ts of Campus Life
Dorm life pros and cons
As with any decision, there isn’t always a single solution that works for everyone—what’s right for one student may not work for another. While the requirement of campus housing may be mandatory for freshman enrollment at certain universities, what about sophomore year and beyond? And what about colleges that don’t require it at all? You need to weigh the pros and cons based on your individual needs.
The pros of living on campus
- Meeting people: Having the opportunity to meet a large group of new people with shared interests is empowering. If you’re on the shy side or tend to be a loner, adapting to a new situation is easier when you have a support squad. Dorm roommates and quad neighbors seem to instinctively come together to help make you feel like any number of people have your back when times get tough.
- Activities: Living in the dorms allows you entrance to group and membership opportunities. Although those who live off campus have this option as well, there are many events and undertakings based on dorm and Greek life that are more accessible and better attended by on-site residents. There’s nothing more fun than a Halloween decorating contest or a dorm-based yoga night.
- Safety: It’s rare that you’ll find yourself traveling alone on campus. At any given time, there are students walking around the property or an escort is only a call away. There are emergency boxes on the grounds of every college, and campus police are always stationed nearby 24/7.
- Gym and library access: Late hours are a huge bonus! If you feel like swimming laps at 10:00 pm, no problem. And libraries make it easy to form late-night study groups during midterms and finals. There are also quiet floors for individually focused study in case you have a roommate who isn’t on the same schedule as you.
- Cafeteria offerings: The “board” part of room and board comes to you in the form of a card that is preloaded with your chosen meal plan. There are generally several cafeterias on any given college campus for variation—some are vegan, others offer specialty nights, and more. Depending on which plan you signed up for, the cafeteria meals are coupled with “swipes” for other privately run, on-campus eateries, including common staples like Starbucks.
- The quad: Any season, day or night, there’s always something happening on the quad. Fresh air and grass under your feet can be extremely therapeutic. Impromptu soccer games, snowman building, and potluck picnics are open to anyone who wants to join the fun!
- Your schedule: Your class schedule and proximity to the classroom allows you to sleep a little later in the morning. Gone are the worries of driving, parking, and running into class. You may even find you have time to stop for breakfast by living on campus. And if you have a day that’s lightly scheduled, then you’ll have time to run to your dorm and take a power nap between classes.
- Emergencies: On-campus clinics are available for pop-in emergencies, and many are open late.
- Job opportunities: If you’re an upperclassman, you can apply to be an Resident Advisor (RA). This comes with the bonus of a free or discounted room and looks great on your résumé.
- Connections and lifelong friends: Spending so much time in proximity with the same people fosters comradery, which can lead to relationships that extend well beyond your college years.
- Upgraded living: If you decide to stay in the dorms as an upperclassman, you can choose your roommate(s) and have more control over living in a residence hall that’s compatible with your lifestyle.
The cons of living on campus
- Bad roommates: Sharing a room with someone you’ve just met can be unsettling, as not all roommates are compatible. Freshmen are generally housed in specific dorms, and the number of rooms available may result with you in a situation you didn’t expect.
- Lack of privacy: Unlike at home where you can just shut yourself in your bedroom, most double-occupancy floor plans are simply an open room with two beds and two desks. There are also some that house three or even four roommates, so privacy is mostly off the table.
- Bathrooms: Depending on your plan, you may be required to use a communal bathroom/shower. There are cleaning services that clean the larger, multiuse bathrooms, but in some cases, it’ll be up to you.
- Sharing laundry: Laundry rooms are also shared, and finding a schedule that allows you to get your clothes out of the washer and into the dryer in a timely fashion is key.
- Overindulging: Open access to cafeterias can lead to students to graze, even when they aren’t necessarily hungry.
- Money: If you can find some friends to get an apartment off campus with, chances are it’ll be much less expensive. Splitting rent would lower your expenses, but you’ll be required to provide your own furnishings.
- Illness: Remember in elementary school when one kid got sick, you got sick and brought it home to your parents? The same thing happens in college residence halls.
- Moving frequently: Campus residence halls are generally not open in the summer, as this is the time when painting and maintenance work are done. If you plan to keep the same dorm room for the following academic year, you’ll either have to pack everything up and bring it home with you or move your belongings into a storage unit for three months.
Once again, let me congratulate you on your acceptance to college! I’ve lived the dorm life, and it worked out great. There are so many wonderful opportunities that lie right outside your door. If you’re undecided, give it a try your freshman year—just make sure you find a roommate you mesh with. If you find it’s not your style, you can always relocate your sophomore year.
Find out more about what life on campus is really like in our Student Life section.