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College-bound students are often a blend of excitability and nerves as they ready themselves for their first steps into adulthood. While some students choose to stay near home for school, others transition to on-campus housing for the next few years.
Studies showed that only 22% of American students lived on-campus in 2018, with the coronavirus pandemic causing that percentage to wane even further in 2020. However, many colleges actually require a one- or two-year residency commitment and sometimes even the entire four years.
Students settle into dorm life relatively quickly in most situations, forging tight-knit friendships and gaining newfound independence. Of course, leaving home for the first time may raise a few questions about what to expect in their new living arrangements.
Are there laundry facilities? Is it safe? Do dorms have kitchens? Every question is valid as you prepare to move in — and every first-time resident is likely wondering the same things you are. Here are seven common questions students have about living on campus.
1. What Do I Need to Bring From Home?
One of the easiest ways to ensure you have everything you need for dorm life is to create a checklist with the following categories:
- Bedroom: Bedding, sheets, mattress bad, lamp, alarm clock, laundry basket, etc.
- Bathroom: Towels, shower caddy, trash can, etc.
- Clothing: Shirts, pants, pajamas, undergarments, socks, shoes, hangers, etc.
- Electronics: Laptop, phone, headphones, chargers, power strips, etc.
- Kitchenware: Plates, utensils, trash bags, Tupperware, mugs, etc.
- Office supplies: Pens, paper, sticky notes, paper clips, etc.
- Toiletries: Shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, bandaids, pain reliever, antacids, tweezers, nail clippers, etc.
- Cleaning supplies: Detergent: dish soap, all-purpose cleaner, sponges, etc.
Keep in mind that dorm rooms are typically small, and you may have a roommate. Coordinate with them who’s responsible for bringing shared items like a coffee maker or television.
You’ll also want to maximize the space with innovative organization, such as raising the bed to create storage underneath or purchasing a rolling cart with drawers for your bedside.
2. What Is an RA?
A resident advisor (RA) is a college-age mentor trained to offer support and safety to dorm residents. First-year students, in particular, should know and establish a relationship with their RAs.
An RA is responsible for resolving roommate conflicts, facilitating dorm activities like crafts or team-building, and ensuring students follow dorm policies.
After one or two years of living in a dorm, you may decide to become an RA yourself. Like all jobs, you’ll need to apply and interview for consideration, in which you may also have to submit recommendations, an essay, and transcripts.
An RA position provides valuable leadership experience for your resume, demonstrating critical communication, organizational, and conflict resolution skills.
3. What If My Roommate and I Don’t Get Along?
Colleges do their best to pair like-minded students in dorms together by having students fill out a questionnaire regarding their personality, study, sleeping, and lifestyle habits. However, sometimes it still isn’t an ideal match.
If you’re unable to find common ground or mutual respect and understanding with your roommate, you do have a few options:
- Calmly speak with your roommate about your problems.
- Establish firm boundaries and responsibilities, such as required study hours, sleeping times, and cleaning schedules.
- Keep notes of bad behaviors or problems to find solutions or maintain documentation if you need to report them to Student Life or a higher authority.
- Speak to your RA for assistance with conflict resolution.
After trying several tactics to work through problems with your roommate, you may want a room reassignment. Speak with your roommate to ensure they’re on board, then reach out to your RA about the steps. Usually, you’ll need to fill out a formal request to change.
4. What Are Typical Residential Policies?
All dorms have a set of rules that students must adhere to. Typical policies include the following:
- Restrictions on fire hazards, such as candles, hot plates, matches, etc.
- Quiet hours for weekday studying and sleeping after a particular hour
- Restriction on pets — although fish may be an exception
- Requirements to attend mandatory dorm meetings
- Visitation rules, guest sign-in, or regulations on same-sex visitation at religiously-affiliated or same-sex colleges
It is against the law for people under 21 to be in possession of alcohol, but dry dorms may prohibit alcohol even for students legally allowed to drink. Recent surveys found that 53% of underage college students drank alcohol within a month, 33% of which participated in binge drinking.
The rules are in place to protect everyone, as alcoholism can lead to injury, death, poor decision-making, and academic problems.
5. Do Dorms Have Kitchens?
Not all dorms have kitchens in individual rooms — particularly in older schools. However, a newly-renovated residential hall or suite may provide a kitchenette or communal kitchen for the floor.
If a dorm room offers a kitchen area, a refrigerator, stove, oven, and microwave may be provided. Communal kitchens may also mandate you reserve a time for cooking.
Residential halls usually ask students to purchase a mini-fridge to store their groceries in their room. Other appliances, such as a microwave or coffee maker, could be banned, so check to ensure they’re allowed before bringing them.
If you don’t have a kitchen in your dorm, a communal dining hall should be attached or nearby. Often, students will be encouraged or required to opt into a college meal plan while living on campus.
6. How Safe Are Dorms?
College dorms are usually close to campus and offer around-the-clock security and protective services. However, living by yourself means you must practice safety at all times.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there were 28,500 on-campus criminal reports filed with police in 2018 — including burglaries, auto theft, assault, and sexual violence.
College students who choose to live in a dorm should always keep personal items and valuables hidden and protected in a lockbox. Additionally, they should avoid dangerous situations that put them at risk, such as walking alone or speaking to untrustworthy people.
7. Is There Access to Amenities?
Most on-campus housing offers on-site amenities, such as a gym or laundry facilities. However, residents may need to pay a nominal fee to use the washer and dryer units. Usually, this is only a few quarters per load.
Other amenities could include communal living rooms, game and craft rooms, pools, and outdoor entertainment areas. Some colleges have upgraded their residential halls to include swanky amenities for enhanced quality of life.
Dorms may also offer special services to residents, such as laundry drop-off, food delivery, maintenance, trash removal, and shuttle services.
A Space for Learning, Growing, and Having Fun
There is so much to gain from living on campus with other college students. Dorms facilitate learning and growth opportunities as students take on more adult responsibilities and seek independence. They also provide a space for meeting new people and making the most fun out of the college experience.