Whether taking campus visits or considering acceptances, college-bound student decisions turn to where to live and who to live with. I’ve visited enough schools to be able to answer some important questions about college residence halls–they’re not called “dorms” anymore– available to first-year students, and how to select from them.
How are the residence halls designed?
College residence halls are designed either traditional style, where all rooms open off a single corridor and share a large common area or lounge as well as bathroom, or suite style, where a small number of students (usually no more than 12) live in a suite with a common lounge and bathroom.
With the traditional residence hall design, the school will clean the common areas, including the bathroom. The halls may be co-ed by alternating floor, by wing or by alternating room (less likely; this requires two sets of bathrooms on each floor). The traditional-style residence halls are the best option for students who want to meet as many new people as possible.
With suite-style living is that you share the common spaces with fewer people. Hopefully all of them are your friends. Suite-style halls are better suited to groups of students who already know each other, as opposed to those who are living together for the first time. However, students who choose special interest housing or honors housing may find themselves in suites. But suite residents must join together to clean their common bathroom.
First-year students are most likely to live in the traditional-style residence halls, unless they live in honors housing or a living-learning community where small groups of students live together and take classes together around shared interests. First year students select from the halls where rooms have not been chosen by continuing students. Upper-class students in good academic standing and have found their circle of friends are more likely to ask for suite-style living.
Do college residence halls have the latest technology?
Even the best schools do not always have Wi-Fi enabled rooms; you have to rely on an Ethernet cable connection to access the Internet. Not all halls have air conditioning. However, I have yet to visit a school where cable TV connections are not available in the rooms. . One cool thing, however, is e-Suds, where you get a ring on your smartphone when your laundry is done.
Does the school guarantee housing in a college residence hall for one year, two years or more?
Colleges guarantee housing in their residence halls for freshmen. Others guarantee housing in later years, too. I know of two schools, Miami University of Ohio and the University of Vermont, that have two-year residency requirements. The University of Illinois goes a step further. They guarantee that you will always have the option of living in a residence hall through your senior year.
After the freshman year room assignments are often made on accumulated credits. A rising sophomore who has decided that on-campus residence hall living is not for him or her will need to find some rising seniors to move in with if s/he wants an on-campus apartment.
Make sure that you know the policies and the costs to rent off-campus if your school cannot assure housing. There are schools like the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the University of Washington-Seattle that house no more than a quarter of their students and are located in large cities. Those who do not get housing are forced into a big city rental market that has some very expensive options, and substandard ones, too.
Will I be surrounded by other freshmen?
Possibly, though some schools spread the freshman population across several college residence halls, especially for those students who have declared a major. It’s better to live close to class than a bus ride away.
All-freshman college residence halls have advantages. There is the feeling of “we’re all in this together,” so students might bond and start forming friendships that will last past graduation. In addition, mixed floors might often have cliques, returning students who liked living on that floor and wanted to keep the same room. It’s easier to make friends among people who start out not knowing each other at all than it is to break into well-established cliques.
On the other hand, a mixed floor means that there are continuing students who can help a freshman adjust to college. One additional issue: the drinking age is 21 in every state. While a student who is over 21 may drink, s/he is not supposed to bring beer or other alcoholic drinks into a residence hall, nor is s/he supposed to encourage minors to drink.
What about honors housing among college residence halls?
Some schools offer special residence halls for students in their honors program. This encourages honors students to get to know each other and work together outside of classes. Honors residences might also host academic programs as well. However, the nicer the housing is over other arrangements, the more honors students are likely to be resented. If you can ignore the resentment, go for the honors housing. It’s easier to study when those around you are studying too.
College residence halls have more amenities than they’ve ever had before and students put more valuable things in them than they ever did before. However, common rules of courtesy still apply. What’s yours is yours, including your pride and respect. What does not belong to you is not yours to covet.
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