They’re Not ‘Dorms’, They’re Residence Halls
Residence halls are one of the most frequently mocked aspects of college life. But they are also one of the most important considerations for any family that is sending a child away to school. Residence halls are not called dorms anymore. Young children live in dorms when sent away to summer camp. Residence halls are a life experience.
Depending on the school, and its freshman living accommodations, you might be shown the nicest, or possibly the least attractive, residence halls on the campus tour. Whether the room that you see is occupied, or decorated as a “model” for tourists you will almost always see two beds, desks, dressers as well as a refrigerator. You also learn how to raise or loft a bed to make better use of the space. That’s where the similarities between schools end.
Visit a few schools and you will see some differences between residence halls:
- Climate controls. Some schools allow the occupants to work the heat and air conditioning controls; others decide when the heat comes on, or leave occupants to their own devices—opening windows, using a fan—when it gets too hot.
- Floor coverings. Forty years ago I actually moved into a residence hall that had carpeted rooms and hallway floors. I did not appreciate how rare that was—and it’s still rare now. If you see a rug in the middle of the room on your campus, plan on helping your child to buy one or share the cost with a roommate. Former residents who have moved on to apartments might be willing to sell one. And watch out for concrete or tile hallway floors. Bring slippers to walk to the shower. Those floors can get slick.
- Sinks. I don’t like sinks in college bedrooms, but that’s a personal bias. They make the room look more like a prison cell, easily get filthy, and attract bugs if the plumbing is not up to par. But some future occupants find them convenient to use, especially if they’re likely to wake up only a few minutes before their 8 AM class.
- Laundry rooms. There are three models: free, ID and fee. The first two mean that you do not need to carry money when you do your laundry; you just need to make sure that the washer and dryer are available, and you might be told that your load is done through an app on your cell phone. The last one means “bring quarters.” It might also mean that the washers and dryers are due for replacement. The newer designs in residence halls don’t take quarters.
- Amenities. The pictures that you see of supposedly luxurious residence halls are not usually pictures of the living accommodations, You might see lounges with big screen TVs, game rooms, tabletop games, kitchens, fitness centers, computer rooms, theatres, study spaces and cafes. Colleges are mocked for offering these features, even though the students like them. However, when you read stories that describe that college residence halls are much like five-star hotels, consider the features that bother you, and whether you already have them at home. A big screen TV, for instance, does not cost much when it’s shared by 20 to 50 people on a floor, even if the residence life office bought a new one every year. Same with a gym membership for your child, if s/he is on a family plan at home.
- Honors and Learning Communities. Larger schools may have honors colleges as well as honors residence halls to accommodate freshmen. Other schools assign floors, quite often among the nicer accommodations on campus, to incoming honors students. Learning communities can be on shared or single floors, or in their own buildings.
- Residents. Some schools believe in freshman-only halls to help bond a class. Others mix the freshmen with sophomores, juniors and seniors to have continuing students help the new students to get settled. I lived in mixed halls during my first two years of college but I do not believe that I would have wanted to live between two freshmen rooms when I was a junior or senior. This is why I always encourage families to find out how a school will accommodate its students for each year they are in college. It’s quite common for college students to seek more independence from a supervised living situation, and move off campus, as they advance further into their education.
No matter how spacious or sparse a room might be in a residence hall, the building might be the place where a college student makes their first true friends away from home. The person who lives next door might still be your friend on the day you get married.
Need help in considering housing as you make your college list? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 609-406-0062.