Your first year at college is an exciting time. It can also be pretty stressful as you adjust to a new, more independent life away from home. What many freshmen don’t know yet is how dorm-life can contribute to that stress. That’s not to say dorm life is bad — on average, studies find that living on campus all four years can increase your GPA by nearly a full point — but it may require some insight and a little navigation to avoid a bad fit.
Before you move in, be ready with a list of questions to ask college admissions about dorms to make sure you’ve got the right fit. Here are some to get you started:
What dorm choices are available?
Chances are good that your school offers a variety of different housing styles to suit different living needs. From the traditional long-hallway model of dorm living to apartment-like “pods,” which share common areas in smaller groups, you’ve likely got some options to choose from. Many dorms today are downright luxurious!
If one option seems to particularly interest you, check for availability. Some popular housing choices are limited, and often upperclassmen get priority assignments.
Do most students live on campus (and for how long?)
Many universities require all incoming freshmen to live on-campus for a year (or maybe even two!) to help guide them into college life. After that, all bets are off. Many will seek housing off-campus, either through the university or renting apartments, and others will get involved in Greek life.
Many other schools try to create a culture where students stay in university housing through all four years of undergrad, offering increasingly more comfortable accommodations in upperclassman dorms. Depending on your lifestyle, knowing which outcome is more popular can help you plan for the years to come.
Do students stick around on the weekend?
Campus culture will vary from place to place. At a lot of schools, the majority of students will head home on weekends. If you’re coming from somewhere far away, this isn’t always an option. Your freshman year can seem long and lonesome when everyone but you leaves campus every weekend. Sure, you’ll get caught up on studying, but at what cost to your social life?
How long is student housing guaranteed?
Not every school guarantees housing for all students through graduation, which can throw a major wrench in your housing plans. This can present a serious problem in areas where high housing costs make finding affordable rooms difficult. Living off campus in rural areas may require a car to get around, which means adding gas, insurance, maintenance, and parking expenses to your already ramen-centric college budget.
How long ago was my dorm built?
You can glean a lot about the building you’re moving into from its age. Older buildings have a lot of charm, but they often come with certain issues — inconsistent heating and cooling, limited accessibility for people with mobility concerns, and fewer power outlets as a throwback to the pre-mobile phone era.
If your building is older than the late 1970s, you may want to ask your admin about any history of lead paint or asbestos. Every dorm should be up to fire codes with sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers on each floor. Ask about fire-safety for dorm mattresses, as well as whether or not your school allows students to smoke in their rooms.
Are there dorms/floors available that are better tailored for my lifestyle?
College is all about exploring different communities and building relationships with others. Sharing your living spaces with like-minded people can do a lot to make that transition easier.
Many colleges today provide housing designed to accommodate students based on their background and lifestyle. That can include everything from gender identity to religious or ethnic background. Many schools provide freshman only dorms to help build friendships (and give the upperclassmen a little space). For straight-edge folks, nearly all schools offer dry floors for students who wish to abstain from alcohol. And a lot of schools also offer group housing for international students, who may find comfort and camaraderie in a shared native language.
Call-boxes are a fast-action alert system designed to connect you to campus security instantly when you feel threatened or uncomfortable in your surroundings. They’re often installed on freestanding columns along walkways and by parking lots, where statistically a higher percentage of incidents do occur. Ask your administrator about how prevalent emergency call-boxes and similar security measures are in and around the dorms.
Each dorm will likely be monitored by one or several Resident Assistants (RAs), who are tasked with protecting students. Ask your administrator about the ratio of freshman students to RAs in each dorm.
How close are dorms to amenities?
Dining halls, especially, but also local restaurants and social clubs, the student union, etc. If you need to pick up prescriptions regularly, your proximity to student health services or a local pharmacy will become important, too.
If you aren’t in a major urban area, public transit options may be limited to a few local stops. Having one nearby can do wonders making off-campus chores like buying groceries a whole lot easier.
From 8am classes to dining hall food to dangerous inexpensive dorm mattresses (yup!), your first year at school presents a lot of hurdles to jump. Knowing you have a good roof over your head can make the transition into college life a whole lot easier.
Do You Need a College Roommate Agreement?