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If there’s one thing students get excited about, it’s dorm life. What’s not to love? It’s basically summer camp minus the sunburns and outdoor showers. Plus, this is probably your first time living apart from your family. You can stay up all hours of the night and eat a family size bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in one sitting. (That’s a lot of Cheetos, but we’re not judging). This sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? Well, there’s more to dorm living than meets the eye. We recommend sending in your housing information/preferences ASAP because many residential options are determined on a first come, first serve basis. As you begin narrowing down your choices, here are a few points to consider:

All-Freshman vs. All Classes

It’s quite common for schools to designate certain dorms freshmen-only, while others remain open to all classes.  So, how do you know which one is right for you?  Both options definitely offer their own set of advantages and disadvantages.  While all-freshmen dorms are historically rowdier and chaotic, they also ensure you’re on equal footing with your neighbors.  In other words, everyone in your dorm will be new to the school and most likely in your graduating class.  You’ll be navigating this experience together and everyone will be looking to make friends and settle into college life. 

On the other hand, upperclassmen are more likely to have their routines and social circles cemented down.  They might not be as eager to hang out in the lounge until dawn or attend that 80’s dance party with you.  However, upperclassmen are already well integrated into the fabric of campus life. They can show you the ropes and offer guidance on everything from which professors to take (or avoid) to which dining hall prepares the best tacos.

Location, Location, Location!

No matter if you attend the tiniest liberal arts college or a mammoth university, a school set deep in the country or within a booming metropolis, chances are your campus will be spread across many acres or city blocks.  Therefore, it makes sense to consider where dorms are located in comparison to your classes, activities, and various campus amenities.  After all, you might not want to live in a dorm that’s a 20 minute walk from the nearest dining hall or next door to the football stadium where you’ll have to deal with boisterous fans throughout the season.

Living Community Housing

A dorm is a dorm is a dorm right?  Well, yes and no.  While many dorms are generic housing complexes, some schools assign certain buildings (or floors) a specific theme or community type.  For example, there might be a dorm with a Spanish theme for language lovers who want indulge and strengthen their Spanish skills.  Another residence might be dedicated to eco living and environmental action.  Themed housing offers you the opportunity to live in a community of like-minded individuals and host/participate in a myriad of activities surrounding this unifying interest.  However, you should also be aware that some themed houses expect their residents to adhere to certain rules and regulations (e.g. composting all waste, only speaking French with neighbors, etc.).  Make sure you’re up for the challenge before committing.

Similar to themed housing, some students choose their dorm based upon lifestyle preferences. Undergrads can often opt for single-sex, substance free, or quiet housing. These are welcome alternatives for students concerned about living in a safe, comfortable, and calm environment.

Physical Building

Though this might seem obvious, make sure you also consider each dorm’s physical attributes. Clearly, some buildings may be newer and include amenities, whether that be central air conditioning or cable ready rooms. On the other hand, older dorms might provide more charm or a greater sense of history. Additionally, some dorms are huge housing complexes, offering a diverse group of students with numerous undergraduates on every floor.  These can frequently be a hub of activity but sometimes feel less personable and homey. Other dorms might actually be converted houses, containing far fewer rooms and students for a more intimate vibe.

Further, you should also give some thought to dorm layout. Are you hoping to share a double with a classmate?  Or do you think a quad would be more your speed?  Have you been fantasizing about living in an apartment style suite?  Or will a single room and a communal bathroom down the hall suffice?  It’s important to contemplate which set-up holds the most appeal for you.

Of course, with all this being said, don’t stress too much over these decisions. A dorm won’t necessarily make or break your college experience. By thinking about these different elements of dorm life,  you will better prepare yourself in choosing an environment you enjoy. (All the more important when returning after a long day of classes). Dorm living is a part of college that you will likely look back on with sweet nostalgia, whether your experience is wild and messy or calm and controlled. The next four years will go by faster than you could ever imagine, so enjoy the ride!