Dorm Trunk

According to several really important-sounding studies, first-year students living on campus perform better academically than those who live off campus. Perhaps it’s because students living in dorms are closer to the things they need, like the library and the computer labs. Or maybe it’s because the meal plan that comes with most dorms takes the pressure off having to forage for food, giving students more time to study. And think of all the potential study partners floating around the hallways or energetically highlighting their textbooks in the study lounge. No wonder dorm life for first years is such a good idea.

Should you live in a dorm your first year? In a word: yes. Socially, you can’t beat dorm living. You’ll make friends easily, commiserate about school with your dormmates, study with groups of friends, always have someone to eat with, and stay up late socializing almost every night. You will share your college experience with other people who are going through the same ups and downs, and that makes everything easier. There is great strength in numbers.

Studying can be difficult in a dorm, because socializing often takes priority over grades. But you can easily balance this by heading to the library or to a quiet study hall.

All of these advantages don’t erase the fact that dorm life can be challenging. You’re living in close proximity to a lot of other people, and that’s a recipe for conflict. But conflict is part of life, and learning how to deal with it successfully is essential to becoming an adult.

Not all dorm rooms resemble dark, damp prison cells. Some are downright luxurious, looking more like plush apartment suites than campus housing. Some colleges have a lot of money to spend on housing, and their dorms tend to be more livable, so much so that even parents are envious. Other campuses might not have the cash flow to put into the dorms, so you might find yourself living between four thickly painted cinderblock walls, with nothing but a lumpy mattress to cry on when the toilets clog up—again. But it’s usually not that bleak. Sometimes when the dorms on big urban colleges fill up schools house their students in luxury hotels.

You don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to where you’re going to live. You will probably be asked to fill out a form indicating your housing choices. You can list your ideal dorms on campus (if you’ve visited or done some research), but there’s no guarantee that you’ll end up there. Some campuses have first-year-only dorms, in which case you’ll have a better idea of where you’ll end up.

Here are a few examples of the different types of college dorms or living arrangements you might encounter:

Most first years will have at least one roommate. It is possible to get a single where you live alone, but the chances are slim. The double is the most common arrangement, where two people share a room. Some dorms are made of suites, which are basically two or more rooms in an apartment with two students in each room. Suites often include a shared bathroom, a common area, and sometimes a kitchen area. As enrollment rises at many schools, doubles are often turned into triples or quads, so don’t be surprised if you end up with more than one roommate.

Communal bathrooms are, well, an experience. If you have a lot of siblings, you’re not particularly shy, or you don’t mind sharing your space, the communal bathroom experience shouldn’t bother you too much. If you’re not used to having your privacy invaded, you’ll have a lot more adjusting to do.

Many halls will only have one bathroom for guys and one for girls, meaning that twenty-eight girls may need to shower all at the same time. But this rarely happens. Everyone’s schedule is different, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long to soap up. Some bathrooms are coed, so you may be competing with everyone on the floor for mirror space.

The most important piece of equipment you’ll need for your trips to the bathroom is a pair of flip-flops to protect your feet. Communal bathrooms aren’t the cleanest of places, and some are downright nasty. You’ll also need something to carry your toiletries and shower items to and from the bathroom. You can pick up a plastic or metal mesh basket—affectionately known as a shower caddy—at any houseware or hardware store. You’ll also want a robe, because losing your towel while walking though your coed hallway can be very embarrassing.

Dorms with suite-style housing generally have bathrooms in each room, so you’ll only have to share with your roommates. You’ll come up with a cleaning schedule, and if all of you follow it, the bathroom should remain fungus-free.

Unless you’re on a designated quiet floor, the dorm is probably going to be very noisy. There’s always a lot going on: blaring music, noisy games, television, people laughing and talking, and general mayhem in the halls. Many people leave their doors open so everyone mingles in and out of the rooms.