Campus Housing vs Off Campus Housing
You shouldn’t pick a college just because you like the dorms. But, if you’ve decided not to live in off campus housing, a school’s residence halls should be one of the things you consider when making your choice. After all, you’ll spend a lot of time in your new home!
As you visit schools you’ll see a variety of residence halls. Some will be in the same building as a cafeteria, classroom or game room. Some have one bathroom for a few dozen students and some have suites where just a few people share a bathroom.
If you find a college that’s right for you, you’ll also find campus housing that's a great match for what you want out of your college experience. As long as the residence halls are clean and well maintained, it all comes down to your personality and preferences.
"They’re not just places where you sleep and study,” says Christina Spearman, interim director of student life at Loyola University Maryland (www.loyola.edu).
When you’re thinking about where to live at college, whether in a dorm or in off campus housing, she suggests thinking about how you envision your life at college: How many people will you share space with? Do you imagine yourself being close friends with everyone on the floor of your building? Will you have a roommate who’s a close friend or someone who keeps a schedule like yours?
Types of campus housing
You may have heard about colleges building student apartments and off campus housing with extras like fireplaces, flat-screen TVs and tanning beds. You might be able to live in one of these places at some point — but probably not in your first year.
Emily Glenn, corporate librarian for the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, says upperclassmen usually get first dibs on the residences with the most luxuries. Colleges often reserve those buildings for older students. Plus, students who already live on campus probably get to decide in the spring where they’ll live the next year. They’re more likely to pick a place where they share a bathroom, living room or even a kitchen with a few roommates.
In your first year at college, chances are you’ll live in a traditional dorm – that is, a room around the size of your bedroom at home with a bathroom down the hall. There might even be laundry facilities and a kitchen on your floor.
Colleges don’t put new students in traditional dorms to be mean. When you have to share a kitchen and bathroom with lots of other students, it’s easier to meet classmates who will become close friends. “Freshmen need to meet new people, and it's harder to meet people if you have your own little space,” Glenn says. “When you’re an upperclassman you already know a bunch of people.”
You’ll have at least one roommate when you get to college, but most colleges don’t assign freshmen more than two. Spearman says that if you’re like a lot of first-year students, college will be the first time you’ve shared a room. It can be overwhelming to go from having your own space at home to having five new roommates!
Glenn says many colleges are designing their campus housing options so freshmen have an easier time meeting other students. Some schools are doing this by setting aside whole floors in a residence hall for students who share the same interest. Your college might let you request to live on the same floor as other freshmen who share your passion for community service or healthy living.
Some colleges have designated “living-learning communities” that combine academics and residential life. Glenn says this might mean a chance to live with other students in your major. Some living-learning communities offer special seminars or activities for students to take part in. Other living-learning communities are focused on foreign languages, politics or a college’s honors program.
Fellow students might not be the only people living in your dorm. At Loyola, a Catholic college, Jesuit priests live in some of the residence halls. Even faculty members at some schools live in the same buildings as their students!
The right fit
So what’s the bottom line when you’re checking out college housing? “Look for a place you feel comfortable at,” Glenn says. Your dorm isn't just the place where you’ll sleep. It's a place where you'll make a lot of lifelong memories.
“And don’t worry if empty rooms look drab on a tour,” Spearman says. Your room will probably come with a few pieces of furniture, but the rest is up to you. Just a few pictures and knick knacks of your own can make the room feel like your own space.
“Think about this as your new home,” she says.
• How does the college keep its residence halls secure?
• Do you need a dorm with quiet study rooms?
• If you attend a large university, can you live in a residence hall near the academic building for your major?
• Do any special programs take place in the dorms?
• Do you like to cook? Do you have dietary needs that will mean you’ll have to make some of your own meals?
Teen Board Sound Off
Q: Are you planning on living in college dorms or in off campus housing?
“I am absolutely planning on living in college dorms, and am most excited about meeting new people. However, I am worried about missing my family! I would also consider off campus housing, depending on where I go.” —Jordan Rosenburg, senior, Troy High School, Fullerton, Calif.
“Living in college dorms is a ritual that one should experience. I am excited about living with someone that I have never met before and learning to compromise, but I am also very anxious about moving far away from my family and living on my own.” —Stephanie Wu, junior at Academy of Our Lady of Guam, Barrigada, Guam
“I do plan on living in college dorms my first year. The exciting part is that I will have access to an unlimited social network right outside my door. After my first year, I plan on living off campus sorority house! Hello, social networking! And, I hope to make helpful, lasting connections down the road!” —Arianne Wunder, senior at Howard High School, Howard, S.D.
Rebecca VanderMeulen has a degree in journalism from American University (www.american.edu).