Colleges usually have more than one dorm or residence hall, and inside those buildings, the room layouts differ. There may be single rooms for only one student or suites with multiple bedrooms that house up to five or six students. Most universities have other on-campus housing options as well. They may include apartments, townhouses, Greek houses, and learning communities. To determine your housing placement, your college will ask you to fill out a housing questionnaire in which you give preference to certain dorms and room types, such as a double room on a substance-free hall.
Before You Get to Campus
Knowing what your on-campus housing options are and how the housing process works is the first step toward living on campus. If you do a campus visit, a tour guide will likely walk you through one of the dorms (probably an updated or newer one) to give you an idea of the living spaces. Talk to current students about how they like living on campus and decide what options most interest you, if you’re given a choice. Many freshmen at residential colleges aren’t given any choice beyond filling out a roommate questionnaire and indicating whether they’d prefer to live on a designated quiet or substance-free floor. Upperclassmen often have more options.
Do I get to see a dorm room before I decide to live on campus?
Schools do not offer housing tours to potential residents the way landlords do. They do, however, share the floor plans of their housing options on their websites, and they might offer a virtual housing tour as well. If you can get to campus for a walking tour, you’ll get to see a sample dorm room with your own eyes. Remember, though, that the college is going to show off it’s best dorm, not necessarily a representative one. If you have extra time on campus or if you’re doing an overnight stay, ask a tour guide or your host if they can walk you through the other dorms. If you can’t get to campus, follow the school’s social media accounts for an inside glance at student life or ask the admissions office to put you in touch with a current student (and then email them). Whether online or in person, be sure to check out your options before you accept an admissions offer.
Do I have a say in where I live on campus?
Most colleges and universities offer similar on-campus housing options, but they may not be available to all students. At some schools, upperclassmen have first pick, and freshmen must settle for the leftovers. At other schools, students of all grade levels can select their housing preferences, but some options are more expensive than others. Call your school’s residential life office or look online to find its housing policies.
If I don’t have a say in where I live, will the school still consider my needs and preferences?
Your school wants you to feel comfortable in your room. It will consider a few specific requests, which you can communicate on your housing questionnaire form or by calling the residential life office.
- Wheelchair-accessible housing: Unfortunately, housing options may be limited for students with physical disabilities. Not all dorms have elevators, ramps, sizeable rooms, and/or accessible bathrooms. Rest assured, however, that employees at your residential life office will arrange your housing situation with your needs in mind. Call them or talk to them in person. They may be able to show you a few different dorm options so that you can pick the one that best suits you. Find more information about managing chronic illnesses and physical disabilities at school here.
- Substance-free housing: Most dorms forbid the use of drugs and alcohol, but many students sneak substances into their rooms anyway. If you’d like to avoid alcohol and drugs as much as possible, request substance-free or wellness housing. This ensures that you’ll live with other students who would also like to avoid substances. If you elect this type of housing, you might be asked to sign a no-substances pledge during orientation.
- Single-sex, co-ed, and gender-neutral housing: Fifty years ago, all dorm buildings were single-sex, meaning that one dorm was for women and the other, for men. Campuses still have single-sex housing, but at most schools, it is now an option, not a requirement. These days, it’s commonplace for women and men to live in the same building. Within these co-educational buildings, floors or halls may be single-sex (e.g., men on one wing, women on the other). Other times, women live right next door to men and share the same co-ed hall bathroom. More progressive schools offer gender-neutral housing. This policy allows two or more students to live together in the same room or suite regardless of sex, gender identity, or gender expression. You will never be placed in gender-neutral housing unless you request it on your roommate form. Choosing between same-sex, co-ed, and gender-neutral housing is all about your own personal preference.
Your school may also honor other requests by students who are undergoing gender transition or sex reassignment, struggling with mental health, or using guide dogs. You may find that you are able to request a quiet floor or hall, meaning that instead of adhering to quiet hours in the morning and evening, the dorm is quiet at all times. If you are concerned about your housing situation for any reason, speak with your residential life office as soon as possible. In most cases, the staff will readily work with you to meet your needs.
What are typical dorm rooms like?
If you have options or if you might have options in the future, determine your preferences.
- Singles: A single room is a bedroom for one person. You will still have to share a bathroom, laundry room, and living area with students in your building, but you’ll have guaranteed privacy when you close your bedroom door. This is a great option for students who value their alone time or need a quiet space to study and recharge. Extraverts should be wary. Living alone so far from home can be lonely, and you might feel like you’re missing out on the typical social experience of college if you don’t have a roommate.
- Doubles: The most common choice for freshmen, a double room, is a bedroom shared between two roommates. You’ll share a communal bathroom, laundry room, and living area with other students in the building. Living in a double is a safe decision. It keeps you from being overwhelmed with too many roommates and from being underwhelmed with too few. When your roommate is at class or out with friends, you can have the room to yourself.
- Triples and quads: It almost goes without saying: A triple is a room for three roommates and a quad is a room for four. With that many people involved, at least one roommate will be home most of the time. You’ll probably never be alone, and your room can become a social hub, which is great for outgoing students. Having multiple roommates is typically cheaper than having none. Split the room, split the bill.
- Suites: Available in different floor plans depending on the college, on-campus suites are typically more spacious than dorm rooms because they connect to a bathroom. In a dorm, you’d have to share the bathroom down the hall with 15 people, sometimes many more. Suites keep that number in check. The most basic suites connect two neighboring single or double rooms by an adjoining bathroom. In this case, you share a bathroom with your roommate (if you have one) and the one or two students who live next door. Other suites are more luxurious; in these, you open the door into a common area—a living room, a kitchenette, or a foyer—which is usually shared between four people. From there, everyone can access their own single or double room and the suite’s bathroom. These suites are like apartments, but they don’t have a full kitchen.
Are there housing options on campus that aren’t dorm rooms?
Most campuses have extra housing in addition to the dorms, but it isn’t usually open to first-semester freshmen. You may have to apply for these types of housing, be an upperclassman with a great draw number, or be invited. Policies and offerings vary by school. Depending on where you go, your school might offer one or more of the following options.
- Campus townhomes and apartments: These are housing options (usually for two to six people) that include a common living area, a kitchen, and at least one private bedroom and bathroom. They look like any other nearby townhomes or apartments, but they are owned and managed by your school and only available to current students. These options give you the independence and freedom you crave, especially as an older student or upperclassman, but they’re located near campus, thereby providing access to campus security resources. Universities place bus and shuttle stops nearby to meet your transportation needs.
- Learning communities: Because college is an institution of higher education, you can expect some of your housing options to reflect a commitment to learning. There might be a special dorm for scholarship recipients. State-of-the-art honors dorms might be available to students who maintain a certain GPA. If you excel academically and wish to live with a diverse group of students who also care about their studies, a learning community might be for you.
- Language houses: If you’re studying or majoring in a language, the best way to become proficient is to immerse yourself in it. That’s where language houses come in. Students who are learning a certain language may share a hall or a small dorm that is often staffed by a native speaker of that language. To live in a language house, you must pledge to speak to the other residents only in your target language.
- Themed housing: You are sure to become part of the college community wherever you live, but some schools want to help their students jump-start that process. They offer certain themed halls or off-campus houses for students with similar interests. If you’re looking for people who also love literature, the outdoors, or food justice, your college may have a cooperative living option for you.
- Sorority and fraternity houses: If you join a sorority or fraternity, you may be invited to live in special housing with your brothers or sisters after your freshman year. Fraternity and sorority houses take many forms, and yours will depend on your chapter and university. In general, you can identify these houses by the large Greek letters on the outside of the buildings. These houses provide you with a place to live and host chapter events. Some are more comfortable than others. You may have a cook or live-in “house mom” who supervises activities and serves as a residential assistant. In older Greek houses, the bedrooms may not be big enough to fit beds, desks, and dressers. To remedy this, some chapters created policies for cold dorms, also called sleeping porches. These vast rooms full of beds are where every chapter member sleeps. In turn, the smaller private rooms serve as changing rooms where students keep their desks, dressers, and clothes. Your first freshman-year housing assignment will never be in a Greek house. If you want to participate in Greek life but are concerned about your housing options, be sure to ask or take a tour during rush.
Does on-campus housing come furnished?
If you live on campus, your room will come furnished with the bare bones. One bed frame, mattress, dresser, desk, and chair per tenant is standard. If you have space for anything else, such as a couch or mini fridge, you will have to bring it yourself. For more guidance on packing and move-in day, click here.
Who makes my on-campus housing arrangements?
The residential life office is responsible for making sure students are assigned to on-campus housing, but the placement system works differently at different colleges. Some schools hold housing lotteries to place students in on-campus housing. This leaves housing up to the luck of the draw. Before assigning lottery numbers to students, the process takes seniority into account. Upperclassmen receive better numbers than freshmen. Once every housing applicant is assigned a number, it's time to choose. Students with the best lottery numbers get their first-choice housing options and students with lower lottery numbers vie for the leftovers.
Other schools try to honor your preferences, no matter what grade level you are in. They do this by making some housing arrangements (singles) more expensive than others (doubles, triples, and quads). This type of housing placement system is usually first come, first served.
What are housing questionnaires?
You can communicate your preferences with the residential life office by filling out a housing questionnaire. A housing questionnaire is a paper or electronic form that allows you to select your on-campus housing preferences. You may be able to state your first-, second-, and third-choice dorms, for example. Some schools allow you to select your preferences for singles, doubles, and triples on the form. If you need accommodations or would like to request that you be placed on a quiet or substance-free floor, you can make your requests on the questionnaire. It may also be used to match you with a roommate, so answer honestly.
Prime housing goes quickly. It’s imperative that you send in your housing questionnaire before the due date to increase your chances of receiving your first-choice housing assignment.
What about meal plans? Are they required?
While some on-campus housing arrangements may include a kitchen, students who live in the dorms often must participate in a campus meal plan. Meal plans give you access to the dining hall, where you can eat most, if not all, of your meals. Getting used to the dining hall takes some time, but making healthy choices is possible. Learn more here.
The On-Campus Housing Lifestyle
Living on campus is a distinct lifestyle, and it may take some time getting used to. Every school has its own lingo, rules, and policies. The only way to learn your way around is to attend orientation and participate in the campus community once you arrive. Until then, you can master the basics.
What is a residential assistant?
Often called an RA, a residential assistant is an upperclassman who has agreed to supervise a group of younger students in a dorm. RAs receive an hourly wage or free housing in exchange for their work. Yours will give you an orientation to campus life and specify dorm rules when you move in. Residential assistants aren’t there to police you, but they are there to make sure that everyone is safe. If you ever have questions or concerns, feel free to voice them. Your RA is the person you can go to if you’re feeling homesick, have a complaint about the dorm, or just need to talk. He or she may host events for your floor and might be able to get you free brownie or cake mix when a friend has an upcoming birthday. It should be noted, however, that your RA is not your friend; he or she must report drug use, underage drinking, and any other unwelcome activities.
Which spaces will l share in my building?
- Common rooms: In most dorm buildings, there are common areas in which you can play games or watch television shows. It’s up to all students to keep the common room a clean, friendly, and safe place. Be sure to report any issues or dangerous situations to a residential assistant or other dorm staff member immediately.
- Communal kitchens: When you’re tired of the dining hall or want a midnight snack, the dormitory kitchen is where you’ll find yourself. It’s a shared space, so do your best to be courteous. Clean up after you cook, don’t leave crumbs for pests to find, and keep your hands off any food you find in the fridge unless it’s really yours. If you want to store anything in the fridge or cabinets, be sure to clearly label it with your name.
- Bathrooms: Unless you strike gold in the housing lottery, you’ll be sharing a bathroom, usually with a lot of people. No matter how often they’re cleaned by staff, communal bathrooms are a breeding ground for germs. You may wish to designate a cheap pair of flip-flops as shower shoes. If you’re considering co-ed housing, keep in mind that both men and women use the same bathrooms. It’s worth noting that some dorms have half-bathrooms near their entrances or in their basements. If you’re feeling shy—or really sick—you may or may not be able to find privacy on your crowded campus.
What happens if I break or damage something?
Your school provides routine maintenance for free. If a toilet clogs, the radiator stops working, or a pipe bursts, the residential life office will send someone to repair the problem. On the other hand, if you break or damage something (a window, for example) because of foul play or an accident, you may be charged. The office of residential life conducts end-of-year inspections, but it may also do some at random. It’s in your best interest to be forthcoming and report an incident as soon as it happens instead of getting caught during an inspection. If an incident occurs in a common area, be courteous. Report the issue to residential life yourself so that the wrong person doesn’t get charged for the problem.
What other potential costs should I be wary of?
- Dorm damage: If there is damage to common areas in your dorm and no one has confessed to causing it, the school may split the cost among every student living in the dorm. At the end of the year, you may have to pay this fee. You could be barred from registering for the next semester’s classes until you address the bill.
- Rule breaking: Some colleges will fine you for breaking rules that you agreed to follow in your contract, leaving the dorm before the semester ends, or failing to move everything out of your room at the end of the year. Respect the terms of your contract; it operates much like a lease does.
- Keys: Keys to on-campus housing come in different forms, so you might have more than one. Some colleges still use locks and bolts for their dorm rooms while others use a card-swiping system. Your student ID card can serve as a key for buildings and as a tool to purchase items on campus. Take good care of your cards and keys. You will not only be fined if you have to replace them or change your locks, but without them, it’s a hassle to access any buildings on campus.
- Theft: When you leave your room, always bring your key, even if you just stepped out to shower. Theft is common on college campuses, and you probably have some big ticket items, like a television or computer, that you don’t want to pay to replace.
Page last updated: 10/2017