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5 Reasons to Love Dorm Life

dorm
Dorm life is one of the hallmarks of the college experience, but is it as great as everyone says it is? Peathegee Inc./Getty Images

If you haven't lived in a dorm yourself, you've probably at least heard stories about living in one. From colorful roommates and football in the hallways to dining hall food and shared bathrooms, dorm life is a breeding ground for stories to tell at dinner parties years after you've graduated from college.

There's a lot of fun involved, but dorm living really is a hallmark of the college experience. Think about it: Have you ever heard anyone talk about the fast friendships they forged in their apartment complex during their first year of college? Dorms promote communication and bonding among groups of people who, while widely varied, are all grappling with the shared experience of a new life at college. The difference in face time alone between commuting students and dorm dwellers can be the difference between a cordial smile in the hall and a lifelong friendship.

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Despite the many perks of dorm life, which we'll explore on the next page, no one expects you to stay there forever; third- and fourth-year students often move into apartments or homes in the surrounding community. Think of this transition as a condensed version of moving out of the family home: Once you have your footing in the college environment, many feel the urge to explore the community -- and adult life -- on their own.

However, not all students leave the college version of the proverbial nest; in fact, some choose to stay in dorms throughout their entire higher education experience. For instance, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Ashdown House, the university's first graduate residence, plays an important role in the graduate-level community. In programs where research and collaboration are of paramount importance, the closeness that dorms foster is especially crucial for academic and career success [source: Ashdown House].

Whether you're a new college student or just want a trip down memory lane, read on for some reasons you should thank your lucky dry-erase boards for dorm life.

two students playing video games
When you live in the dorm, you're never far away from friends. James Woodson/Getty Images

For many incoming freshmen, emotions run high as they begin that first year of college. Freshman year marks an exciting first step away from the family unit, but for many, college also means a separation from friends and relationships often ten or 15 years in the making. Luckily, RAs (resident advisors) and college housing coordinators make it their mission to ensure that first-year students don't get the opportunity to feel the sting of homesickness.

First, contrary to what the occasional horror film plot and pop culture trope might have you believe, you may actually like your roommate. Most universities conduct a thorough screening and survey process to match incoming residents based on study habits, cleanliness and a variety of key personality traits. Sure, not every pairing is perfect, but many dorm-dwellers end up living with their first- and second-year roommates off campus as upperclassmen even after moving out of the dorms.

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Second, there's never a shortage of activities to try. Feeling lonely on your first Saturday away from home? Many RAs plan at least a full week of daily or nightly outings (ice cream socials, trivia nights, campus tours, karaoke and dinner parties, to name a few) to help new or first-year students acclimate to their new living space and bond with other residents.

Finally, you're in pretty close quarters with a bunch of people who are all on the same new, rocky, scary and exciting ride as you are. If you just moved to an apartment in a new city, you'd be on your own to find the best local hangouts (and the best people with which to frequent them), and there's very little that's more awkward and off-putting than going solo into a brand-new social situation. Dorms provide a built-in social network of people who are just as displaced as you are -- a perfect base for building friendships and mastering the ins and outs of college life. Not only that, but your RA has done all of this before, and he or she can offer some pro tips as you get used to your new home and lifestyle.

But college isn't just about having fun on the weekends. Read on to find out how dorm life can help you fit into the college community and why you should always keep some face paint handy.

college orientation
Living in the dorm definitely helps you make friends and build a sense of community while at school. Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

If college was just about getting good grades and making a friend or two, this article might be called something like "Dorms: Why They're Kind of Cool But You Could Really Just Take or Leave Them." Quite the contrary, however: Dorms are crucial to the development of a college community.

If you've ever observed a crowd at a university football game (picture lots of bare-chested male students in full body paint), you can probably guess that the development of school spirit is a key component of college life. Attendance at sporting events, arguably one of the best college bonding experiences available to students, often begins in the dorms, whether involvement takes the form of sharing face paint or just walking to the stadium together.

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But that sense of community extends far beyond the field or the court, and it's often the catalyst for some pretty spectacular university-wide practices. For instance, take the Stanford University tradition where dorm staff members greet new students by storming their cars as they arrive and yelling cheers of welcome. This lively greeting kicks off a week of dorm spirit activities, during which students brandish their dorm flags and attempt to out-cheer their rivals [source: Stanford University]. Or perhaps you'd be more interested in the annual pumpkin drop at MIT, during which scores of students let fly a volley of pumpkins (often choreographed and set to music) from the tops of campus buildings [source: Peck].

But community-building doesn't have to be as elaborate as a barrage of flying gourds; it can be as simple as the unforgettable experience of sharing a bathroom with 20 or so fellow dorm residents. If there's one guarantee we can make about dorm life, it's that it's never boring.

college kids in dorm
Once you move out of home and into the dorm, the rules are up to you (mostly). Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

If you live near the college of your choice, you might consider living at home instead of venturing into the dorms. And there are definitely some perks to staying with your parents: You'll avoid the cost and hassle of moving, you'll sleep in your own bed and you can still hang out with the family dog when studying gets tough.

However, many college students find that staying with their families limits their ability to discover their own independence. Living at home means that parents can still assign chores, set curfews and decide what you have for dinner; for most, there's very little opportunity to begin making the more adult choices that dorm-dwellers do.

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While you won't have parents nagging you about chores in a dorm, these aren't tasks that you should eschew completely. In fact, quite the contrary: You'll learn quickly that refusals to vacuum, do laundry or take out the trash will not be looked upon kindly by roommates or others in close quarters. After a few nights of staying out too late before an 8 a.m. class, you'll learn to set your own curfews as you see fit. And you'll still get to take advantage of pre-made food like you might at home -- but you get to choose the cuisine. Dorm life doesn't exempt you from rules; rather, it just allows you the freedom to write them in ways that work for you.

Dorm life also offers increased privacy. "Privacy?" you might ask. "But I'll have a roommate!" Very true, but a roommate isn't a parent; she's not watching your every move, and she probably won't care whether you get your homework done before or after going to trivia night at the student union. And while many dorms have security systems (for example, some require students to swipe their student IDs to gain entry), you're allowed to come and go as you please.

Need a more practical reason to choose dorm living? Read on to find out why dorms can be great for your bottom line.

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college kids at cafe
Living in the dorm will help save you money so you'll have more of it to spend on important things like coffee. Image Source/Getty Images

Social life aside, for many college students and their families, dorms just make good financial sense. During the 2011-2012 school year, the average cost of room and board at college in the U.S. was $9,047; that amounts to just over $1,000 per month [source: Lytle]. In comparison, the 2011 average rent cost for an apartment in the U.S. was $1,020 and rising [source: Yoder]. Keep in mind that most leases for college apartments only last nine months, rather than 12 months for conventional ones.

At most colleges and universities, room and board fees includes all sorts of amenities: a furnished dorm room (often including items like a mini-fridge, microwave, and cable hookup), a meal plan (usually around 20 meals per week in on-campus dining halls), and access to often state-of-the-art recreational facilities like gyms and swimming pools. Compared to off-campus living, even the cost of food alone sans meal plan can make a significant dent in a family's finances, not to mention expenses like transportation.

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That's not to say that dorm costs haven't gone up. With consumer technology like iPods and iPhones, portable gaming systems and sleek, minimalist appliances (think mini-fridges and microwaves) becoming mainstays of the back-to-school shopping list, dorms require greater technological capability than ever before. It's no surprise that this added connectivity comes with a price: At the University of Illinois, for example, the cost of room and board on campus jumped almost $3,500 between the years 2000 and 2010 [source: Cohen]. However, even with this increase, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better deal than a dorm.

And if time really is money, as they say, dorm dwellers are in luck. We'll explore the convenience factor of dorm life on the next page.

girl biking to class
Most dorms are located on campus so it's super convenient for students to live there. Roberto Westbrook/Getty Images

Ample food that's already paid for? Check. Built-in friends and study buddies? Check. Access to state-of-the-art technological and research facilities? Check. All of this within walking distance? Check. No matter how you slice it, dorm life puts the smackdown on just about every other college housing option in terms of convenience.

In fact, dorm life is designed specifically to make sure that students have as much time as possible for the important (academics) and fun (social and recreational) aspects of college. Meal plans, often featuring widely varying cuisines and some surprisingly healthy choices, eliminate weekly grocery runs. Ate too much of the red velvet cake in the cafeteria? Not to worry -- many colleges and universities feature state-of-the-art sports, exercise and other recreational facilities. And not only are they within walking distance if you live on campus, but the cost is also included in student tuition.

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The convenience factor also extends to academics. On-campus residents can stroll over to the library or the lab at almost any time to work on a term paper or a tricky experiment; professors and teaching assistants (TAs) also hold office hours on campus for students who have questions outside of lecture time. And while dorms are great for social gatherings, chances are that some of the people you're heading into town with on the weekends are also in a few of your classes. Most dorm halls also feature multiple lounges that are rife with opportunities for study groups and tutoring.

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Author's Note: 5 Reasons to Love Dorm Life

I'm an experienced college-hopper: I lived in a dorm for part of my first year, moved home and commuted to another college through my sophomore year, then commuted from my own apartment to a different university to earn my degree. I still had a blast, but I'll be honest: I feel a little cheated out of the true college experience. My dorm-dwelling friends were more tightly knit and did way more fun things than I did, and while the surface-level goal of college might be to graduate with a degree and a high GPA, I'm a little, teensy bit sorry I moved on from the dorm scene so quickly. So if you ever read a news story about a girl throwing pumpkins off the roof of her apartment, you'll know I'm just trying to see what might have been.

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Sources

  • Brink, Bill. "Dorm life v. off-campus living: Both have advantages." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 3, 2012. (July 27, 2012) http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/dorm-life-v-off-campus-living-both-have-advantages-268171/?p=0
  • Cohen, Jodi S. "This Isn't Your Parents' College Dorm." Chicago Tribune. March 14, 2010. (July 29, 2012) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-03-14/news/ct-met-dorm-life-20100314_1_college-dorm-students-universities
  • Lytle, Ryan. "10 Colleges with Most Expensive Room and Board." U.S. News. Sept. 20, 2011. (July 29, 2012) http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2011/09/20/10-colleges-with-most-expensive-room-and-board
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Life at Ashdown." (July 27, 2012) http://ashdown.mit.edu/lifeatashdown.php
  • Peck, Rachel. "The 7 Most Infamous College Traditions." Her Campus. March 22, 2012. (July 30, 2012) http://www.hercampus.com/life/8-most-infamous-college-traditions?page=2
  • Stanford University. "Joining the Stanford Family Through Dorm Traditions." April 13, 2008. (July 30, 2012) http://www.stanford.edu/group/ccr/blog/2008/04/joining_the_stanford_family_th_1.html
  • Yoder, Steve. "The New American Dream: Rent, Don't Buy." The Fiscal Times. Jan. 4, 2012. (July 29, 2012) http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/01/04/The-New-American-Dream-Rent-Dont-Buy.aspx#page1

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