5 Ways to Adjust to Dorm Life

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You may be leaving your parents behind, but you'll have a new family of friends to support you. Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Imagine that it's two days before your freshman year of college starts. Your parents drop you off at this strange, institutional-looking building, help you carry your luggage inside and give you a big hug. Then they drive away, leaving you behind. Welcome to dormitory life. You're on your own now. Kinda scary, isn't it?

You may be on your own, but you're not alone. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded by people around your own age who you've never meet before in your life, including one who's actually going to share a room with you. Some of these people may be looking at you funny. You may be looking at some of them funny. Depending on your personality, you may be thrilled by all this or you may be on the verge of having a panic attack.


About that panic attack: Don't have it. Everything's going to be okay. Someday you may look back on this as the greatest adventure of your life. But it doesn't hurt to be prepared for it. So on the next few pages we're going to give you a few simple rules for surviving — sorry, we meant adjusting to — dormitory life. Read the rules and commit them to memory, then relax. We promise you: This is going to be fun.

5: Make Friends — Fast

College is also about people — and how to live with them.
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If you think college is going to be a learning experience, you're right. If you think that the learning experience is going to be about particle physics or late 19th century Scandinavian literature or whatever your major is, you're only half right. What you'll also be learning about in college is people — and how to live with them.

For most college students, dorm life will be their first experience living nearly 24 hours a day, week after week, with a community that isn't made up of people they've known their entire lives. If you're the type of person who makes friends easily, dorm life is going to be a breeze. If you aren't, then dorm life will be a bit of a shock. You'll be living side by side with all kinds of people, many of whom you would have avoided if you'd seen them coming the other way in your high school hallway. Don't look at this as a bad thing. Look at it as an opportunity to develop people skills. Some of these people may become your friends for life and, even if they don't, you'll still want to have them on your side while you're sharing a communal living space with them. Be friendly. Do favors for people. Just don't overdo it and become a suck-up. Nobody likes that.


The two most important people to make friends with are the resident assistant (RA), usually an older student or grad student who the school puts in charge of running dorm activities, and your roommate; that slightly weird and scary human being that you actually have to sleep in the same room with. And if you absolutely can't get along with your roommate — well, that's why you made friends with the RA. Ask him or her about a roommate swap.

4: Don't Get Too Friendly

If you're living in a coed dorm (or even a same-sex dorm), you'll meet people that you're tempted to become romantically involved with. After all, you're probably between 18 and 22 years of age and your body is pumping more hormones than it ever will again in your entire life. When you see someone attractive coming down the hallway, you'll start thinking of becoming a lot more than friends with them. At your age, it's just automatic.

Look, we know it's useless to tell you not to consider becoming snuggle buddies with that guy or girl on the next floor who gives you flirty looks every time you find yourselves on the elevator together. But if temptation strikes, consider this: You may be spending as many as four years periodically bumping into that person in the elevator, and a romance that initially seems like it will last forever can fizzle out disastrously after a few weeks or even a few days. Do you really want that person telling all their friends about the embarrassing secrets you revealed during a particularly intimate moment? Or describing that tattoo that you strategically located in a place where only really, really good friends would get to see it? No, we didn't think you did.


But the heart has its reasons which reason knows not of. (Blaise Pascal said that. Really. And, yes, it will be on the final.) If you fall in love, you fall in love, and after that everything's pretty much in the hands of fate. And why did you get that tattoo, anyway?

3: Bring the Essentials, But Not the Expensive Ones

Some colleges give their students dorm rooms more luxurious than the suites in expensive hotels. (At least that's what I've heard, anyway.) The dorm room I had in college could have served as a detention cell at Guantanamo Bay. If the room you get contains little more than painted concrete walls, two single beds, a pair of desks and closet space, you may want to dress it up a bit. Bring some stuff to personalize it with. You'll want a computer, of course, but these days your college will require that anyway — and quite possibly, they might even supply it for you. You'll also want some pictures or posters to put on the wall, an iPod to listen to on your way to and from class, a radio alarm clock (to wake you up in time for that 8 a.m. gymnastics course you really hadn't meant to sign up for) and some nice clothes to wear both to class and for the good times after class. Your dorm room will be your home for the next four years and you want it to feel like home — well, like home except with no parents and siblings around to make nuisances of themselves.

When you start thinking about bringing the 52-inch widescreen television and the surround sound stereo system, though, stop and think twice. For one thing, the people in the next room might complain about those speakers, especially when you have them cranked up to full volume. But also bear in mind that you'll be putting all this expensive equipment in a room surrounded by dozens of people you don't know very well (or at all) and a roommate you don't necessarily trust to keep the door to your room locked when nobody's there (or to resist the urge to sell your television in exchange for money to buy suspiciously illegal-looking substances). We're not saying you shouldn't trust the people you share your college dorm with. Just don't trust them too much.


2: Learn Your Limits

Just remember that old expression: All things in moderation.
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Don't touch alcohol while you're in college. Don't use drugs. Don't have sex. Don't...oh, OK, I'm having trouble keeping a straight face while typing this paragraph and I'm pretty sure you are too.

College is a transitional period between childhood and adult life. As such, it's a time for experimentation. You don't have to do any of those things mentioned in the previous paragraph, but there's also a good chance you will, even if you weren't planning to when your parents hugged and kissed you goodbye at your dormitory door. Just remember that old expression: All things in moderation. And that even older expression: Be careful out there.


There are going to be parties in your dorm. Kegs of beer are going to appear from mysterious places. It's up to you to decide whether to partake in this. (We'll assume you're of legal age to do so.) Just don't overdo it. It won't take too many keg parties before you notice that drinking too much beer in the evening leads to a lot of pain the next morning, so learn to recognize when you've had enough.

As for sex...well, that's up to you, just remember to do it safely. (Hint: Use condoms. And see your college health counselor about other forms of birth control.) And if illegal drugs show up at the party, just remind yourself that you can get arrested for using them or even for being at the same party with them. Pretty early on, decide what your limits are on all these things. Have fun partying, but just because your parents aren't around doesn't mean you can now do anything and everything you want to. Even if sometimes it feels that way.

1: Study. It's What You Went To College For

Dorm life is fun. We've already touched on a lot of the fun parts of it, like making friends, flirting with people you find attractive and going to parties. Just don't forget that there's a reason you or your parents (or perhaps the federal government) shelled out enough money to buy a fully pimped luxury car just to put you through four years of school. You're there to learn something.

Dorm life isn't always conducive to learning. But at some point you're going to have to crack a textbook and read it or pull out your laptop and type a term paper. Find a place where you can do this. If you're lucky, this place will be your own room. But you might have a roommate who wants to have friends over just when it's time for you to crack down and do some serious homework.


If you can't convince your roommate to work out a differently scheduled social life, or at least move it out of the room, you need to go somewhere else to study. In your dorm there's probably a room, or more likely several rooms, that have been set aside strictly for study purposes. Stack up your books, grab your laptop and head for that room as often as you need to. Or, for a change of scenery, go to the school library. They'll not only have desks, computers and several dozen books on exactly the subject you're studying, but they'll have professional librarians who'll tell rowdy students to shut up and give everybody else some peace and quiet. And, who knows, maybe you won't just have the time of your life in college, but you'll also come out of it with enough knowledge in your head to have a better life all around.

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Author's Note: 5 Ways to Adjust to Dorm Life

I spent four years — four and a half years, actually — getting my BA at a state college and I spent most of that time living in a dormitory on campus. There were good times, there were bad times, but there weren't any times that I wouldn't relive again right now if somebody gave me the chance to do so. That's more than I can say for my life in high school. Wild horses couldn't drag me back to high school.

I apologize to readers 18 years old and younger, but looking back at my college years I feel like I went there as a child and came out as a grown up. Not that I was necessarily a responsible adult when I left or an irresponsible child when I started, but something indefinable had changed inside me and I'm pretty sure it had to do with living in the dorm. The dormitory is where you learn to live with others, to make friends, avoid making enemies, enjoy yourself responsibly and put up with the sort of aggravations that you didn't necessarily have to put up with at home. You know, like having to wait in line to do your laundry or ask the people in the next room if, gee, wouldn't it be possible for them to play their stereo system at something other than its top volume setting? The dormitory, in other words, is where you discover real life.

You'll be surprised by how important these lessons will be to you when school is over -- maybe even more important than that degree in nuclear physics.

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  • College View. "College Dorm Life." (July 31, 2012) http://www.collegeview.com/articles/article/college-dorm-life
  • DeVillers, Julia. "Dorm, Sweet Dorm: Move-In Day." eNotAlone.com. (July 31, 2012) http://www.enotalone.com/parenting/10383.html
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