College is overwhelming, especially when it comes to a student’s living situation. More often than not, how to choose the “perfect” dorm is a concern of many students and their parents, and there’s a lot of factors that should be considered. I learned this lesson the hard way. As a college freshman, I let finances be the one and only factor when picking my college dorm.
Although this was a financially savvy decision, there were many downsides that resulted from cost being the only factor. At the time, I hadn’t realized how much the dorm I picked could alter my college experience. Learning from the profound experience it had on my college career, I decided to put together a list of ten factors for both incoming and continuing students to consider before choosing a dorm that’s the perfect balance between your wants and needs.
For many students, the cost of housing is a major factor when selecting where to live on campus.
To start your search, make a list of all the dorms available from least expensive to most expensive. Then next to each dorm, list the different amenities and features. Cross out any definite “no’s”, such as it being a gender-restrictive dorm that you don’t match with (as some dorms are female or male-only) or the dorm not meeting accessibility needs.
Next, look at your budget. What is the preferred amount of money you would like to spend on a dorm? You should also consider whether this budget is flexible (and if so, how much?). It’s important to know that you get what you pay for, so putting a little extra money into your dorm selection can make a huge difference in your living situation and how much you enjoy your college experience.
After analyzing your budget, you can cross out any dorms that are too much, and then use the rest of the factors narrow down the selection to choose the perfect dorm for you.
Once you have a list of which dorms meet your budget, locate them on a campus map and find the distances between each dorm and important locations on campus. Some examples of these buildings can include:
- Building(s) where your classes are held
- Dining Hall
Choosing a dorm that is closer to these locations can save you time, sleep, and maybe even motivation to get out of your room more often. (After all, if the gym really is just next door…)
Plus, if there is inclement weather, the difference between that 10 minute walk to class and a 5 minute walk to class can be monumental, and you’ll be thanking yourself in the long run.
3) The Community
Many dorms strive to form some sort of community by encouraging its residents to get out and know one another through activities, mascots, and group bonding factors.
When selecting the perfect dorm for you, look to see what type of community the dorm has. Do they have any social media accounts? A website? A calendar of events?
You can also ask about type of programs have been held in the past, as they can give you a good idea as to what will come in the future.
Attending events in your dorm can not only be a great stress reliever throughout the semester, but it also allows you to meet other people in your building, and can make your dorm seem much more of a home and much less of a “dorm”.
4) A Living-Learning Program
A living-learning program is a dormitory that takes on a “theme” that most–if not all–of its residents have in common, such as being a certain major, being in the honors program, being interested in healthy-living, and so on.
From what I’ve seen, these programs are becoming more and more popular, and rightfully so. Students living in these communities all have at least one thing in common with each other, which can help them bond, as well as give them chance to live with the same students that are in their classes, which can help with study sessions.
Personally, I have lived in a dorm that was not a living-learning program, as well as a dorm that is, so I’ve experienced the differences between living in each. Personally, I loved living in a living-learning community because it gave me the opportunity to be in an environment with students that were in the same classes as me, which was insanely helpful when meeting up for class projects or trying to decipher a homework assignment’s (complex) instructions.
5) Style of Living
When I say “style of living”, I am not referring to how nice the dorm is (although that is a perk); I am referring to whether the dorm rooms are community-style or suite-style.
Community-style means that the bathrooms are not attached to the dorm room and are instead in a separate area on the floor, whereas suite-style refers to a room that either has a private bathroom or shares a bathroom with the neighboring room.
Everybody has their own personal preference and there are pros and cons to each. A community-style bathroom can be inconvenient, but you don’t have to worry about cleaning it or providing your own soap, toilet paper, and paper towels. If you choose to live in a dorm with a community-style bathroom, check out this post on Dorm Bathroom 101, which will break down everything you need to survive a community-style bathroom.
A suite-style bathroom, although convenient, means that the residents are responsible for cleaning it and providing their own toiletries, which means budgeting more money. This is the style of bathroom I had, and I loved not having to worry about the entire hall needing the bathroom at once and not relying on someone else to clean it. Don’t forget to check out my dorm room tour to see what it was like to live in a college suite.
6) Age of the Building
Although the age of the building is not typically discussed when selecting a dorm, it can be a critical factor. An older dorm often has older features (such as heating and cooling), older furniture, and will be more worn out due to it’s prolonged usage over the years.
Newer dorms, although nice, can also be expensive because of these newer features and conveniences.
However, you shouldn’t solely depend on the age of the building to determine its upkeep (and therefore quality) due to the next factor…
Although a building may be old, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t had any upgrades and/or refurbishments over the years to keep it up-to-date.
Some upgrades are more important than others (such as a new water heater versus a new coat of paint), so it is important to research what type of refurbishments the dorm has had and how long ago they were made. This information may be posted on the building’s (or housing office’s) website or in the news. Other times this information might not be so easily available, so it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth asking around to see what’s been done.
The best way to find out what a dorm is actually like is by asking a student who has lived in it, or by searching for reviews online. Students who have lived in the building can give you the best insight as to what living there will be like, as the pictures and floor plans posted online by the college often tend to hide any problems living there may have.
Although finding reviews of a dorm may be a bit harder for an incoming freshman to do, some great people to ask are your campus tour guide or upperclassmen helping out with class registration.
If you are viewing the dorms on a college tour, try to see both the display dorm room (which is what most campus tours will show) AND a real dorm room. There can be a huge difference in each, and you can read about my own experience with that here.
9) Previous Building Issues
This is definitely a factor that you will have to find out from other students for (or from news articles), as the college’s housing office probably won’t advertise any issues with their buildings. However, doing your research can definitely pay off in the end.
Some questions to consider:
- Are the elevators constantly breaking down?
- Have there been any mold issues?
- Has the building experienced any fires or floods that could have damaged the rooms?
These are just a few examples of questions you might want to ask, as these previous issues can possibly affect you should you choose to live there.
However, just remember that although there might have been a previous issue, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been fixed. It’s important to see if it is a reoccurring problem, which can indicate that it may happen again in the future. You will want to avoid predictable issues like this, as they can give you unneeded stress throughout the school year.
An amenity is what comes with the dormitory besides the room. For example, some dorms may provide their residents with a microwave and/or fridge in their room, a common kitchen area for the entire building, study rooms, a lounge area with games/media, a computer lab with printers, etc.
The importance of the amenities available will vary from person to person, but their availability and necessity for each student can have a profound impact on a student’s dorm decision.
Living on campus during college can be a great experience, but having a bad living situation can quickly change that. That’s why it’s important to take these 10 factors into consideration to choose the perfect dorm for you and make your college experience the best one that it can be.