What’s It Like to Live in a College Dorm? 

Some of the greatest friendships I’ve made in my life were built in my freshman dorm. Together, we had our first taste of independence living away from home. And years later, we still reminisce and laugh about some of the memories we made: dinner outside the cafeteria at sunset, late-night snacks, study sessions in the common areas, and mattress surfing down the stairs (Don’t try this one).  

Living in a dorm can be an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it can come with some challenges. In a sense, you’ll be sharing a home with your dormmates, all with different schedules, study needs, and social habits. When one person may be catching up on sleep between classes, another may be having a lively conversation with a friend. Because of this, it’s important to be mindful of your own habits and noise level. You should also be prepared to live with people who are very different from you and your family.  

Movies and TV shows give us a small glimpse into a glamorized version of dorm life, but it’s important to consider what it’s really like living in a dorm. 

  • Shared living spaces: Dorms are located on or near a college campus and give students a similar experience to living in an apartment building. Each dorm room or suite typically houses two or three students, and rooms come with a bed, a desk, and space to store your clothes and belongings.
  • Roommates: Most residents will have at least one roommate, and some colleges will have you take a personality test to help pair you with someone you’d be compatible with. You will be sharing a cozy room with them, so you need to be communicative about your boundaries, personality, and preferences to ensure you can share a positive living experience.
  • Community spaces: Many dorm buildings have common areas with couches and tables where students can relax, study, socialize, or eat. Some may also have general kitchen areas with a fridge, a sink, and a microwave.  
  • Shared bathrooms: Depending on the dorm, you could be sharing a private bathroom with suitemates or a community bathroom with all the residents on your floor. A large community bathroom generally has shower and toilet stalls, so it’s helpful to use a shower caddy to more easily transport your bathroom essentials.
  • Amenities: Some colleges have on-site amenities, such as laundry facilities, a gym, comfortable areas for studying or socializing, and on-site dining options, such as a cafeteria with meal plans as well as café-style options.
  • Rules and regulations: You’ll have rules that you must follow—many of which are put in place to help residents be courteous to one another as well as keep them safe. There are in-hall staff, sometimes known as resident directors and resident assistants, who help enforce these rules as well as address any issues or conflicts. 

Living in a dorm can be a great step between living at home and being completely on your own as an adult. You are going to grow and learn so much … from managing your schedule and budgeting your money, to being a kind, respectful roommate.  

When you move in, get involved! Go to scheduled events, talk to other residents, and get to know your roommates. You’ll build friendships and grow to understand the people around you, which can help you avoid misunderstandings as well as work through conflicts throughout the year. Most importantly, enjoy this time when you are part of a unique community filled with interesting people—it goes by fast! 

For more resources and information on preparing for college, visit the K12 College Prep Center.

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