Choosing a Dorm

The Nitty Gritty on Dorms, Suites & Apartments

Three young women studying in student dormitory, one at desk
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As parents, we obsess over those housing forms: double or triple, freshman or all-classes, suites or floors, and, of course, figuring out which dorm is The Best One. Here are the basic differences:

  • Freshman vs. All-Class Dorm: Freshman dorms are packed with teens going through the exact same, discombobulating, exciting experience, so virtually every dorm dweller is eager to meet people and make new friends. It can be an intense, loud and sleep-deprived living experience, but a very welcoming one. A dorm that mixes under and upperclassmen will not have the same social vibe. Upperclassmen already have all their friends, after all. But upperclassmen can be incredible resources for new students. They know which professors are the most fascinating and which the dullest. They understand how to navigate administrative and financial aid issues, and where to go for medical, academic or internship help. They also have cars.
  • Suites, Floors and Apartments: The classic dorm has double rooms that open directly onto a central corridor. Living quarters can be tiny and restrooms are shared with 20-40 people, but the atmosphere is vibrant and sociable as students pop in and out of each other’s rooms. Suites, which are usually arranged as a set of three or four single or double rooms, a shared restroom, and a small living area, offer significantly more privacy – and quite a bit less socializing with the neighbors down the hall. Campus apartments offer the most privacy. They’re usually assigned to upperclassmen who already have a circle of friends and, one hopes, at least rudimentary cleaning and cooking skills.
  • Special Interest Dorms: Many colleges offer special housing that groups environmental science majors, for example, or foreign language devotees on a single floor. It helps students with similar interests find each other and makes forming study groups easy. But some students prefer the diversity of interests a regular dorm brings.
  • Single Sex Housing: Once upon a time, every dorm was single sex. Now all-female and all-male dorms are more the exception than the rule. Most dorms are co-ed and some even offer gender-neutral housing. If your child would prefer a non-coed option, he has three options: a single sex dorm, a single sex floor in a coed dorm, or going Greek.
  • Location, Location, Location: Like any real estate, dorm location makes a difference. Freshman musicians want to be near the music buildings, because they have heavy instruments to carry back and forth, and rehearsals tend to run late into the night. Student athletes prefer proximity to the athletic facilities, especially if they have early morning practice. Encourage your child to look at a campus map before filling out the housing forms.