What is it Like to Live in a College Dorm?

You have finally reached the point in your life where you won’t be living under your parent’s roof. Before you pack up and go, you should know what it is like to live in a college dorm.

Living in a college dorm can get quite expensive. There is little privacy and personal space in college dorms. Few dorms give students access to kitchens and washing machines. However, dorms can be a great place to make friends and socialize.

Movies often portray dorm life like it’s a constant party. For some people, this might be accurate; however, most will have a very different experience. The movies neglect to show a balance of the good and bad aspects of dorm life. Here you will learn everything you need to know about living in a college dorm.

Dorm Life

Living in a college dorm is often seen as a rite of passage into adult life. In the dorms, you learn more about yourself and others. Most importantly, you start learning how to take care of yourself.

If you can leave home for college, do it. Dorm life will be the transitionary period from letting your parents take care of you to you taking care of yourself.

Before we get into the specifics of living in a dorm, remember that not all dorms are the same. For example, when I was in college, my college dorm was like a mini-apartment that I shared with five other people. We had a kitchen and bathroom.

However, my friend’s dorm was just a single room with two beds. In the corner was a small sink suitable for simple tasks. Down the hall was a communal bathroom and shower room.

In general, two people will share one college dorm; however, some colleges offer private rooms or larger layouts. A private room will cost additional money, and chances are, it will be much smaller than the shared room. 

Although choosing a private room might sound ideal, sometimes the best part of living in the dorms is sharing the experience with others. Unless necessary, it’s a good idea to opt for the shared dorm.

Related Article: Are College Dorms Safe? Why or Why Not?

Living in a College Dorm: Pros and Cons

Now that we know not all dorms are alike, let’s discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of living in a college dorm.


When going to college, especially in a new state or town, many worry about making friends. If you choose a shared dorm room, you will have an instant connection.

Nicole, a student at Montana State University, believes roommates are the most influential part of dorm life. “The quality of dorm life is pretty dependent on your roommate situation,” she said.

Unless you already know someone who is going to the same college dorm as you, chances are your first set of roommate(s) will be randomly selected. However, in future semesters, you can arrange to live with the friends you make along the way.

Be prepared to have disagreements with your roommates. Living with someone can strain the relationship. Use your time in the dorms to learn how to solve problems with discussion and compromise.

If you like to have plenty of time alone, do not expect excessive privacy in the dorms. You will live close to your roommate and dozens of other college students. Other residents will frequently occupy the dorm’s common areas.

Being surrounded by people also means being surrounded by noise. However, some dorms have mandatory quiet hours to ensure students can get some much-needed sleep.

Related Article: Are College Dorms Noisy [From Student’s Point of View]


Unfortunately, dorm life can be expensive. A dorm at a public college costs about $8,887 a year; meanwhile, private colleges charge about $10,089 a year. Throughout your college education, you will spend about $36,000 to $40,000 on dorm rent alone.

Remember, few dorms include kitchens. If they do, you will probably share it with the entire building. When you decide to cook, someone else might already be in the kitchen. Additionally, unless you have a mini-fridge in your room, you will have limited fridge space available.

Most students choose to pay for a meal plan to the campus cafeteria or dining hall instead. The Hechinger Report found that college students pay $4,500 (on average) for an 8-month meal plan. Assuming the student eats three meals a day, this averages out to $18.75 a day. If you order takeout or eat at a restaurant, the money does not carry over to another day.

Something we all took for granted when living with our parents was the washing machine. Not all dorms have laundry machines, and even fewer will be free. You will need to plan times to do your laundry and may need to set a few extra dollars aside each month.

For example, if you did one (small) load of laundry every two weeks, you would spend about $30 on laundry every semester.

Read Next: What to Bring to a College Dorm: Full List

Resident Assistants

Although you are no longer living under the supervision of your parents, you are still not free to do whatever you want. Even college dorms have rules. The dorm will hire a Resident Assistant, also called an RA, to enforce these rules.

William, a former RA at the University of Oregon, explained the role of a Resident Assistant, “You’ll have an RA whose job is to report violations of rules and to help you with any problems you might have.”

No two RAs will be alike. While some RAs are very strict and involved in students’ lives, others take a more laid-back approach. You’ll have to be prepared for either approach. No matter where you live, your RA is likely just another student with similar problems as you. Show them respect, and they will usually do the same for you.

After hearing all this, you probably think living in the dorms would be a nightmare; however, this is far from the truth.

You only get to live in the college dorms once in your life. There will be times where you feel crowded or annoyed, but there will also be moments you will remember for the rest of your life. Living in the dorms will teach you many valuable life lessons.

If possible, take the opportunity to live in a college dorm.

Related Article: Can You Drink In College Dorms?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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