Coming into college, most students opt to live in the dorms for a variety of reasons. At UC Berkeley, 95% of first-year students live in on-campus housing, and at many other colleges, this percentage climbs even higher. Even after the first year, some students opt to continue living in the dorms if possible, whether that be by personal choice, employment (becoming a Residential Assistant), or convenience. Here are some factors to consider:
Pros of living in the on-campus dorms:
1. Independence & Responsibility: Moving out of your parents’ home for the first time can be scary and daunting, but it also gives you a lot of independence. You become responsible for your own day-to-day routine, time management, mental health, physical health, and you are able to more thoroughly decide how you want to spend your time. You can branch out, try new things, meet new people, and you become responsible for really directing the trajectory of your life. If you find something isn't working for yourself, or you aren’t happy, it becomes your responsibility to really make moves to improve your situation (However, this does NOT mean that you are all alone - seek out university resources and community groups to help you through the transition to adult life and help you stay motivated and in control of your own life).
2. Social Life: In my experience, living in the dorms helped me find an immediate social circle (which in turn, helped me feel at home). No matter what happened during the day, how badly my classes went, or how chaotic the world was, I always had a “built-in” family within my dorms that kept me grounded, happy, and healthy. In the dorms, everyone on my floor usually kept their doors slightly propped open, inviting a casual chat when passing by and creating a more unified community. I spent late nights studying with friends in the lounge, going for 2am ice cream and donuts, and having heart-to-heart conversations on my way to the shower. The dorms gave me the kind of casual community that I so desperately needed coming into college knowing no one, and to this day, some of my best friends and strongest relationships stem from those initial connections.
3. Proximity to Campus: More often than not, campus-owned housing will be much closer to campus (if not actually located ON campus) than independent apartments or other housing arrangements. This means that you will likely not need to care/pay for a car while living in on-campus housing, and you will be able to walk or bike to class on the daily. This makes your first year in college much simpler (not to mention you’ll likely be able to sleep in a bit more without having to commute long distances)! This is also great for students that like to (or have to) stay late on campus studying, since you will have a much shorter walk home late at night. Additionally, many universities have shuttle services that can take you to and from campus-owned housing locations, which makes getting home safer and faster.
When I lived in on-campus housing, my walk to class took just about 5 minutes one-way, which made my early morning classes easier to get to, and my late night classes safer to return from. Additionally, I was able to come back home in between classes for a quick snack or nap, and if I ever forgot something at home, it was easy to quickly run back to get it.
4. Packaged dining plan: Because of the room layout and amenities that are available in the dorm, you will likely also get a dining plan that comes “baked into” your housing arrangement. This takes care of your meal plan and makes it a bit easier to focus on all of the other changes in your life, without you having to figure out how to consistently make nutritious meals for yourself. It’s much easier to come to a cafeteria that offers you full salad bars and a variety of menu options than try to figure out how to efficiently and effectively shop for your own cooking ingredients - plus, you don’t have to worry about cleaning a kitchen and appliances in your dorm room!
5. Cleaning crews & housing staff (support): When it comes to cleaning and general room maintenance, living in the dorms gives you a lot of support. You will generally have staff that are paid to clean the bathrooms and common areas rather consistently, which is a luxury! That way, you can focus on keeping your own dorm rooms clean, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not you are living in a sanitary, safe space.
Note: Treat these staff members with RESPECT - be sure that you don’t just leave trash around or make a mess of the common areas/bathrooms with the assumption that they will clean it up because it is their job. As a resident in the dorms, it is your responsibility to make their job as easy as possible, and show respect by cleaning up after yourself. It is NOT their job to clean extreme messes - they are there to help provide a sanitary and clean space for you to be academically and socially productive/happy.
6. Housing guarantee/priority: Most colleges either guarantee or offer housing priority to first year students. Many colleges even guarantee housing for all 4 years, though this is something that varies greatly among colleges. Check out your own college's housing rules, and see how accessible campus housing will be for you throughout your time in college. For instance, at Berkeley, many students only live in on-campus housing their first year, and then more into off-campus apartments after that. But if you are able to live in the dorms all 4 years, it can eliminate a lot of the uncertainty and risk of pursuing independent options, and you don’t have to spend time searching for housing with the right location/amenities or negotiating prices.
Cons of living in the on-campus dorms:
1. University rules/oversight: When living in the dorms, you have to abide by the rules that the university sets. This means that you may face strict regulations surrounding substance use, curfews, outside guests/security, appliances, decorations, and overall behavior. For instance, many dorms will not allow you to bring any appliances that pose a fire risk, such as space heaters, hot plates, etc., and other places may not allow you to have outside guests inside at all (especially during heightened COVID restrictions). If you live somewhere that is labeled as single gender housing, you may also face restrictions regarding whether or not you can bring significant others or different-gender friends into the dorm. It’s important to consider these limitations when signing up to live in the dorms, and make sure that you can agree to all of the terms that they present.
2. Cost (Usually more expensive than campus-owned housing): In general, dorm options are usually more expensive than independent apartment leases, mainly because of the added security, cleaning fees, and convenience of location/amenities. Many times, dorms have available study spaces, computer rooms, gyms, laundry rooms, etc., so you are paying for these options whether or not you use them. This is important to consider and factor into any financial aid/money conversations you are having with your family, since it will add a sizable amount of money to your overall cost of attendance. For content, UC Berkeley’s base tuition is just over $14,000, while room & board adds an extra $17,000+ to your total (be mindful that out-of-state students also pay a supplemental tuition of about $30,000). This means that you’ll be paying approximately $1,800-2100 per month for housing, where most off-campus apartments can cost you less than $1,000 per month (sometimes SIGNIFICANTLY less than this).
3. Small living quarters, little privacy: Living in the dorms means that you are entering a rather social environment with little room to really spread out. Unless you opt to live in a single room, you will likely share your space with 1-3 other people, which means that 1. You will have to be mindful of your roommates space and schedule, and 2. You will be spending most waking hours with someone around you. This can be great when it comes to making new friends and staying busy, but if you are someone that operates as a more introverted person, this may be an adjustment. You’ll probably be running into each other a bit when getting ready in the morning (unless your schedules happen to not overlap), and you’ll need to get used to showering/brushing your teeth right next to new faces, going to sleep with someone right beside you, etc.
4. COVID concern: Housing at most colleges may look a bit different come this Fall, and COVID risk may be a large factor in your decision to live in the dorms or not. Most places have been rather transparent when it comes to communicating their COVID procedures and containment plans, so this is something important that you should do research on before coming. Note whether or not there will be behavioral restrictions for you upon moving in, and find out if their sanitation procedures make you feel safe and reassured. Living in the dorms means that you will be around more people, which inherently means a higher risk of exposure. However, with the right regulations and safety precautions, you can safely return to the dorms and have a very enjoyable fall semester.
As with any major life change, your housing situation is something that requires planning and thought. All of our consultants experienced the housing market in a variety of ways, whether that was in the dorms, in off-campus apartments, you name it! So, we have a great idea of what to expect, what to look for, and what to keep in mind when moving into your dorm room for the first time. Set up a consulting call to talk more about housing with us, and ask your most pressing questions about residential life!
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.