The prospect of living at an American university can be incredibly exciting, yet also daunting. Many American films have popularised the idea of dorm life, but what can you really expect?

There are a few types of accommodation while at university in the US, which can be sorted into on-campus and off-campus housing.

On-campus

Almost all US universities provide their students with the option to live in dormitories on campus.

  • Co-ed residence halls: male and female rooms in the same building, but always with same-sex roommates
  • Single-sex residence halls: an all-male or all-female environment, either an entire residence halls or separate floors
  • Themed housing: some universities have themed housing, which might be dedicated to international students, students interested in community service, athletes or students studying a language
  • University apartments: some universities have on-campus apartments that offer the feel of living off-campus but have the convenience of living on-campus (apartments are always in high demand; priority is generally given to upper-level undergraduate, graduate and married students, but some universities also give priority to those whose hometowns or place of origin are farthest from the school, such as international students)
  • Married student housing: at some universities, apartments or houses are owned and operated by the university exclusively for married students and families (demand for these units may be high due to limited numbers)

Dorm life can be daunting for international students, but there is typically a Resident Assistant (RA) on call. RAs are upperclassmen (non-first years) employed by the university to oversee the dorm. They arrange social events and also enforce university policy. 

RAs should be your first port of calls if you have any issues with your living situation, and can also act as mentors for your student experience in general.

Sharing a room is the university standard in the USA. It will always be someone of the same gender, and likely to be a stranger. You are often issued a questionnaire by the university to match students according to interests and living habits.

En-suite rooms are very rare in US university accommodation.

Off-campus

If you cannot find accommodation in university dormitories on-campus, or would prefer to live in an apartment or house, you may have to look for housing off campus.

Off-campus accommodation includes apartments, houses, privately-operated dorms and rooms in a private home. If you choose to live off-campus, your university's housing office can offer advice.

Some universities require first year and study abroad students to live on campus.

Remember that it might be cheaper to live in university accommodation in a city, or it might be cheaper to live off campus in rural areas.