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Almost all US universities provide their students with the option to live in residence halls or dormitories (dorms) on campus. Living on campus will allow you to be more connected to the student community. It is a great and easy place to meet US students and make new friends quickly!
Usually there is high demand for residence hall space. When you receive your acceptance letter, return the housing application (including roommate questionnaire) as soon as possible, as space is often allocated on the basis of status and completed documentation.
In the dorms there are rules to control noise level, cleanliness, number of visitors and other basic aspects of community living. These rules vary by building, and there could be a curfew for co-ed guests and designated ‘quiet hours’ when most students are sleeping.
If you live on campus, you will likely be assigned one of the following types of housing:
• Co-ed Residence Halls: Co-ed dorms have both male and female rooms in the same building, but always with same-sex roommates in each room.
• Single-Sex Residence Halls: Rather than a co-ed style of living, these dorms are for those who prefer to live in an all-male or all-female environment. Entire residence halls or parts of halls (such as certain floors) are designated for one gender.
• Themed Housing: Some universities have themed housing. There may be a dorm dedicated to international students, students interested in community service, athletes or students studying a language.
• University Apartments: Some universities have on-campus apartments, which 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. However, 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. Only a limited number of spaces are set aside, so demand for these units may be high.
Any of the above mentioned dorms can be set up as a hall or suite. A hall style dorm is set up in rows of rooms with bathrooms at the ends of the hall. These halls and bathrooms can be shared with many other students. A suite style dormitory is set up in a circle of rooms with a smaller bathroom and smaller common room. These are often shared between six to ten people.
A Resident Assistant (RA) is an older student (not a first-year) who is employed by the university to oversee the students living in the residence halls. The RA lives in the hall with the students, arranges social events, activities and mixers for residents of the dorm, including information sessions, hall snacks and chats, movie nights and dances. More importantly, RA’s and Resident Directors (RD’s), the RA's supervisors, uphold university policy, maintain a safe and clean environment, plan events and are a valuable source of information, advice and support for students. They are trained by the university to give advice and guidance and act as a mentor, meaning they are your first port of call if you have any concerns or issues with regards to both your living situation and your student experience in general.
Unlike in the UK, many universities require students to share a room. This is not only a guaranteed way to get to know other people, but it is also cheaper than paying for a single-person room (single rooms may be reserved for upperclassmen anyway). Your roommate will be someone of the same gender, whom you most likely will not know, and may be American or another international student. But don’t worry! Many first-year students at some universities complete a roommate questionnaire about their interests and general living habits, which the university then uses to match roommates. While sharing a room is usually a new experience for non-American students, it is a unique and valuable opportunity that will teach you a lot about compromise and communication.
Be honest when completing your questionnaire, as that is the best way for you to receive a compatible roommate. Your roommate could be very different from you, but often roommate arrangements lead to life-long friendships! On rare occasions, roommates can prove mismatched. If this situation arises, do not hesitate to contact your RA and discuss the situation. Most roommate conflicts can be resolved through discussion between the roommates and RA. In extreme cases, it is possible to change rooms or roommates.
While the thought of sharing your personal space with a complete stranger may be daunting, there are a few simple strategies that will help ease tensions and allow for a better atmosphere, and this is through the simple form of communication.
Be considerate to each other’s needs, and respect the fact that you both live in the same space. Try and coordinate or notify each other when you will be in class so that the other may utilise the room space for work or leisure. Consideration also extends to the small details of alarm clock settings, phone calls, music and video volume and social interaction. It is vital to set a series of ground rules to adhere to. You should be open-minded and willing to make some sacrifices and compromises. Being adaptable should help to smooth interaction between roommates, and both parties will learn from the cultural exchange and grow independently. Remember that if a common ground cannot be found, mediation is possible through your RA, RD and in some extreme cases, a relocation of housing may be arranged.
Dorm rooms are equipped with basic furniture, usually including a bed frame and mattress, closet and/or chest of drawers and a desk and chair. Some universities offer a safe, mini-fridge and microwave to let. Some halls have community kitchens available, which are bigger, with a fridge, microwave and oven.
Rather than a private bath or toilet, residents generally share a large hall bathroom. These bathrooms are separated by gender and could be shared by many people. Many students have shower flip-flops and a plastic carrier to transport their toiletries, as personal items are often not left in community spaces.
Dorms also often have common rooms where students may gather for meetings with the RA, to watch television, play games, do homework or spend time with friends.
Bear in mind all US universities will have days off for holidays and some campus housing closes for holidays longer than a day. Classes will generally be out of session on:
However, check your university housing website or ask your RA for details about dorm closures and housing options (including finding a host family!)