For Students: The Keys to a Happy Dorm Life

Now that summer has drawn to a close and the school year has arrived, many of you will have left the nest for the first time and moved into that staple of college comedy: the dorm. As a recent college graduate and an employee of the front desk of a residence hall for nearly two years, I’ve asked my coworkers what they would like to tell incoming freshmen about dorm life. If they could give you one piece of advice, this is what they would tell you:

 Socializing

Gosh, making new friends sure is swell

 “Force yourself to be social. This is the one time of year when everyone is trying to make friends, so this is the best time to meet as many people as possible. A lot of your friends can be found right on your floor.” –Anum K., Fourth Year

The first few weeks of college will be a nebulous period in which everyone is feeling out of their depth. Everyone is overwhelmed, no matter how confident they seem, and the first thing people seek is a friend to help them figure things out. Use this as an exciting opportunity. You will never encounter another situation like this, where hundreds or thousands of people are looking for friends at the same time. Meeting masses of people may be intimidating, especially to you Socially Awkward Penguins out there, but it can be incredibly helpful. Some tips to help you do so:

  • “Invest in a fork.” –Lixa C., Third Year

This may seem really weird, but it is actually an incredibly useful piece of advice. In my dorm we pilfered forks from the dining hall and bent them in half to use as doorstops. This is especially useful when you live in a long hallway where everyone can see your door and vice versa. It lets people know that you’re open to socializing and encourages them to stop in and introduce themselves. You won’t be the only one doing this, I promise. I got to know nearly every person on my freshman floor by doing this.

Dear Diary, Betty moved Mr. Winkle again. That girl sure knows how to push my buttons…

  • “If your roommate sucks, MOVE.” –Aime A., Fourth Year

There is a time limit on this one. A couple of weeks into the semester, there should be some sort of room-swap event where you can switch with another person. If you walk in and instantly know you and your roommate won’t get along, don’t force yourself to suffer through an entire year of living with one another. It will eliminate the chance to find a friend and make your daily life stressful. My freshman roommate is my best friend, bar none. You are not doomed to have a crazy roommate. But act quickly; if you miss this event, it is unlikely you will be able to switch easily midway through the year.

  • “Use it as a time to get to know everyone while they’re in one place.”–Erika F., Graduate

This isn’t like high school, where you only have a certain amount of time between classes during the day to get to know people. Living in a dorm means that there are people of your age group living five feet away from you. They go to class with you. They eat in the same places. They study in the same places. You could step out of your door at two in the morning and it is likely that there will be someone there. They might not be the ideal candidate, but you have ample time and opportunity to find people who are.

 Studying

Tut tut, these girls are up to no good playing cards in the study lounge

 “No studying is ever done in study lounges.” –Victor S., Fourth Year

My floor study lounge freshman year was many things. It was the first door you encountered when entering the floor, and a natural meeting spot. It was a safe haven if you grew stir crazy in your room. It was the place where you could pass out after a Thursday night adventure in the frat houses. It was the place where the boisterous, ragtag group of freshmen from my floor stored their trophies from these nights out (including, but not limited to: a wheelchair, an upright piano, a white board, a chair from In-N-Out, the couch from the floor above us, and so on).

It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a place where you could study.

Even if your floor isn’t something out of Animal House like mine was, you are bound to get distracted if you try to study in a lounge. There will always be someone popping their head in, or a group of people playing cards, or any number of things that can break your concentration in an instant. Find alternatives. The dorm we work in has private study rooms that can be rented out for a two-hour period. We also have a massive lecture room where the unspoken law is silence. Coffee shops have free WiFi and caffeine to keep you going. I am the rare breed of person who can actually study in my room without falling asleep, but I usually don’t recommend that method to others. If all else fails, there’s always the library. Find out what works for you and stick to it.

And if you really want to study in your lounge, I leave you with this advice:

“Buy ear plugs.” – Danay I., Fourth Year

That’s more like it, boys

Daily Life

  • “Don’t smoke in the dorm. Because you will get written up. And you will die.” – Kyle B., Second Year

College isn’t all about studying, nor is it about the massive amounts of partying you’ll see in college comedies. In between there are little moments of everyday life as you struggle to adjust to living on your own for the first time in your life. If you’re well prepared, it’ll be easier on you.  If not, here are some tips:

  • “Food. Food everywhere.” – Eddie A., Third Year

Our dining halls were all-you-can-eat buffets, and were ranked among the best in the nation. They also come with the added bonus of a wide variety of food with little effort required to get it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the cause of the infamous Freshman Fifteen. So maybe instead of helping yourself to that third basket of fries, go for the salad instead. And while pizza every day for a month might sound awesome, your scale doesn’t think so and neither will that cute girl who sits next to you in your Intro to Econ class.

Easy on the jello shots, Mary Sue. Why not take a bite of Johnny’s apple instead?

  • “Get used to having a roommate.” – Eric W., Fourth Year

Cohabitation is not easy, no matter how well you get along with your roommate. It’s hard to be conscious and considerate of another person’s needs while juggling your own obligations and stress. But remember the Golden Rule and don’t blast music while your roommate is trying to study or sleep, and don’t invite your significant other over and whisper late into the night when they have early class the next day. Yes, it is your room and technically you can do what you want, but it’s their room as well and making their life difficult might have repercussions in the form of spiders in your bed. Just saying, they know where you sleep.

I always knew you were a neat guy, Tom, but this place is spotless. Gee whiz!

  •  “Don’t bother buying new clothes. You’ll look like crap in class anyway and so will everyone else.” – Danay I., Fourth Year

You might try to look good for the first few weeks of class. But all it takes is one day of sleeping through your alarm and sprinting to class in your Donald Duck PJs for you to stumble upon that magical realization: Nobody Cares. Seriously. As long as the important bits are covered, you could walk into class looking like a complete lunatic and no one will bat an eye. My freshman year, I had a class in a meeting room located in my own building. I used to wake up five minutes before class, toss my hair up in a hair tie, and stroll into class with thirty seconds to spare without changing out of my pajamas. I didn’t even put on shoes. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, so hang on to those ratty high school sweatpants until at least a couple of weeks in. That said…

  • “Do laundry more than once a semester.” – Logan L., Second Year

Laundry can be a pain. It’s time consuming, tedious, and the nearest laundry room might be on the other side of the building. When you get there you might find that every single washer is occupied and you’ll have to wait even longer to snag the next one. At my college quarters are worth their weight in gold, and usually anyone who asks for them at our desk past noon on a Saturday is out of luck as we don’t get a change order on the weekends. With that said, you are a grownup. People might not care what you look like in class, but they’ll expect you to practice basic hygiene. This goes for finals week as well. You’d think I wouldn’t have to tell people that. You’d be wrong. Make sure you and your clothes are clean (and no, spraying your unmentionables with Febreze won’t cut it).

The lovely ladies of the class of ’51 sure know how to have some good, clean fun

Parting Words

I’ll leave you with my own piece of advice. If I could tell incoming freshmen just one thing, it would be this: don’t limit your friendly interactions to other students. Make friends with the people who work in your building. The front desk staff. The housekeepers. The dining hall people. The RAs and other residential life staff. There is no downside to this. You’ll be more knowledgeable about your building. You might get a favor every now and then. And you’ll make their day better by seeing them as something more than some drone there to service you. A lot of the time working in a dorm can seem like a thankless task, and when someone tells us to have a nice day or gives us a genuine “thank you” it can make all the difference. I have met so many wonderful people who work in the dorms, and it doesn’t matter whether that relationship manifests itself in free swipes for food or just a smile as I walk down the hall. Become a part of your community. Don’t neglect someone just because they play a different role in the dorm life than you.

As with many aspects of college, you’ll get out what you put into your dorm experience. I had the time of my life while living in the dorms, but I didn’t do that by staying cooped up in my room bent over my textbooks every spare minute of the day, nor by neglecting my schoolwork until I was too stressed to enjoy myself. It’s all about striking a balance.

Thanks so much to my coworkers for offering their advice. They are a huge part of what has made my dorm experience so awesome. #sproullifeforlife!

Gabby H.

Editorial Intern, eNotes.com


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