It feels like just yesterday you graduated from high school. You celebrated the successful completion your high school chapter and moved forward as a college student. You probably already attended orientation, and now it’s time to get to work. The summer is passing by so quickly; it’ll be time to move into the residence hall before you know it. The dorm will be your home for the next 9 months and there are plenty of things for you to know and do, especially if you’re sharing that space with another person.
There are two aspects to preparing for life in the residence hall, but we don’t always give equal attention to both. One aspect of dorm life is the logistics and list of supplies you’ll need to make it. The other is how you mentally prepare yourself to live in a space with someone not related to you for almost a year. Sharing a 12’ x 15’ room with another person, even if they are a friend, can be trying at times, but not impossible. Being aware before you dive in can be helpful.
From a practical perspective, we’ll start with the logistics. First and foremost, confirm your housing assignment if you haven’t done that already. Depending on your school, it may be as simple as checking the student portal. (The student portal is an online system where you can see different things associated with your student account – housing, tuition bill, class schedule, immunization records, academic advisor, etc.) You may have received something in the mail and/or have to call the housing office to confirm. Provided you submitted your housing deposit by the deadline, you should be all set. The look for the list of supplies your school suggests you have when you move in. The housing page on the school website should have it listed if it wasn’t sent directly to you. It’ll include basics things like sheets and bath linens, shower shoes and toiletries. You’ll want to check with your roommate to determine who is bringing what in terms of electronics and small appliances (TV, gaming system, microwave and fridge). If you are the type to go above and beyond, you’re thinking about things like a shower caddy, organization, and closet items. You definitely won’t forget your wardrobe. (There’s a blog post about the basic freshman wardrobe later this month.) Also, you may need to bring cleaning supplies depending on what type of living arrangement you have. Larger residence halls will have communal bathrooms and university housekeeping will clean those, but residents clean up after themselves in most suite-style dorms. Be ready.
Also, resist the urge to totally outfit your dorm room with all the comforts of home. Starting college is a transition, as is getting settled into the dorm. That transition creates a bit of vulnerability and discomfort, that while uneasy, can be surmounted. On the other side of that discomfort is a portion of your new identity as a college student. Having all the comforts of home in your room, combined with the convenience of tech, can prevent you from venturing out to spend time in campus buildings, meeting (and networking) with others, and getting familiar with campus culture. Sure, there are things you need, but dial back on going all Bed, Bath, and Beyond for your room.
The second part of living in the residence hall is sharing your living space with another person. Overnight trips and camps are good practice, but no match for the nearly year-long experience you will have in college. Even if you share a room at home, it can feel markedly different living to someone during college. Your first residence hall experience is an exercise in compromise, compatibility, and self-awareness. You will learn a lot about yourself and the person who becomes your roommate. Even if you life in off-campus housing, you are still sharing your living space with one or more residential strangers, so this still applies to you. Whether you chose each other, filled out a roommate survey, or were randomly matched, sharing space can bring out the best and worst in people.
As a roommate, you may be stretched to (and beyond) your natural limits. Remember through it all that self-awareness and communication can make the difference between settling differences amicably and being ready to fight because your roomie ate your last hot pocket. (Yes, this is a thing. I personally witnessed it.) Discuss everything from your definition of neat and cleaning habits to noise levels and how you feel about visitors (platonic and romantic). Since you probably split the electronics, and small appliances, also discuss their use, but be flexible. If you’re a neatnik like me, it’s hard when things are out of place of there are small spills. As long as your roommate is trying, give them credit. You won’t be able to foresee every situation that may cause friction, but by having the conversation up front, and as things bother you – instead of letting it build up – any tension can be smoothed over.
While you’re in college, you will meet lifelong friends. For a lot of people, it starts with their freshman roommate. Whether or not this is the case for you, at the very least you want to have a pleasant experience. Having the things you need and the conversations up front are the first step in making that happen.