Living in a dorm setting always gets painted as this sort of rite of passage, phasing emerging young adults into the big, scary real world of independence and responsibility slowly. It more or less is this rite of passage everyone makes it out to be, of course, and one fraught with all manner of stresses, anxieties, and other nasties that can render a higher ed experience miserable and even nightmarish. But incoming students new to the experience ought not fear a gloom and doom scenario. Plenty of strategies exist to transform life confined to a tiny, sparse room with one or more other warm bodies around into a memorable, fun, and transcendent time. With a few of these tidbits and a little bit of pluck, college might very well prove a hell of a good time.
They’re cheap (or relatively, depending on what species one decides to cultivate) and cheerful – the perfect antidote to the often drab surroundings dorm rooms provide.
For people who prefer keeping to themselves, this advice likely won’t do much to make their dorm lives worth living. But more outgoing types who find themselves in an unfamiliar space might want to take advantage of the different meetings and other events residence halls frequently hold. It’s a good way to maybe meet some new friends and hopefully score some free food and drinks.
Boredom is especially excruciating with minimal disposable income, but intrepid college students know how to have a great time without spending any (or much) money. It just takes a little creativity and resourcefulness to whip up something fun and engaging. Some dorm denizens at University of Houston in Texas organized a hallway mini-golf team using ubiquitous red cups, for example.
One of the most stressful elements of living in the dorms — even with a particularly beloved individual — involves compromised alone time. Sit down and have a nice chit-chat with any roomies about boundaries and maybe even scheduling regular privacy time early in the arrangement could prevent future disasters and stressors.
Sexile like a sweetheart:
The possibility of sexiling (exiling your roommate so you can scratch that sexual itch) will more than likely loom over any frank discussions of privacy and boundaries and the like, so make sure to establish a system for it ahead of time. One that doesn’t infringe upon the roomie who isn’t getting it on, by the way. This might mean giving him or her some future alone time congruent with the amount spent a-swingin’; formulate a plan and stick with it so nobody feels isolated from their assigned (and rightful) home. A life with minimal drama is a life worth living indeed!
Because babies and STDs/STIs are super duper expensive and might preclude achieving what students originally headed out to college to do. To preserve the quality of life one wants to enjoy, wrap it up and pop those pills like a champ.
Dorm decor inspiration can pop up anywhere, and college kids shouldn’t underestimate how comfortable and cozy making their space unique and personal potentially proves. Check online for free tips about whipping up the best small space style on an even smaller budget.
Because so many residence halls don’t allow hot plates (or even microwaves) or provide communal mini-kitchens, this tip obviously means quite a challenge for hungry students. Fortunately, for every dietetic or logistical need, there exists a corresponding recipe! Noshing on homemade meals instills pride, allows for better nutritional control, saves money and dining points, and likely tastes better than most school cafeterias — all components of a happy dorm-dwelling experience!
Expensive, yes, but a worthy investment for anyone living with a roommate or extremely loud neighbors. Better to pay for electronics than anger management classes, at least.
Schedule regular roommate meetings in order to voice concerns, divvy up chores, and check in on one another’s overall health and well-being. This will definitely act as a nice safeguard against potentially damaging issues piling up and festering over time.
Stay safe and on alert:
Not to the point of paranoia, of course, because nobody will defend that particular quality as essential to a happy life. But no college student deserves to stay in an unsafe space, either, so staying mindful of surroundings and people coming in and out is key to ensuring as many dorm dwellers also enjoy their first surges of independence as possible. Don’t be afraid to report suspicious persons or incidents that could cause others harm.
Movies, movies, movies:
Trusting roommates might want to consider splitting a Netflix or Hulu Plus account and keeping things cheap, fun, and sociable with movie night. Just make sure to keep an open mind about things; just because one kiddo prefers Love, Actually to Logan’s Run (or vice versa!) doesn’t mean their tastes deserve eye-rolls and chastisement. Minds can and have been changed!
Some dorms actually charge fines if rooms aren’t kept up to a specific cleanliness standard, and college kids probably need the money for more pressing matters. Roomies don’t need to adhere to Felix Unger levels of spotlessness, of course, but at least try to stay within the acceptable boundaries to save a few bucks. Plus, reducing the risk of mold and vermin infestations has this whole helping students avoid certain sicknesses thing going for it, which is pretty cool.
Consider a pet:
A cheap, low-maintenance one the RA won’t flip poo-poo over, of course, like a fish or a rock or something. Those ubiquitous bettas, for example, make for lovely decorations and don’t require excessive feeding or special equipment to keep them alive.
Run for office or apply to be an RA:
Working as a floor representative or a residence assistant obviously doesn’t appeal to everyone, but the positions might offer some great perks for some students. Not only will it likely mean some financial assistance, the stints mean great opportunities to get to know and help other dorm dwellers, forge an overall sense of productivity and purpose, and fluff up that resume.
Cash-strapped college kids might want to head to the Dollar Store and pick up supplies for projects to customize a living space. It’s a cost-effective, enjoyable way to pass the time, build up some creativity skills, and further the cause of making the likely rather sparse room sparkle.
Study somewhere else:
Minimize distractions and stress by hitting the books at the library, a coffee shop, or with a friend somewhere other than the dorm room. Spending too much time at home could lead to a cognitive association between school-related anxieties and the already cramped little room, so try to keep both sphere as separate as possible. It might mean a better night’s rest!
Throw parties at restaurants or bars:
The neighbors will undoubtedly appreciate it, and going out for special occasions means not having to deal with cleaning up food, drinks, and barf the next day. Everyone wins!
If going potluck, make an effort to get to know the new roommate before actually moving in together. Doing so might mean the difference between finding a comfortable, satisfying fit and spending an entire academic year absolutely miserable.
Research halls before applying:
Not everyone will land in the dorm of their choosing, of course, but they can minimize possible issues by reading up on the different options before sending in their applications. Don’t be afraid to visit the school and ask around for a broader look at which one might prove the more comfortable fit.
Get some light:
Opening the blinds — or even the windows! — on nice, sunny days will make a tiny, perhaps even dark room seem much bigger and brighter. Just make sure no roomies are napping first!
Open the doors:
If the weather outside is frightful, then try adding a bit of space by propping open doors into the hallway, which, for more social demographics, also means the possibility of initiating chit-chats with neighbors. Once again, though, show roommates some courtesy and see if they’re fine with doing so first. And take a few extra precautions to not create noise to disturb nearby residents.
An even split might not work because of varying schedules, but it still shouldn’t fall on one roommate to perform every necessary chore. Sort out a viable plan either before move-in or shortly thereafter.
Respect any allergies:
Make sure to ask about and respect any allergies roommates might have toward plants, foods, cleaning supplies, etc. Not accidentally sending Junior or Muffin to the ER definitely helps make dorm life eke by just a little bit easier.
Romantic or sexual entanglement with a fellow resident definitely seems appealing at first, but if things take a turn for the worst it could easily mean egregious emotional damages to one or both parties. Nobody wants to watch their former flame living it up with sexy co-eds, which just might happen in a dormcest (and especially floorcest) scenario.
Try to get along with the RA:
Don’t suck up or shoot for the whole awful cronyism thing, obviously. But at least put forth the effort to get to know the residence assistant and not cause him or her too many major headaches. Antagonism will do nothing but sour the dorm living experience, not to mention giving them little incentive to help out if a serious problem with the room or roommate arises.
Nobody can argue with a little extra money and a way to stay productive during downtime. A small dorm business selling crafts, tutoring, fixing computers, or something else entirely probably won’t swell to Facebookian levels of success, but can still get students through at least four years provided they remain diligent.
Keep ultra-valuables at home or in a lockbox:
Most college kids don’t need irreplaceable family heirlooms hanging around their rooms, especially those with roommates and friends (maybe strangers) constantly trotting in and out. Best to leave them somewhere safe where they can’t get stolen and only bring them out when absolutely necessary.
When homesick or needing a little emotional pick-me-up, use a webcam and schedule video chats with friends and family via Skype, Google Talk, or similar (free!) applications. Seeing their faces adds a layer of intimacy and familiarity missing from a phone call.
Keep photos of loved ones around:
For those moments when nobody can talk, take some time to sit with pictures of beloved individuals and reflect on the good times. Further customize a dorm room by painting or building frames to house these valuable little mood-boosters.
Join clubs and attend campus events:
Check the campus calendar and club listings for anything that sounds interesting — after all, living right there means almost no commute. Learning experiences, networking opportunities, and friendships all present themselves via events and clubs, so there’s no harm in trying out a few and seeing which ones work best.
Forego a car unless absolutely necessary:
It saves beaucoup money and encourages healthy habits like biking and walking. Plus, not having to worry about upkeep means more energy toward studies, extracurriculars, and friendships.
Rush as a group:
If others in the dorm think Greek life might be for them, try rushing together as a cluster to forge a few friendships, offer up encouragement and support, and trade advice about what organizations to pursue and which to avoid.
Take advantage of campus resources:
Because moving off campus reduces the chances of visiting the gyms, museums, galleries, libraries, and other delights to be found. Tuition pays for them, anyway, so one may as well give what looks interesting a chance.
Compromise when it comes to smoking:
Of course, dorm rules might dictate where smokers take their breaks, but some out there do allow students to light up indoors. In these situations — especially arrangements where a smoker lives with one or more nonsmokers — roommates need to agree early on what are and are not acceptable habits. Again, a solid agreement ahead of time helps alleviate resentment-building drama that nobody (except for certifiably crazy people) enjoys.
Something as simple as helping the RA decorate corkboards or as large-scale as a campus-wide beautification project kills time while also building relationships and facilitating positive local (if not national or international) change. Alternately, explore what on-campus organizations might be putting together for off-campus volunteering.
Eat healthy in the dining halls:
Nobody should ever give up on sinking those canines into some greasily satisfying pizza every once in a while, unless a doctor specifically instructs otherwise. Keeping with a generally healthy diet, however, helps alleviate some of the depression symptoms that might creep in while living in the dorm. These days, most schools should host healthy options to keep in line with popular demands. Pair up good eatin’ with regular exercise for even more of a mood lifter.
Random acts of kindness:
Because bringing joy to someone’s day, even anonymously, also brings joy to the giver’s day. Usually, anyways. Colleges can be lonely, intimidating spaces for some people, so nurturing good cheer on campus might very well turn someone’s life and luck around, even for a little while.
Keep a journal:
Public or private, online or off, journaling through writing, photos, and drawings has always been a popular way to reflect on life’s positives and negatives alike. Think of the (organic!) opportunities for self-improvement that could present themselves.
So long as everyone stays safe, respectful, and careful to avoid any damages, pulling small pranks on one another definitely adds a splash of fun, spice, and spontaneity to dorm life. Get ideas online or from fellow students!
Hit the Internet for a sumptuous buffet of dorm room hacks solving any and every space, study, or social issue that might crop up. There’s bound to be at least one or two out there that will inevitably make life just that much easier.
Rather than throwing a bacchanalian college party, consider hosting a small game night instead, with a few cards and classics guests can choose or bring themselves. It keeps things fun, economic, and social and doesn’t involve irritated neighbors and extensive next-day cleanup.
Stay away from gossip:
Seriously. Change the subject. Plug in those noise-canceling headphones from a few posts up. Leave the room. Something. For as much camaraderie as dorms offer, they also stand as a festering cesspool of hurtful gossip and everyone getting all up in everyone else’s space. It’s best to just avoid the talking as much as possible to preserve fellow residents’ privacy and feelings.
Establish a community property “prenup:”
Before acquiring any communal property (furniture, appliances, etc.), make sure everyone agrees to its ultimate fate after the dorm stint ends. It will save many, many migraines in the future.
Be nice to community property:
Yes, even if another roommate is the lucky lad or lass who gets to take the item on to its next destination. That’s simply the courteous thing to do and a SMALL courteous thing to do lessening the risk of interpersonal tensions to boot!
Almost every college and university hosts free mental health services, with a staff especially well-versed in common higher ed issues, dorm depression amongst them. If things grow too anxious and stressful, try talking it out with a professional until a more suitable solution presents itself.
If things get REALLY bad to the point the free counseling services just can’t cut through the problem, visiting a psychiatrist and seeing if Xanax or a similar drug might have to be considered a viable option. Medication won’t exactly make patients happy, but the right (and responsibly prescribed!) combination might render the days until leaving the dorm more bearable.
Not living in a dorm at all:
Dorm life doesn’t work for everyone, and nobody should feel forced to stay put if it starts instigating mental or physical pain. Finances will almost always prove problematic, sadly, but working with healthcare professionals and the school itself could dredge up some healthier alternatives. One just has to reach out and start asking for help — there’s no reason to continue living in an environment that might cause further harm.