The Incoming College Freshman’s Guide to Picking the Perfect Dorm

By Emma Martin, Student at Ithaca College

For most, college provides a first taste of independence. It is the bird leaving the nest … the butterfly shedding its cocoon … the leaving behind strict parental supervision!

At home, many teens have the luxury of someone else cleaning the house and cooking dinner, at least on occasion (and I don’t consider the dining hall a home-cooked meal). However, once away at school, students become completely responsible for their own well-being. The prospect is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Many college freshmen are also faced with their first time sharing a room. Often times, roommates are not well acquainted before being pushed into a small, shared space. Even if the matching isn’t completely random, it is rare that you and your roommate(s) will have lived together in the past.

Prior to attending college, I was ecstatic about finding my very first roommate. I logged onto a social media website that was trending at the time and matched up my profile with a blonde free-spirited girl from Connecticut. After chatting for a while, we decided to take the plunge and become roommates. We eagerly discussed what we each would bring for our room and mapped out plans for the semester. We even purposely attended the same orientation session. It seemed we were roommate soulmates.

When the housing process began, we were both suddenly left feeling a bit helpless. We had only seen the dorm rooms we had stayed in during orientation and were left to a couple of lame reports left online by past students. A mass list of unfamiliar dorms appeared. We decided to go with the only building we had seen. It was a 14-floor building connected to a second 14-floor building of mixed genders and class year. The building seemed nice enough, and it even had its own dining hall — which certainly seemed like a perk. The area is cold, and a tour guide had pointed out the perks of not having to leave your building during cold weather for lunch. Without any thought, we passed up the chance at participating in freshmen housing; we were certain we would prefer living with kids of all ages.

In retrospective, I think we can now both agree that we should have looked further into the benefits of living with students our age. The sophomores on our floor were already best friends, and our floor quickly became divided. Strangers remained strangers, and the friends were content with sticking to themselves. While our friends who had opted to live in freshmen housing met their floormates at a plethora of RA-hosted events (Freshmen RAs are expected to hold more programs) and frequently left their doors open, our hall was far more secluded.

Though it was not an all-girl’s dorm, our building was also gender separated by floor. If possible, having a mix of males and females can actually eliminate drama and bring a floor closer together! I’m pretty sure nearly all colleges have separate bathrooms for males and females, but you should probably look into this if its of any concern to you. Our bathroom had strict ‘no boy’ rules as voted upon by the residents — and this is something I was always very glad of. It was weird enough enduring public bathrooms on a daily basis with other girls!

On that note, some of the freshmen in my class opted for a set of dorms that were specifically designed to eliminate this issue. Though a bit more expensive, these rooms were slightly larger and each had their own bathrooms. This has been highly recommended by all of the individuals that chose it. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of a communal bathroom, there may be options like this at your school as well.

There are also specialty or theme housing options at many schools. These can be appealing and really push students to bond together over shared interests. I would certainly look into what choices your school offers. It could be fun to live with an entire floor dedicated to hiking or speaking French!

After freshmen year, I have found myself in on-campus apartments all three years. I HIGHLY recommend having your own kitchen! I feel so much better in my own space. Although this is not an option for most first year students, it is certainly something to look into when it becomes available.

Remember, housing is an exciting prospect, but you have to do your research! And don’t overlook freshmen opportunities … they are designed FOR freshmen! You will bond with the others on your floor over shared experiences much better than students who have already "been there, done that." Be sure to reach out to RAs, ask questions and look at dorms while visiting the school! It is where you’ll call “home” for the year, so make sure to pick somewhere you can feel comfortable and safe as you transition into the new world of college! Good luck!

Image courtesy of thephotoholic /

Head on over to 1,000 Dreams Fund to learn how to get funding for your dreams!