Dorm Life: Adjusting to Your New Home on Campus

Last Updated on May 23, 2023

Incoming freshmen girls struggle to bring several boxes of shoes up stairs at the entrance of their dorm at North Carolina A&T State University.
Photo Courtesy of Charles Watkins via North Carolina A&T State University.

All summer long (and, let’s be honest … maybe longer) you’ve been looking forward to the freedom that college dorm life offers new students. You can stay up late, there are no parents looking over your shoulder and telling you what to do … what could be better?

But the reality is that moving away from home and adjusting to dorm life with a bunch of strangers can be intimidating. That moment after your parents drop you off and you’re left alone in a strange new place can make even the toughest guy or gal nervous and it's important to remember that you’re not alone. In fact you’re surrounded by people your age who are feeling the same way (whether or not they show it).

Here are a few suggestions that will help you survive (oops … we mean adjust to!) your new life on campus:

Make friends

College is a learning experience but what nobody tells you is that at least half of the learning takes place outside of the classroom. For most college freshmen, dorm life is the first time they’ve spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with a group of people they haven’t known their whole lives. Getting to know people and making friends early will help you make a smooth adjustment.

The two most important people to make friends with are your RA (Resident Assistant – an older student in charge of dorm activities) and your roommate. Your roommate may not be someone you would have even talked to in high school but you should make an effort early on to get to know him or her. You don’t have to be joined at the hip with your roommate (he or she probably wants their privacy and space the same way you want yours) but inviting your roommate to the student union to grab a meal together or bonding over your favorite movie or some funny YouTube videos during that first day together can be a great way to break the ice and get to know one another.

If it wasn't meant to be and things don’t work out with your roommate your RA can help facilitate a swap.

Be respectful

Throwing a bunch of 18 and 22 year old students together with pumping hormones and limited supervision is considered an invitation to get intimate by many, but it's important to remember that you’re sharing your room with others. Dorm life is all about respect for your roommate and neighbors and a big part of that is making sure that those you share living space with aren’t made to feel uncomfortable.

If you’re bringing someone home make sure that you talk to you roommate or roommates when you need privacy (or when they do) and make sure that you remember that your dorm room is their home too. Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable in their home.

It’s also wise to remember that your new community is not a short-term arrangement. While it might seem like a good idea to get cozy with a new neighbor during orientation week remember that you’ll cross paths with that person for the next four years. Be smart and avoid uncomfortable situations.

Learn your limits

For many, adjusting to dorm life means adjusting to adulthood. Drinking and sex are often part of the equation in college dorms and if you choose to cut loose on the weekends it’s important to exercise caution and remember that all things are best in moderation.

There will be parties in your dorm. There will be kegs and beautiful strangers and it’s up to you whether or not you want to participate. If you do participate remember that you’ve got to live with your choices (and you have to live with the people who watch you make those choices).

Be smart. If you attend a party go there and leave with a friend you trust. If you have sex use birth control (your college health counselor will likely have condoms available for free).

Remember why you’re there

Don’t forget that you aren’t in college for the wild dorm life and you aren't paying tuition to attend parties – you’re in college to learn. Dorms aren’t always the best places to study so try to set aside an hour or two each day to do your schoolwork at the library or another quiet place on campus. You’re responsible for your own schedule and if you find that you like to goof off with your new friends in the evening make an effort to hit the books during the day so that you can relax and enjoy dorm life with your buddies when the sun goes down.

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