If you are a first generation college student, you may not know what to expect from on-campus living. Sure, you may have seen dorm life depicted in movies and on television, but if this is your main frame of reference, you probably think the halls are a non-stop keg party, briefly interrupted by sex, video games, pranks, and junk food. But there’s a lot more to on-campus living, and watching A Different World, Animal House, PCU, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Veronica Mars won’t prepare you adequately.
As someone who spent most of my professional career in Student Affairs as a Residence Life administrator, I’d like to offer some perspectives on how to make the most of your time in the residence halls.
7 Things You Should Know About On-Campus Living
- The first six weeks or so are critical to your happiness and success in college. This is when you meet people, develop new routines, make friends, and develop habits that will help you adjust to college and be successful. Choose your habits wisely. If you spend this critical time alone in your room on Facebook, chatting with friends from home, playing video games by yourself, or keeping the door closed, you might as well not be here. They don’t give grades for this stuff, but it’s critically important. Meet new people, do new things, and develop good routines for eating, studying, exercise, etc., right from the start. It’s harder to do this later, once you realize you’ve gone off track.
- You are never really alone. You will have a Resident Assistant or other staff member in your building whose job is to connect with you and be a resource. Meet this person on day 1. Your RA should make the effort, but arrival is busy, so you might not meet this person when you arrive. If you don’t, make sure you go looking the next day, and every other day, until you do. Your room and board fees are paying for this person to be there and help you. If you don’t take advantage of the fact that you have a live-in helper who can refer you to other campus resources and help you get the lay of the land, then you’re going to work harder than you need to, when you need advice or help. Get what you’ve already paid for: get to know your RA!
- You will be living with someone else, even if you get a single. Many schools do not offer singles to first-year students, and this can be true even for returning adults (though many schools do make alternate accommodations available.) But who shares your bedroom is not the only thing to consider. There will be dozens (maybe hundreds) of people living in your residence hall, and this means you will have to learn to share space. If you make a mess, clean it up. If you break something, let housing know and help fix it, clean it up or pay the damages. That’s what responsible citizens do. If you don’t take this perspective, then don’t be surprised when others in your hall follow suit, and you find yourself living in less-than-comfortable conditions. The cumulative effect of people not caring about their living space can be pretty dramatic. Imagine watching Hoarders, only with 700 other people also needing an intervention. It ain’t a pretty mental image, is it?
- How you manage conflict will determine quite a bit of your happiness. Today’s college students are less likely to have shared a bedroom with another person before arriving at college. The necessity of negotiating rules and expectations between roommates is sometimes lost on both parties, who are used to getting their way, and may not see a reason to compromise. But you should also know that many Residence Life officers will not move a student to a new room until the student has taken positive steps to discuss an issue with his or her roommate. Learn to negotiate. It’s a skill that you’ll need later in life, with your boss, colleagues, family, business partners, etc. The confidence you will gain from learning to give and take will stay with you, and will prove to be a clear asset somewhere down the line.
- Okay, you’re going to learn this anyway, so don’t be shocked: There are parties on campus (and off) at most schools, and you will be faced with many choices related to drinking, drugs, sex, relationships, behavior, etc. But this doesn’t mean you have to take part in things you aren’t comfortable with, nor does it mean that you can excuse bad choices and bad behavior by reasoning that everyone else is doing it. Choose only those behaviors you’ll be comfortable with, and be sure you are ready to deal with the consequences of your actions. It truly is your life. Live it how you want to live it, but make choices that will allow you to continue enjoying your time in college. A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t tell your Mom you did it, you probably shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.
- Living on campus is a privilege, and it can be revoked. Any school will put up with a little nonsense, but there are rules, and you’ll be expected to follow them. If you don’t, you may find yourself living off-campus, and most schools don’t give refunds if you get kicked out.
- You’ll have many opportunities to get involved, but no ones going to make you. This is the greatest part of entering the adult world. You get to make your own choices. Choose to get involved! It will pay off.
Best of luck to you during college!
Guest contributor Sean Cook is a Life Purpose and Career Coach, based in Athens, GA. He specializes in helping college students and their parents make successful transitions during the college years, as well as coaching student affairs professionals to be more purposeful and more successful in their careers. Before becoming a certified coach through the Life Purpose Institute, he spent over 15 years working in Student Affairs in Higher Education. You can read more of his articles on HigherEdLifeCoach.com, HigherEdCareerCoach.Com, and the Student Affairs Collaborative Blog, and listen to him on the Higher Ed Life & Careers Show on BlogTalkRadio.Com.