College prepares you for the real world — in more ways than one. Most new graduates can’t count on making enough money to buy a house for at least a few years (especially now), and that means post-college life is somewhat likely to involve living in a big apartment complex and/or having roommates. Which, frankly, isn’t much different from dorm life.
I have been a Resident Assistant, an assistant resident manager, and an apartment manager, so I know the ins and outs. Here are my tips:
Know the rules
Read the residents’ handbook or whatever the dorm rule book you have is BEFORE you move in. (If the school didn’t include one with the rest of your paperwork, call the housing department and request a copy.) You don’t want to be unexpectedly written up, your RA doesn’t necessarily want to write you up, and your school will probably not accept “I didn’t know it was against the rules” as an excuse.
And remember to read the fine print on your rental or lease agreement — it’s a legally binding document and breaking it can come back to haunt you. (More on that later.)
Know your rights
Depending on the laws in your country or state, your dorm may be legally classified as an apartment building or as a hotel. My school’s housing fell into the latter category. This meant the school was only required to give evicted students three days’ notice to move out! (Under California state law, tenants evicted from an apartment must be given 30 to 60 days’ notice to vacate.) Scary stuff, huh?
Don’t forget the search-and-seizure implications. My school’s lease agreements stipulated that students’ rooms could be searched at any time, that both occupants had joint responsibility for the room, and allowed for the confiscation of stereo equipment after a certain number of noise warnings. If greater privacy and autonomy are more important than convenience and cost, consider renting an apartment instead.
Don’t decorate dangerously
Before you start decorating, make sure whatever you plan to do is allowed. It’s very simple, but a great many students wind up paying substantial damage fees or being disciplined because they don’t check first.
Dorms often don’t allow certain adhesives because they can damage the paint, and nails/screws might be banned as well. Some of the interior design majors threw tantrums about not being allowed to paint or hang curtains, but DIY paint jobs can easily go wrong, and installing curtain rods would have required drilling into cinderblock. Not a good idea.
Yeah, your room would look a lot cooler with framed posters, curtains, and empty Champagne bottles used as candleholders. But take it from me, it is NOT worth paying for damage or getting evicted for possession of alcohol containers.
Dorm fires suck
A student’s room caught on fire during my stint as an RA. No one was hurt, but the room was uninhabitable for months, and the unfortunate student lost several months’ worth of portfolio material. It could have been worse — he was an international student and his visa would have gone up in flames had it not been in a fireproof box. My building was also evacuated because of a 4 a.m. dumpster fire started by a burning cigarette.
Most dorms have rules against candles and indoor smoking due to the fire risk. Use electric candles instead of wax candles, and use the ashtrays outside.
And please don’t sneak in banned appliances! My school’s electrical wiring was old, and microwaves and toasters shorted out power. The aforementioned conflagration was an electrical fire, and sure enough, the adjoining room had an illicit microwave.
Don’t whine about having to share
I dreaded matching up new roommates. Every year, there would be a handful of upset that they couldn’t get a private room, which weren’t available because the demand for dorm rooms outstripped the supply. Many of them wanted single rooms because they had no experience sharing, without realizing how important it is to learn to live together.
Given the state of the job market and the low wages recent grads tend to earn, sharing a space is fast becoming a basic life skill, and college is actually a pretty good time to learn.
Given the state of the job market and the low wages recent grads tend to earn, sharing a space is fast becoming a basic life skill, and college is actually a pretty good time to learn. The dynamics are much different when you’re an adult, you’ll probably spend more time out of the room than in it, and it’s easier to share an apartment when dorm life is still fresh in your mind.
By the way, RAs are often the sole exception to housing policies that require students to share rooms. This is because 1. RAs carry master keys, and 2. one of the primary duties of an RA is to privately counsel students, which is very difficult to do with roommates walking in. Wanting a private room is not a good reason to apply for the job — it’s hard work!
If it’s valuable, insure it
Money, jewelry, handbags, wallets, iPods, stereo equipment, textbooks, digital cameras, and laptop computers are stolen on college campuses on a regular basis. Your school will probably not reimburse you if this happens.
Dorm residents are usually eligible for renter’s insurance, and I strongly recommend it. Yes, it costs money. But it doesn’t cost a LOT of money, so skip one or two pizza orders and insure your stuff.
Whatever you do, don’t get evicted
You won’t be living in a dorm room forever, and when the time comes to rent an apartment or house, prospective landlords will run background and credit checks on you. Things like getting evicted for smoking pot in the communal bathroom are likely to pop up.
Most property owners and managers have had at least one bad tenant and don’t want to repeat the experience. Universities often forgive a certain level of mayhem, so a dorm eviction can look worse than an apartment eviction.
Document any problems
Whether your problem is a stalker or a too-loud neighbor, keep a log of incidents and report them — the authorities can’t help you if they don’t know anything’s wrong. Photograph damage, tape-record the noisy neighbor, and save physical evidence like notes or broken items. If you have a restraining order against someone, give copies to the housing office and the campus police to ensure they are aware of it.
Call your parents
The bad news: You may be an adult, but that isn’t going to stop Mom and Dad from worrying about you. Every move-in weekend, the campus switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree. The reason was always the same — parents panicking because their son or daughter hadn’t called them to check in. I suggest calling home as soon as you arrive, and arranging a weekly phone call.
The good news: In most cases, RAs and other staff aren’t allowed to disclose your private information without your permission. That means we aren’t going to tell your family that you’ve been pulling all-nighters and neglecting your laundry.