7 Tips for Adjusting to Dorm Life
Adjusting to college dorm life can mean experiencing a lot of overwhelming sensations at once: excitement, stress, homesickness, loneliness.
But life in the dorms doesn’t have to be a total culture shock. While you are used to the comforts of living at home now, preparing for dorm life can be made much easier with these tips for how to settle in.
How to Better Prepare for Living in the Dorms
Set Ground Rules with Your Roommate
Unless you’ve stumbled upon the holy grail of freshman year (a single room), odds are you will be living with at least one other person for the foreseeable future. Maybe even two or three new humans will be inhabiting a bedroom-sized space with you, and you all need to consider that small space home.
The best plan of attack is to go in with a friendly attitude , and let others know upfront what your non-negotiables are. For instance, most colleges have incoming students complete some kind of roommate survey with questions about smoking, sleep schedules, and having people over. If you have been matched with roommates using a basic questionnaire, see if you can reach out before the fall semester starts and make sure everyone is on the same page about these basic house rules.
Hopefully, your personalities and living preferences are mostly compatible. If not, see if you can come up with a compromise, such as one person bringing a noise machine and sleep mask if they have an earlier bedtime. Your roommate might turn out to be one of your closest new friends in college, but it’s also OK if they end up just being a person you have to tolerate in a shared space.
Here is a basic checklist of ground rules from one university you might want to use, to figure out the best path forward with your roommate.
• Listen to music with headphones—unless it’s a shared jam session
• Trade off chores so no one gets stuck on dish or trash duty
• Discuss how you will purchase shared items like cleaning supplies
• Ask before using someone’s personal items
• Stay safe and agree on rules about locking doors or turning off lights
Schedule Alone Time Outside Your Dorm
Learning to live in such a small space will be an adjustment no matter what your situation might have been back home. Even sharing a room with your sibling is a very different experience than suddenly bunking with a stranger (who hopefully turns into a close friend!).
Find a spot on campus that can serve as your go-to “I need space” space, whether it’s a cafe, library, or even another friend’s dorm room or lounge area. Whether you just need a spot to refocus when you are cramming for an exam, or a change of scenery from your bed for catching up on TV, scheduling time for yourself outside of your room will help you feel like your dorm is a relaxing place to come home to after a long day of classes or activities.
Set a Monthly Budget
Starting out on strong financial footing when you enter college can help make the adjustment to dorm life that much easier. Rather than scrambling when it comes to splitting shared expenses with roommates, being prepared with a budget will help put you in a position of confidence. It might not be easy to be on your own for the first time and tasked with staying on top of all of your money decisions, but a budget can give some much-needed structure and organization to your new life in a dorm environment.
There are plenty of resources available for helping you set up a budget for the first time, but make sure you take into consideration any financial aid or loans you’ll be receiving for school items like textbooks. If you have a work-study job or other job outside of school, you might need to work and get your first paycheck before you can aptly budget for the coming months. Solid tips include saving a bit of money for emergencies, and avoiding overusing a credit card. That way, there’s less of a chance you’ll be stuck working on paying back that loan instead of focusing on your education and classes.
Decorate Your Dorm Room for Less
Personalization is an easy way to make your dorm room feel more like your own space. Whether it’s posters, pillows, or plants, there are plenty of small additions you can make to help your dorm room have a more homey vibe .
Think about the things you love most in your room now at home—a soft blanket, a great reading chair, or even a lamp with a great glow. If you can, bring a few of those pieces with you so that you already feel comfortable and settled when you get to your dorm.
College dorm life is about more than just your room. There will be plenty of people to meet in your building and on your floor, in the communal bathrooms, and in the lounges during movie night. Decorating your dorm room can help you feel comfortable in a new living space, but make sure you get outside of your room and explore everything your school has to offer.
Invest in Good Sleep
One of the things you should be comfortable spending money on when it comes to adjusting to life in the dorms is the biggest creature comfort—sleep. Dorm room beds are not only a strange size, they are notoriously uncomfortable. A mattress topper could help improve the comfort level if your dorm bed is too firm. Bring a good pillow too, and remember that you’ll be sharing your sleeping quarters with another person now, so be aware that catching some shut-eye might not be as easy as it was at home.
If you usually fall asleep to the noise of the TV, consider buying some earbuds you can comfortably sleep in, so that you can listen to a podcast or music instead. Or, if you are worried about a roommate who snores or tosses and turns all night, try getting your body used to wearing a mask or earplugs while you sleep.
Keep in Touch with Family and Friends
College dorm life can be exciting and full of new friends and things to do—on top of all of your actual college classes. But living away from home for the first time can bring out some serious homesickness, which is a really normal response to going away to school . Make sure to explore the campus and get outside of the dorm room. Spending the entire day sitting alone in your bed can be isolating, so it may be helpful to get some fresh air out in the quad. It can help to remember your connections back home as well, and don’t dismiss them just because you are starting a new chapter in life.
Call your parents if you have a close relationship, or maybe it’s your siblings you want to catch up with instead. Consider writing a letter (or email!) to a high school friend attending a different university. Striking up an old-fashioned pen pal relationship can give you something fun to look forward to in the mail.
Plan Ahead for Student Debt
You might experience culture shock when you live in the dorms for the first time, so it’s best to avoid sticker shock as well. Part of being comfortable in college is having a vision for your future and thinking about what life will look like once you graduate.
Having goals now can help you stay motivated and on track throughout school. Your plan could involve things like taking a look at your finances, how much you might need in student loans, whether your financial aid package is enough to cover costs like books or campus housing, and how you will repay those student loans. It’s also a good idea to be familiar with your financial aid package and the cost of your college education in general. As more students are taking on student debt without the help of their parents, it’s important to explore your payment options.
With federal student loans, the maximum total amount first-year dependent undergraduates can borrow is $5,500 for the school year . The lifetime maximum for dependent students is currently $31,000, and when students have reached this limit, some turn to private loans to fill in the financing gaps.
If you’ve exhausted your federal loan and grant options, you may consider fitting private student loans into your budget. SoFi’s undergraduate student loans offer four different repayment plans that include making payments on your private student loans while still in school (either interest-only, a small fixed payment every month month, or immediate payment on the interest and principal amount) and one deferred payment plan where you’d start paying six months after you leave school. Student loans aren’t a one size fits all situation, so it is important to consider your unique circumstances when choosing the best option for you.
Whatever your financial situation, finding ways to adjust to dorm life in college comes down to communicating with your roommate, making sure you invest in small comforts, and ensuring you have a strong financial plan. With these things in mind, you’ll be better equipped to get your degree and enjoy yourself along the way.
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