Universities in the US typically offer students housing within campus premises, usually called “residence halls.” These housing units are owned and operated by the university, with students signing a housing contract and paying “room and board” fees to the university to occupy the assigned room for the duration of the academic term. In this respect, students are tenants and the universities are the landlords. Campus housing types differ from each university and range from traditional dormitory-styled buildings to student apartments. A large percentage of the students who live on-campus are undergraduate, as most universities mandate first-year students to stay on-campus. The rest are graduate students, who are usually given separate living quarters from undergraduate students. Universities also typically offer students, at an additional fee, an accompanying meal plan that permits students to eat at designated locations around campus.
Types of Campus Housing
Each university has its own types of on-campus housing. Most universities will have several residence halls built near each other, forming housing complexes. Some of the buildings are smaller three to five story buildings housing only a few hundred students, while others are high-rise buildings with ten to twenty floors housing a thousand students. Some universities also have student villages that consist of student apartments and townhouses.
Within each building, there may be different types of room configurations. The following is a short list of the more common room configurations that can be found in US residence halls.
- Single Room: One room occupied by only one person. May or may not have attached bathroom. If no attached bathroom, then occupant must use common bathrooms in hallway. Typically, this type of room is given to students in their third year and beyond, as well as residence advisors.
- Double Room: This is the most common type of room that can be found in American residence halls, consisting of only one room shared by two occupants. Room may or may not have an attached bathroom; if none, then occupants must use common bathroom in hallway.
- Cluster/Suite: Resembles an apartment without a kitchen. Suite will have one or more bedrooms with a common living area and full bathroom attached. Each bedroom may be assigned to just a single occupant, or is shared by two or more occupants. Typically, suites with more than two bedrooms attached are called clusters and will come with bathrooms with multiple shower stalls, toilets, and sinks to accommodate the many occupants.
- Student Apartment: University-owned apartment, complete with full bathrooms, a complete kitchen, living room, and one or more bedrooms. Bedrooms may be occupied by a single occupant, or may be shared by two.
- Homes: Although extremely rare, universities may sometimes purchase a home near campus and convert it into campus housing. Typically, students following a particular program are housed in homes like these, with two or more occupants per bedroom.
Depending on the university, the buildings may be fully dedicated for just a single sex, or it may be coed. Coed dorms may have men and women living in separate wings or separate floors, or may have men and women on the same floor but in separate rooms. Most universities have separate bathrooms for men and women in the hallways for rooms that do not come with attached bathrooms.
Different universities will offer different amenities for their residence halls. However, the following are almost standard in most rooms:
- An extra long twin bed frame and mattress for each occupant
- Writing table and chair
- Chest of drawers
- High-speed internet connection (Ethernet jack or wireless network)
- Cable TV and Telephone jack
- Blinds/Curtains on windows
Some universities may provide more items, such as small sofas, lamps, shower curtains for attached bathrooms, and carpeted floors in each room. Some rooms may come with air conditioning, but all rooms will have heating for winter. Some rooms may also be equipped with a telephone, small microwave, and refrigerator, either inclusive in the dorm fees or for an extra fee. Students are responsible for checking ahead of time what their room and board fees cover, and what additional items the university can provide for a nominal fee.
Buildings may have their own amenities such as laundry rooms, mailboxes, fitness rooms, study rooms, pianos, TV lounges, computer labs, basketball/volleyball courts, convenience stores, recreation rooms with pool tables, bike racks, recycling/trash disposal rooms, music practice rooms, and common kitchens where students may cook their own meals. Other amenities may be available for students to borrow, such as vacuum cleaners, sports equipment, barbeque grills, board games, and carts for moving items into or out of rooms. All buildings will typically have a secured card access system as a mandatory amenity, allowing only building residents with student ID cards to open building doors using a magnetic card reader or electronic key. Buildings will also normally have a front desk staffed 24 hours a day and university police providing security. By US law, all buildings must abide by the American Disabilities Act and provide amenities for disabled students like wheelchair ramps, Braille signs, and elevators.
For students with cars, most universities will offer special campus resident parking permits that will allow students to park their cars overnight on-campus lots. However, due to overcrowding, some universities strongly discourage or ban first-year students from bringing cars to campus, allowing exceptions only in some circumstances. Parking permits are usually sold for a fee by the campus transportation and parking office and are not included in the fees for on-campus housing.
Utilities such as water, trash, gas, electricity, and high-speed Internet access are included in the fees. Some universities also include phone bills for local calls and cable TV in the housing fees. However, at some universities, students must set up their own telephone and cable TV accounts and pay those bills separately from the housing fees.
Living in a residence hall has been described as living in a village or in a very large family. It is a very unique experience where students interact with their peers from different backgrounds and learn about how others live. It is also a place where there must be a high level of mutual tolerance toward differences, ranging from lifestyle differences such as sleeping hours to significant cultural differences. Residence halls also are places where some close and lifelong friends are made, given the close proximity and high frequency of meeting between residents. But residence halls are great places for young people to mature and learn values such as cooperation, tolerance, patience, friendship, respect and responsibility along the way.
Residence Hall Staff
In each building, there normally is a residence hall director. He or she is usually a university staff or a graduate student and works for the campus housing office. The hall director may reside in an apartment within the building or may only be present during certain hours of the day. Hall directors are responsible for supervising residence hall staff, coordinating activities among residents, and otherwise ensuring residents’ safety, well being, and general quality of life in the building. Assisting the hall director are university staff members serving as assistant hall directors, maintenance staff, housekeeping staff, and student employees who reside in the building itself.
Each floor on the building is typically staffed by a resident advisor or “RA” for short. The RA is a student who lives on the floor and is a peer of the residents. RA’s serve as both the supervisor to residents, ensuring adherence to residence hall rules and regulations, as well as a link between students and residence hall staff. The RA is also responsible for coordinating activities among floor residents like outings, study groups, and floor decorations, as well as mediating issues between residents should a problem arise. Residents who aspire to serve as RA’s may apply as candidates for upcoming academic terms through their hall directors.
Some universities organize communities known as ‘living-learning” communities within a particular floor, wing, or whole building. Living-learning communities allow students of similar majors or interests to live together and experience activities coordinated by the university targeted specifically for that group. Activities include field trips, guest speakers, and special projects for community members. Examples of communities for a particular major are engineering, health sciences, arts, or languages, while examples of communities for specific interests include student-athlete, international students, cultural groups, volunteer service, and future teachers. International student communities would normally mix American students with international students.
Residence hall complexes may organize group study or tutoring programs for residents. Students willing to tutor are matched with students in need of academic assistance and are given space within the residence halls to conduct sessions. Participation is completely voluntary and seeks to create a cooperative learning environment for residents.
Residence halls may also put together teams for participation in university intramural sports. In some cases, residence halls have their own “Olympic Games” against other halls in the spirit of friendly competition. Participation is once again voluntary, but gives residents the opportunity to meet residents in other halls as well as something fun to do during their free time. Games vary from sports like Ultimate Frisbee, touch American football, basketball, and volleyball, down to indoor games like poker, checkers, pool, and quiz games.
Generally, on-campus housing units are located very close to classroom buildings and laboratories on-campus and are within just a few minutes’ worth of walking distance from them. This proximity is usually the reason students choose to live in on-campus housing. Most students choose to either walk or ride a bicycle to class, with a few opting for more creative means, such as inline skating or skateboarding. Some universities have their campus housing at a further distance but provide regular shuttles between housing complexes and campus. Depending on the location of the university, on-campus housing also tends to be close to stores, restaurants, city bus stops, light rail/underground rail stations, and other public amenities.