A dormitory is a low-end apartment building
designed specifically for college
. Dormitories are significantly less common outside the United States
In the western US, dormitories are usually 2 - 20 floors of studio apartment
designed to be shared by 2 - 4 students.
There are a number of variations in the way they are set up. Either the rooms
will contain their own small bathrooms (usually shared between two adjoining
rooms -- this is called "suite-style"), or there will be a single large
bathroom shared by the entire floor ("community bathrooms"). While younger
incoming freshmen generally seem to prefer having "their own" bathrooms, they
often do not realize that they will then be required to clean "their own"
bathrooms. Community bathrooms are cleaned by university staff, and are usually
a better idea. Drawbacks include possibly not having a sink in the room,
and that you may have to walk down a long hall clad in a bathrobe or worse,
during daylight, with lots of other people milling around, to take a shower.
Some dormitories have kitchenettes installed on some or all floors. Some contain
recreation rooms or study lounges.
Dormitories are not poorly-maintained or particularly cheaply built, but their
design incorporates the largest possible number of units in the smallest
space. Even in a place where land is abundant, like Arizona, the University's
share of the land is still very, very limited, so they are interested in really
squeezing the maximum number of "dorm rooms" into those buildings. Dorm rooms
are notoriously cramped and can be very difficult to live in if you are
claustraphobic in any sense.
"Dormitory" is considered to be an outmoded term by most universities' PR
departments -- "residence hall" is now preferred. The idea is to shift emphasis from
the crowded stereotype of days past (namely the 80s) and promote a sense of
community and happiness among the students that live there.
Reasons you should avoid living in a dormitory
There are several problems with dormitories. As I have lived in several
dormitories, both as a freshman and as an employee, and have also lived in
off-campus housing in between, I feel qualified to discuss a number of issues:
Dormitories concentrate a large number of irresponsible people in a small area.
This is a recipe for trouble. I could argue for the elimination of dormitories,
as this would better the lives of everyone affiliated with the university
(except the administrators), and by extension most of the United States, but I
would be wasting my breath. Suffice it to say that the "communities" created by
the "residential life" arm of the university bureaucracy are false, and
millions of dollars are wasted every year on bogus PR projects, the most notable
of which around here is the "Freshman Year Experience" at ASU. 1,000 freshmen
living under one tiny roof? Yes, that's a good idea, let's do that.
They cut down on academic success. Far from facilitating study and group
work, the dormitory setting makes it very easy to party instead of study, and to
sleep instead of go to class or go and do homework. Because of the
disproportionate number of underclassmen who think that blasting loud music at
all hours of the day and night helps project their coolness to the world, study
is difficult to accomplish in a dorm room. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights
in a typical freshman dorm are chaos (and the place gets trashed). When it's
only a 10 minute walk from the door to your first class, you'll go to bed at
4:00, set your alarm for 8:50 to make a 9:00 class, and wind up sleeping until
9:30 and miss it. Alternatively, you'll make the class, but then come back
afterwards to get lunch, fall asleep, and miss your 13:00 and 14:00 classes. You
had an exam in the 14:00 one.
They make life very inconvenient. If you enjoy good food, quiet, not
being harassed by para-law-enforcement, and having a lot of stuff around,
dormitory life is not for you. If you enjoy having friends over, dormitory life
is not for you. If you enjoy having people leave you the @#*$ alone, dormitory
life is not for you.
Parking is impossible. Most Americans take it for granted that you can
park your car where you live. At most campus dormitories, this is not the case.
You will have to apply for an expensive parking permit, and these are given out
on a first-come, first-serve basis, with all the hall staff and "returning
residents" getting priority consideration. At Manzanita Hall at Arizona State
University, the parking lot in front is metered ($1/hour), has 20 spaces, and is
policed constantly. Manzanita Hall houses nearly 1,000 students.
Imagine waiting in line for 20 minutes to get home. You just had a major
exam, you bombed it, you walked 15 minutes in the heat to get back home, you
walk in the door, and two of the four elevators are broken. The line is so long,
you opt for the stairs. You live on the 13th floor.
Idiots. A few really moronic, inconsiderate people on a single floor can
make life really miserable for as many as fifty other people. There is very
little you can do about this when it occurs.
Profit Conspiracy. Dormitories are a poor investment compared
to off-campus alternatives. For the 2001 Fall Semester (August 18 through
December 12th), residence in a dorm room at ASU cost US$1880. This comes out to $470
per month. Although this includes utilities (water, electricity, telephone),
and sometimes a fast Internet connection (10 Mbps Ethernet, usually),
there are usually around $150 of additional fees, for a total cost of around
$500/month. Compare this with sharing a typical 3-bedroom house within 5 miles
of the university: $360/month, including utilities and a cable modem. Comparing
a shared house to a dorm room is like comparing MacOS to FreeBSD, but the dorm
room comes with serious inconveniences that (in my view) add costs. With
no kitchen, you are forced to either eat cheap, low-quality microwaveable foods
(like popcorn, instant ramen soup, canned soup, and the like) or go out to eat
at expensive fast food restaurants either contracted by the university or catering to the
rich-daddy's-girl college crowd. This is part of the Conspiracy.
Worse still, most universities contract with catering services (at ASU, an
enormous contract has been negotiated with food giant Sodex'ho-Mariott) to
provide "food service" to students. Cafeterias are sometimes built into the
ground floor of a dormitory or very close to it, contracted by the school and
selling overpriced meals. University "orientation" seminars emphasize that
the purchase of a "meal plan" by parents for their university-going children is
a good investment. These are the worst deal imagineable. The dollar price of
the food is cloaked by a "point system". ASU sells 1000 "points" for US$2000. At the
food courts, 2 points are charged for breakfast, 3 for lunch, and 4 for dinner.
Since 1 point costs $2, you are paying $8 for the same meal that would cost you
$5.95 at a local Golden Corral restaurant (this is a chain of low-end
cafeterias in the western US). A number of concessions stands set up throughout
campus, as well as Coffee Plantation outlets, also accept points, at rates like
2 points for a pretzel, 3 points for an iced latté, etc. Points are, of
course, not convertible back into cash at the end of the semester. A
to make it possible for students to donate unused points to the poor was met
with opposition from the university and the catering companies. It is
possible (and advisable) for a college student to eat well for US$100 / month
(where "well" means several full meals of nutritious food daily). However, it is
difficult to store fresh ingredients and leftovers (a crucial part of the budget
eating system) in the tiny refrigerators that are provided with dorm rooms. This
is also part of the Conspiracy.
To sum up, dormitory life is often reminiscent of life in Victory Mansions (per
Orwell's 1984), is a poor value, and is inconvenient. The average GPA of the
residents of Cholla Hall (an apartment-style dormitory on the ASU campus) was
less than 1.00 in 2000. Think twice before committing yourself to paying double rent for
1/4 the space and conveniences (remember, you share your
bedroom/living-room/bathroom with a roommate whom you do not know!), plus all
the money your parents will waste on dysfunctional, miniature appliances and greasy
restaurant meals. Having read this denunciation, hopefully you can see through
the hype and avoid making some widespread mistakes.