A dormitory is a low-end apartment building designed specifically for college students. Dormitories are significantly less common outside the United States. In the western US, dormitories are usually 2 - 20 floors of studio apartments, 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 charitable program 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.