More and more Americans are going to college and they're getting an education in life, as well as in higher math, science, and literature. For most of the students who move away from home to attend college, it's their first experience living without the protection and the discipline of their parents. VOA's Maura Farrelly visited the University of Maryland recently, to talk to parents and students about moving into a dormitory for the very first time.
For about two and a half million students across the United States, college begins here, at the main entrance to their residence hall. Whether they're attending a small, private college, or a massive, state-run university like the one in Maryland, they will all have to check in with the staff of their dormitory and receive something called an "RCR," which stands for "Room Condition Report."
Denton Hall staff member Cori Renowski explains to a student: "This is what's called your RCR. I need you to take it back to your room and fill out everything that's wrong with your room. Chips in tiles, whatever. If you don't put it on now, then at the end of the year you can be charged for it. Once you're done with this, bring it back to the front desk, and we'll give you your mailbox combination. And here's your key."
By "everything that's wrong with your room," Ms. Renowski means damage that may have been done to the room by a student who lived there the year before. But for 18-year-old Joshua Schwartz, who's moving away from his parents' house in Baltimore, Maryland, for the very first time, damage isn't the only thing 'wrong' with the room that will be his home for the next nine months.
"It's like a small jail cell," he complains. "Cinder-block blue walls, with a white closet. Everything's in the wrong space, just so you can't fit it in right. And the radiator's right in the middle of the room, so you can't turn anything there. And I just happen to have a pipe right above my head. And let's see, the blinds are quite ugly. But I'm having a great time."
Joshua Schwartz's room is three meters by four meters, and he's going to have to share it with another freshman. The bathroom is down the hall. He's going to have to share that with about forty young men. Many American students in university housing come from middle-class backgrounds, and the fact of the matter is, they're used to more comfortable surroundings. They aren't used to having to share their personal space.
But Carol Newman, who's moving her youngest daughter, Sara, into a dormitory for the first time, says she knows from experience that her daughter will thrive in this setting.
"I spent four years at Penn State," she says. "So I told my kids, no matter where you go to school, I don't care if it's Bowie State, which is ten minutes away from where we live, living away completes your life experience. You can't live at home. And you can't come back when you graduate!"
Living in a dorm is about more than just making do with cinder block walls and community bathrooms. It's about making the transition into adulthood, learning how to do your own laundry, perhaps, how to live and work with people who are different from you, and most importantly, how to budget your time.
Dorm life can be very liberating for some students, and that's not always a good thing. Most schools don't have curfews anymore, and in a dorm, no one checks up you, to make sure you're doing your homework and completing your classroom assignments on time. Some students can't handle all the freedom, and they end up flunking out of school. It's a reality that Joshua Schwartz says he's very aware of as he begins his college career.
Schwartz: "It is a lot of fun, but it's a lot of work. So I have mixed emotions. A little nervous, but I'm excited pretty much."
Maura Farrelly: "What are you nervous about?"
Schwartz: "School work. It's all the work. It's a lot more and a lot harder, and I'll have a lot more time to myself, without anyone telling me what to do. So I'll have to choose my time wisely."
The University of Maryland, like most schools, does have a staff of academic counselors, educators the students can go to if they're having trouble adjusting to their new-found freedom and the heavy work load that comes with every college class. Each dormitory also has a staff of specially trained, upper-class students who are there to help the newcomers make friends and adjust to life away from home. But it's up to the students to take advantage of these resources. And that, too, is part of what dormitory life and the transition into adulthood are all about - learning how to recognize that you need help, and how to ask for it.