For many new students, the biggest life lessons come from living on campus with other young people.
“They may be doing their own laundry for the first time. They may be sharing space with another person for the first time. They may be, in some cases, responsible for making their own meals,” said Nick Lander, associate director of residence life at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.
New students share sleeping quarters, kitchens, study spaces and bathrooms with many students while they may have come from a family home where they had their own room and spaces.
“So those things kind of happening in a collaborative environment, where there’s support and people they can share those experiences with, I think makes a very positive impact for students,” he said.
Sometimes a requirment
Lander said many schools require new students to live in the dorms, or communal buildings, where they share typically smallish sleeping quarters, toilets and showers. Dining halls are communal and food is usually not specially ordered or prepared for individuals, except for those with dietary restrictions. Some dorms are arranged by gender, college major, social preferences such as eating habits, and even those who want to keep pets.
Research shows that students who live on campus do better academically and learn their way around campus better, Lander said.
Residential students make better connections with professors and other students, too.
New students, typically between 18 and 23 years old, benefit from having others around in the same stage of life and who can help them grow as independent adults.
Help just down the hall
However, living with strangers is not always easy, Lander pointed out. Some first-year students choose their roommates, others opt for random placement. Everyone brings a different level of upbringing to the situation.
And that’s why schools try to offer strong residence-life programs and services, Lander said, such as placing resident assistants, RAs, in each dorm, usually on each floor.
In exchange for free housing, reduced tuition or pay, RAs help dorm residents navigate dorm life. They might connect students with campus resources and fun or informational events. And they are trained to solve disputes and encourage a stable community.
Lander said this experience helps prepare students for the real world.
“When you … have a job and you’re sharing an office space, for example, with another person, or you’re in a relationship, or you have a family, you have to learn how to deal with conflict. You have to learn how to communicate,” he said.
After their first year, students have more flexibility in housing. Having made friends who were strangers at the beginning of their freshman year, they can choose with whom they live. Some move off campus into apartments. Lander said that expands a student’s community beyond campus and into the greater population.