Dorm Life

The Sojourn Blog

Discussions on relationships, culture, and faith.

When I think back on my experience as a resident at UW’s McMahon Hall in 2015-2016, my memories are a mixed bag. I reminisce, “ahhh, the dorms.”  The excitement of living on my own for the first time, late nights studying with friends, pancakes at floor events with strangers, playing Cards Against Humanity in the lounge. And then I also remember, “uhhg, the dorms.”  Noisy neighbors, strange smells, and homesickness.

Having worked for Residential Life at UW as a Resident Adviser (RA) and Assistant Resident Director (ARD), I’ve had the chance to reflect on hundreds of conversations with students about their dorm experiences. Getting placed in your top choice building or having everything in common with your roommate doesn’t actually make as much of a difference as you might think. What matters most in having a positive dorm experience is your attitude and willingness to step outside of your comfort zone. 


Here are 5 ways to make the most of dorm life: 


  1. Know your neighbors.  

What makes a place feel like home more than anything else? People! Relationships have the power to transform a dorm from a building full of strangers into a community and a home. Go beyond your first impressions of the people you meet in your dorm. Reach out and open up. Dorms bring together people from varying backgrounds--get to know someone different from yourself!


2.    Take advantage of the resources and opportunities available to students who live on campus. 

When you live in a dorm, you’re not just paying to live in an on-campus building--you’re also paying for services designed to help you make the most out of your dorm experience. There are special resources to help you build community, have fun, be successful in classes, and develop into an awesome human! Look around your building for posters or talk with your Resident Adviser to find out about events and resources available in your community. It’s all there waiting for you!


3.    Get comfortable feeling awkward. 


Whether it’s your first or fourth year living in a dorm, living among several hundred strangers is occasionally awk-ward! On my second week of living in McMahon as a freshman I got locked out of my room while showering and had to go to the front desk in my towel for a spare key. Yikes! But hey, the world kept spinning! 

Striking up a conversation with the only other person doing laundry or riding in an elevator can be uncomfortable! But you know what’s even more uncomfortable? The two of you pretending like the other person doesn’t exist while avoiding eye contact and yet also stealing sideways glances (you know you do!). Break the awkward silence--you’ll feel better. 


4.    Get out!


Your dorm might be cozy and safe, but make sure to get out a bit! Become familiar with the University District. Use your UPass to explore other Seattle Neighborhoods. Go on a daytrip with friends and visit someplace else in the state. Bolt Bus and Trailhead Direct are awesome services that get you mobile without a car! What other modes of transportation are available? This summer I traveled by van, ferry, bus, bike, car, light rail and on foot in a single day! UW’s dorms are centrally located--take advantage of that! 


5.    Don’t compare your dorm experience to others’.


It’s unlikely that life in the dorms will look anything like what your friend at a different campus experiences, and even less like what you see in the movies. Some people meet their college besties during move-in, others take a year or two of putting themselves out there before they really find their community. Some people become lifelong friends with their roommate, others are content to co-exist. You might live in a brand-new building, or you might live in a residence hall with a little more history. The people you meet, the place you live, and your own identities make your dorm experience uniquely yours.


If you currently live in a dorm, what do you hope to get out of your time there? How will you get there?

If you have lived on a college campus previously, what do wish you had known going into that experience? Let us know!

This post was written by Sophia Cassam.

Sophia Cassam Comment