What Will My Dormitory Be Like at a US University?

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By Selene Angier
Last updated on August 9, 2023

What is dormitory life really like in the US? What amenities do dormitory rooms have? International students tell you all about dorm life in the USA.

A female international student sits on her dormitory bed and plays acoustic guitar

Rock climbing walls, infinity pools, indoor golf, ball pits, rooftop volleyball courts, hot tubs — that’s the “we wish!” list of dormitory amenities that make headlines. The closer-to-reality version of a US dormitory room is a comfortable twin bed and a handful of cool student-friendly amenities in the building like gaming rooms and free coffee. When you look up “dormitory meaning” online, you will find a standard definition — student housing at a university — but these days, US colleges know they have to offer more to attract students to campus.  

While you might not have a private movie screening room with Dolby surround sound, dormitories in the US have come a long way since the white cinderblock days. Campus housing departments at universities know that dormitory amenities can be a key decision factor for students (after academics, faculty, and career services, of course) and new and renovated buildings are a top priority. 

What Are the Typical Dormitory Options in the US?

There are three standard university housing styles in the USA — rooms, suites, and apartments. Some dorm examples you might find are:

  • Shared room with one or more roommates on a corridor hall

  • Shared room with roommate/s in a suite, joined by a common area

  • Private room on a corridor hall or in a suite

  • Shared apartment with roommates, with kitchen, living room, and shared bath

  • Private apartment with no roommates (ideal for couples or young families)

  • Private room with a host family off campus (not as common in the US, but sometimes an option)

Some dormitory arrangements you might find here are single (just you in a room), double (one other roommate), triple (two other roommates), and quad (four people total in a room). You might also hear about an apartment called a townhouse, which means it’s an apartment that includes two or more floors. 

Bathroom options vary by housing style and may include a private bathroom all to yourself, a shared bathroom with roommates or suitemates, or a common bath on the hall. Common baths tend to have multiple showers, toilets, and sinks.

Your dorm or suite may be co-ed or single gender; some schools group suites by gender and floor, some do not. All universities have handicap accessible and other special-needs housing. Check with your university to see what is available. 

What Is Included in a Typical Dormitory?

All universities are different, but you will at least be provided basic furnishings and storage, like a bed, bureau, desk, chair, and closet space. Sometimes extra lighting, a rug, additional storage, and/or TV with cable may be included. 

What Is in a Dorm Building?

Remember to keep your expectations realistic. (It is highly unlikely there will be an infinity pool!) University housing amenities vary, but at most schools, you can expect WiFi access, common areas for hanging out or watching TV, study lounges, coin-operated laundry facilities, and security (personnel or keycard swipe). 

Many dormitory buildings also offer full kitchens for cooking larger meals or hosting friends, flat-screen TVs with cable/streaming stick, fitness equipment or a small gym, coffee stations, computer lounges, and gaming rooms. Meal plans tend to be required for students in dorms, and dining halls are usually located nearby. 

What Are the Benefits of Living on Campus?

For Oluwasunmimade, a Nigerian student attending the University of South Carolina (UofSC), the best thing about living in the dorm was a newfound sense of independence. 

“When you’re in high school, you have your parents and teachers monitoring you,” he says. “In college you are living on your own. You really begin to learn how to take care of yourself and how to be much more independent.”

What else do you have to look forward to when you live in a dormitory?

Community: First and foremost, you are part of a community and will make lifelong friends by living in the dorms your first year. Often, your first-year roommate becomes your roommate in your sophomore year or you may even live with a group of dorm friends off campus in future years. When you live in the dorms, socializing is easier — you will often have someone to hang out, exercise, or study with you. Sometimes this “community” factor can also mean a louder space. (Side note: You may want to invest in noise-cancelling headphones!)

Campus access: Living in the dorms also means you are on campus or close to campus, making it easier (and faster) to get around. Some dorms are located in the heart of campus, or on the outer edge, which means classrooms, labs, the football stadium, student union, and fitness center are just a few minutes away. (Hint: This means more time to sleep.) Living off campus means commuting by bus, shuttle, car, or on foot (and that equals more time, and possibly more money). 

Residential assistant: In the US, your floor or dorm pod will also be assigned a residential assistant, or RA. This person may also be known as a resident advisor, community assistant, or housing fellow and is usually a graduate student or an older undergraduate who is paid by the university (or given a free housing stipend) to oversee the floor of their dorm, help you settle in to dorm life, enforce rules, and create a sense of community through social events. 

RAs are a great resource, especially for international students. They answer questions about dorm life and academics, can offer guidance about roommate conflicts and noise complaints, help you adjust to culture shock, mentor you, and act as a liaison with the school, facilities, and safety departments.

How to Prepare for Your Move

All universities have their own rules about when you can move in (certain days and hours) and what you can bring with you. Always check with your school’s housing department (also known as “residential life”) before packing — that toaster oven/candle/pet iguana probably is not allowed. 

Our top tip? Only bring what you need — personal necessities like clothes for all seasons, toiletries, bedding (if not supplied), school supplies, and tech must-haves. And be sure to coordinate with your roommate and suitemates on shared items like a mini-fridge, coffeemaker, and hotpot. No one needs two microwaves!

Dormitory Rooms and Amenities at Shorelight Partner Universities

Not only will student housing options vary by university, but they also may be different depending on your year or major. You may have access to all dormitory options, or you may be asked to choose from a select few. Don’t be surprised, as this is common for first years and international students who benefit from being in a cohort. Here a few highlights of the dorm offerings at Shorelight universities

Florida International University 

Global First Year students attending Florida International University (FIU) are guaranteed housing with private rooms in student suites. First-year students enrolling through Shorelight have access to Everglades Hall, Lakeview North, and Lakeview South for fall and spring, as well as Parkview Hall for summer. Accommodations typically feature two suite options: a private bedroom in a four-bedroom/one-bathroom suite shared among four students, or a private bedroom in a three-bedroom/one-bathroom suite shared among three students. 

Amenities at FIU dorms vary, but check out the huge pool, study lounges, full kitchens, and tons of hangout spaces in this FIU housing tour

I love the FIU campus and the dorms are really nice. The other students here are really helpful and it is easy to make friends. Miami is really diverse, so it is easy to fit in here as an international student.” — Ibrahim, Saudi Arabia, FIU 

American University

International Accelerator students at American University are assigned to housing at Leonard Hall, a dorm specially created for international students, transfer candidates, and study abroad students. Leonard Hall overlooks the peaceful Woods Brown amphitheater and greenspace, perfect for studying, a game of footie, and picnicking with friends. 

Shared room options at Leonard include doubles (one other roommate) and triples (two other roommates), and building amenities include 24-hour front desk service, laundry facilities, computer room with printer, and TV and study lounges. A state-of-the-art fitness center is just across the street. 

University of Dayton

At the University of Dayton, more than 90% of undergraduate students live on campus or in the UD student neighborhood. And it might have something to do with Dayton’s dorms being consistently named to “top dorm” lists, like Top 20 Best College Dorms by Insider magazine and Best College Dorms in America by Niche.com. (Dayton’s dorms are ranked higher than Harvard University!) 

Dayton undergraduate students are required to live in program-approved housing for their first two years of university. This helps international students adjust to university life in the US, find their community, and live with trained resident assistants. Most international students are assigned to the Marycrest dormitory, which features double rooms (one roommate) and gender-specific floors. 

Watch this video for a sneak peek of Dayton housing >>

University of Illinois Chicago 

The Academic and Residence Complex (ARC) at the University of Illinois Chicago is the buzz of the UIC campus. Opened in Fall 2019, this architecturally stunning LEED-certified building features a state-of-the-art fitness center, gaming room, a Starbucks, and the Sky Lounge, a rooftop hangout space on building’s tenth floor. The mixed-use building also features staff offices and 50,000-square feet of academic space, including lecture halls, collaborative classrooms, a tutoring center, and IT offices with computer stations, printers, and an onsite helpdesk.

The Benefits of Shorelight Signature Student Experience 

Welcoming you to campus and getting you settled at your dorm is part of Shorelight’s Signature Student Experience. Our trained campus transition team is there for you every step of the way, from airport pickup to dorm setup to campus tour. 

“The International Accelerator Program staff take very good care of everyone from the moment you arrive,” says United Arab Emirates native, Yaser, of his experience when he first arrived at the University of South Carolina. “They had someone waiting for me at the airport, they helped me settle in to my new dorm room, they helped me with all my documents, and even helped me to meet other students.”

Shorelight campus staff help their international students with:

  • Campus arrival, dorm move-in, and room set-up 

  • Welcome kit (with things like a complimentary linen pack with sheets and towels, snacks, and water)

  • Student orientation and campus tour

  • Shopping trip for school supplies, toiletries, and tech necessities, like a getting a cell phone or opening a US-based bank account 

  • Assisting with any issues that come up

Staff members helped ease my transition and lessened my culture shock. [They] took me to the housing office, took care of my documents and keys, gave me a tour, took me to my dorm, and introduced me to the resident assistant.” — Basma, Egypt, University of the Pacific 

Which Type of Dormitory Is Right for You?

When researching and deciding what type of student housing is best for you, it is helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

1. What are my dorm options? 

You may prefer to live in a swanky penthouse apartment with a rooftop pool, but if your school does not have one, that will not be an option. You can only choose from what is available at your school, and to your cohort. You will likely be picking from the most common university dormitory styles in the USA: 

  • Room, suite, or apartment

  • Private or shared with roommate/s

  • Private or shared bathrooms

2. Do I want a shared room or a private room?

Whether you want to live with roommates, suitemates, or on your own is a matter of personal preference, budget, and availability at your university. When you submit your housing request, most universities ask you to rank your preferences in order, as popular dorms and room styles are in demand and a “lottery” allows the housing department to assign fairly. 

Having American roommates has really helped me transition between different cultures. We all share a large living room and we even have a kitchen. It’s the best dorm!” — Fei, China, UofSC

A few things to consider in choosing a shared (double, triple, quad) or private (single) style room:

  • Cost: Sharing a room or suite tends to be less expensive; single rooms or a one-bedroom apartment all to yourself tends to be more expensive.

  • Friends: Having roommates and suitemates means you will have a more social experience, and maybe even make lifelong friends; living in a single room means more privacy and quiet time on your own. 

  • Space: Shared rooms and suites tend to offer more square footage; a single room may mean less overall space, but it will be all yours. 

  • Noise: Sharing a room or suite might be less quiet than a single, but a single room may or may not be quiet (hi, neighbors!).

  • Bathroom time: If you are sharing a room or suite, you will likely be sharing a bathroom too — which means working with roommates to keep it tidy and waiting for the shower at busy times.

  • Shared items: If you have roommates and suitemates, you can share kitchen items, décor, and furniture.

3. Is the dorm location convenient for me?

Some dormitories are right in the heart of campus, while others may involve a short walk or, at larger schools, taking a university shuttle. You may have access to on-campus housing or off-campus housing, which is usually affiliated or at least approved and arranged by the university. In the US, freshmen are usually required to live on campus. After your first year, most universities allow you to seek your own housing off campus, typically an apartment shared with friends or roommates. 

4. What dorm amenities do I really need?

What are your “must haves” and what is a “nice to have” amenity? Think of things like: Is there a gym on site to work out? How much storage do I really need? Am I OK with a shared bathroom on the hall, or is a bath in the dorm room a must? Is access to a big kitchen where you can cook for friends important to you? All dorms will have laundry facilities, but will yours be in the basement or in your room?

Studying in the USA and “Living the Dream” 

College dorm life is fun — and rewarding. Your roommates and dorm neighbors will be your first friends on campus, and they often become your lifelong friends. Yes, there might be treadmills, free lattes, and the latest XBOX release, but the community aspects of dorm life are what you will remember. Friendships made in dorms are essential to the international student experience. You will meet students from your home country, other countries, and, of course, Americans. 

For UAE student Yaser, the friends he has made by living in the dorms at the University of South Carolina have heightened his college experience. “I love my room. I have three American roommates and we have so much fun together. People here are nice, so making friends is easy. I have friends who are American, Chinese, Indian, Arab, and more,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier — I am living my college dream!”

Shorelight can help make your transition to campus easy. Find out how