5 Ways Dorm Life Prepares You for the Real World

The cramped space, the shared bathrooms, and taking the plunge into living with a complete stranger for a year. Most college students experience these facets of dorm life for at least one year throughout their college careers. Some students crave the freedom and privacy of living in their own space, while others like the environment of living in a community of fellow students. Dorm life certainly has its challenges. If you don’t get along with your roommate, things will be rough. I personally have plenty of horror stories from my first roommates, who I was only able to tolerate for a couple of months before changing rooms, that can serve as cautionary tales of dorm life. However, I believe that all college students should at least spend their freshman year living in the dorms, even if their home is 15 minutes away from campus. Dorm life is fun, a social experience, and prepares you for the real world in some ways you might not expect!

1) It teaches you how to get along with all types of people.

Obviously, being shoved into cramped living quarters with one or two people you’ve never met before forces you to start doing this right away. Even if you’re rooming with an old friend, you will be surrounded by other students on your hall from different backgrounds, with different stories and ways of living their lives. As an Illinois girl going to school out in Southern California, I  was already pretty “diverse” as far as backgrounds go at my school. I lived with two girls at the start of this school year. One of them was a soccer player from the Pacific Northwest, and the other was a country music lover from Canada. Although we more or less came from similar backgrounds and upbringings, there were many others represented throughout our hall. When you move into your dorm you will encounter kids from different cities, states, maybe countries, with different values, likes, dislikes, than you. They will be from different socioeconomic groups, of different races and ethnicities. When you live with this diverse group of people, you will end up finding that you have more in common with them than you may have expected. Just like the “real world” (whatever that really means!) dorm life is a little slice of people coming together and making good relationships despite what makes them different.

2) It teaches you to communicate more effectively.

Let’s talk about my family for a little bit. I am an only child living with my mother, when I’m not at school of course. Our family unit at home is pretty small and as a result, my mom and I are extremely close. But we also fight a lot, and we have a tendency to lose patience with each other pretty quickly. Even when we aren’t getting mad at each other, we sometime interrupt each other, make snarky comment, and use curse words–but we can tell the difference between when we are fighting and just talking. Way on the other end of the spectrum was my roommate, let’s call her Sarah (That’s not her real name. Actually, it might be. You’ll never know). Sarah lives with both her parents, and has a very different relationship with them. They avoid conflict as much as humanly possible, always making sure to use soft tones, gentle language, and never interrupting each other. Sarah and I grew up with completely different communication styles. I don’t yell and cuss my friends out, but I do tend to communicate more assertively and sometimes cut people off because that was what I grew up doing with my mom. Sarah, on the other hand, was Miss Congeniality, or at least she tried  to come off that way. So when we got into our first confrontation about something silly, I think it was the air conditioner being on too high, I didn’t think it was such a big deal to raise my voice a little and tell her to stop being a control freak about the room temperature. But Sarah was completely taken aback. She told me to stop yelling at her in a voice that came off as cloying to me, but to her it was probably just trying to sound nice. Every too-sugary-sweet comment she made got me angrier, so I went off about how she manipulates our other roommate into taking her side all the time and how she is a fake, selfish witch with a B. While this type of fight was business as usual with my mom and I, things were different with Sarah. She was never really nice to me ever again afterwards, and she later disclosed to me that she felt uncomfortable with the way I communicated with her. She said I came off as brash and rude, not just during the fight. Although I talked to my friends about this and none of them agreed with her, I had never really put much thought into how my communication style meshes with others’, and I started to be more conscious of adapting my tone of voice and word choices, among other things, based on who I am talking to. This is an extremely important lesson to learn when thinking about your future career. Your boss might like assertive employees and reward those who communicate in a more blunt manner, but your next boss might expect everyone to be overly polite at all times. Know your audience, and adapt accordingly.

3) It forces you to get creative.

No matter how wealthy and well-endowed your school is, chances are the freshman dorm rooms are cramped, and especially for the girls, nowhere near large enough to store all your clothes! In my current room I am living with one girl, but my original room, the same size as my current one, had three of us. We had to share one medium-sized closet, we each had a little dresser, two shelves on a bookcase, and a desk. That was all the storage space given to us. So we got crafty–we raised our beds so we could store boxes and shoes in the space underneath. We bought space hangers that had extra hooks and could hold more than one piece of clothing. But even after buying out the entire Dorm Essentials section of Bed Bath & Beyond, we still had a space problem. Chances are, your first home or apartment out of school will not be the most spacious. Living in a dorm room gives you practice with adapting to these tiny spaces, and teaches you to go beyond what you are given in your space.

4) You learn how to be considerate…hopefully.

The hall I lived on at the beginning of the year had a reputation around our dorm for being the loud, obnoxious hall. Every night without fail, for the first two weeks of school, the same group of boys would stumble drunkenly around the hallway, skateboarding, throwing soccer balls and Frisbees and ripping off the wall decorations the RA had put up. They stole nametags from people’s doors, broke hall lights, and blasted music with no regard to what time it was. And sometimes they thought it would be cute to bang on people’s doors like they were trying to get into a bomb shelter. Obviously, this is not what most people act like in dorm settings (if any of you display this type of behavior, I pray that you don’t come to my school). But living in the dorms forces you to think about how your actions are affecting your roommates, neighbors, and hall-mates. You learn to put in headphones if you want to listen to music at night. Often times dorm walls are thin and sound carries. You make sure to pitch in when it comes to keeping the room tidy–not just cleaning up your own little section of the room but also the communal areas like the bathroom and sink, if you have one in your room. If you learn these lessons quickly, you’ll find that you get along with your roommates and hall-mates a lot better than the hot mess boys up there.  And this is a lesson that will carry you through your future home life as well as wherever you end up working.

5) It helps you feel more comfortable with authority figures.

In dorm world, the law of the land is usually carried out by the RAs, or the Residence Director if necessary. At most schools there is one RA per hall, and there are a few per floor. RAs are, for the most part, nice and normal people. There is the occasional crazy one, but you should not let them scare you. RAs are students just like you, who may be a few years older. They are not there to chase you, to get you in trouble, or to report you to anyone. Our RAs always say in meetings that they would hate to have to write someone up, and that’s the truth. They are first and foremost there as a resource for students. If you have roommate issues, questions about school, or just need someone to talk to, they are there for you. Hopefully by the end of your first year in college you will have talked to your RA at least once outside of mandatory meetings. Getting used to this type of accessible authority figure is very helpful if you’re anything like me. I used to avoid talking to people in positions of authority about anything, for fear of somehow getting in trouble. Teachers, coaches, even my first boss. Not that I thought they were bad people, I just didn’t want to get on their bad side, so I only communicated with them when absolutely necessary. I probably would have done better in certain classes, or enjoyed that job more, if I had felt comfortable with asking these people questions and having real conversations with them to get an idea of what kind of person they are and what I can do to improve my work. By starting out with a relatable dorm authority figure such as an RA, you learn that it’s okay to talk to them, to ask questions, and to advocate for yourself. You can use these same skills when communicating with professors and bosses, and maybe even to improve your relationship with your parents.

Whatever your dorm experience is or was like, you can’t deny that you did learn some important life lessons from your time there. I’m about to finish up my own journey through the dorms this year, and although I’ve had my brushes with insanity, sleep deprivation, and never-ending piles of laundry, I’m glad I did it. Some kids couldn’t take life in the dorms and moved out during spring semester. I feel bad for them because once you’re out of school and on your own, you can’t just run away from problems like that. You have to commit, stay positive, and figure out the best way to deal with whatever your issues are. And if you know how to relate and communicate with others, come up with crafty solutions to problems, and deal with authority figures, you are much better prepared for the rest of your life than some of the people I’ve discussed in this article.

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