The College Dorm Survival Guide: How to Survive and Thrive in Your New Home Away from Home
By Julia DeVillers
It's move-in day in the dorms. The smell of cleaning products mingled with move-in sweat wafts up to greet you. The halls are colorful, covered with welcoming bulletin boards and doortags. There are people saying "Hey," hallways to navigate, and your room to find.
Welcome to your new home.
This is the time when students flood campus, lugging their belongings up to their rooms and settling in. It's exciting. It also can be confusing, crazy, and exhausting.
When to Arrive
You may be tempted to arrive at the crack of dawn on move-in day. Okay, wait. Kory Vitangeli, the director of Residence Life at the University of Indianapolis (IN) suggests that you do not plan to arrive right when the residence halls open. You'll face long lines, traffic jams, and the most overanxious parents trying to move their kids in. Instead, wait three or four hours after the halls open. You'll still have plenty of time to get unpacked and prepare for the first activity. Plus, you'll have more personal assistance as the staff might have some downtime.
But if you do take this advice, remember that the last roommate in risks getting the last choice of bed. And closet. And dresser. And possibly wall space if your roommate(s) decorate quickly.
I mean, maybe you'll have considerate roommates who will wait for you. Like on some seasons of The Real World, where everyone wants to be fair and waits until all the roommates have arrived to pick beds and rooms. They talk about it or maybe pick randomly out of a hat. But more likely they won't wait for you. Like on other Real World seasons where the first person to get there claims a room and a bed right away and everyone else gets annoyed, but what can they do?
Just watch out. Because you could have written this in a letter to your new roommates over the summer: "Hi! I'm Julia! I'm really easy to live with and have no requests except that I am really not good at sleeping on the top bunk, as I found out in camp when I rolled off and hurt myself. So I will trade anything if you let me avoid the top bunk. Thanks." And then you end up being the last roommate to arrive and find out that the other two have ignored your ONLY request and have left you the top bunk, anyway. And they're like, "Sony, you were the last one here, and we're not switching."
Oooookay. And yes, I did fall off the bed. A lot.
Early Arrival Request
If you absolutely think you must arrive early for any reason, check with the Housing office first to see what their policy is on early arrival. Some halls charge for early arrival. Other times you need to have a valid reason to move in early. Residence hall staff don't have much time to get the rooms ready for occupancy, and early arrivals can often make it hard for them to get everything done. Basically this can be a huge hassle for everyone involved, so make sure you really need to do it, and ask early!
The Move-In Crew
Many schools provide moving assistance for students and their families. Some offer more help than others. Some schools have orientation staff available to point you in the right direction or to help in a crisis, but not to help actually move you. University of Arizona posts "Ask Me" volunteers at various locations around campus to provide answers to your questions and to provide students with a "smiling, helpful face." Other schools offer more. Penn State (PA) calls their moving crew the "Hall Haulers." These students from campus organizations and the orientation staff volunteer to help new students unload their cars and carry their belongings up to their rooms.
No one will do all of the moving for you, though, unless you've hired them yourself. You'll need to be actively involved in the unloading process, especially since you'll be able to pull your car up in front of the dorm for only a short time, or possibly not at all.
Follow the directions provided by your campus Housing office and stick to the move-in day process to ensure that move-in goes smoothly. Some campuses give specific information online, so check your college website for the latest information.
Ready to move?
Don't expect access to an elevator. There may be some running, but chances are, they'll be crowded. Be prepared to use the stairs at some point, especially if you live on a lower floor.
Bring your own cart. There are usually some moving carts available for students to use, but if you want to make it easy on yourself, consider bringing your own dolly so you won't have to wait for one to become available.
Consider shipping some things. This might be an easier way to get some things to school, especially if you live faraway. If you're taking a plane, bus, or train, you'll be limited to several bags. Check your school's policy on storing shipped items, though, before you take this step. You might need to have your parents send it along after you've already moved in.
Pack a small cooler. You'll want to have something cool and refreshing to quench your thirst. Soda machines usually empty fast!
You might consider getting a moving kit. Dorm-room kits at office supply stores can include boxes of different sizes, bubble wrap, tape, markers, computer-protection kits, and mailing supplies such as tubes.
Parents or No Parents?
Some students are on their own moving into the dorms. They might choose to do it themselves so they can start independence right away. Or, their parents may live far away, or family circumstances may not work out for parents to come along.
Many parents are there on move-in day. They want to make sure you've got everything you need, they also want to check out your roommate, and it's their last chance to say good-bye before their baby goes off on their own. You might be happy to have them there-or have no choice if your parents insist-helping you set tip, decorate, and unpack. Plus, they might buy you lunch and new stuff for your room if they see you need it.
For students whose families come, good-byes can be short and sweet. Or they can drag on. And on. Alison at Penn State says, "Although it's hard to say good-bye, the family and significant others who are still around as you're settling in can hinder your ability to connect with the new people on your floor." She suggests that families do their final farewell dinner at home before getting to campus because there may not be time to do it once you arrive. "Most first-year students I see are wanting to jump into activities," Alison says, "but they can feel a little pulled when their families stick around."
Susan Ratz-Thomas, the assistant dean of Student Life and coordinator of Judicial Affairs at Southern Methodist University (TX), agrees: "It's probably not a good idea for parents to stay for two to three days," she says, recalling one family at a former institution who parked their RV in a campus parking lot and stayed for days after moving their student into the dorm. "Those conversations need to happen before you get to campus-where you talk about at what point Mom and Dad are going to leave."
It can be comfortable having your parents in the dorm, or it might be way uncomfortable. Your parents might embarrass you. They can make a big fuss. They can be too chatty and ask prying questions and scare off your roommates. They can treat you like a baby. They can be too conspicuous. Or maybe you're just worried that people will think you're just like them-and you're so not.
But even though the day is all about you, take a minute and remember it's a big deal for them, too. So ease them out with some care. Hug them, kiss them, and remember their feelings. If you want them to leave, tell them you need some alone time to get used to your new situation. Make a plan to call them or e-mail them soon. Tell them something nice and heartfelt that they can think of fondly during their trip back home. It can be really emotional for parents to say their final good-byes. So be gentle when you kick them out the door. Maybe nudge them out instead.