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"Beauty in Ugly Dorms" (Freshman housing choices - suite-style or traditional dorms?)

LucieTheLakieLucieTheLakie Registered User Posts: 4,057 Senior Member
edited June 2014 in Parents Forum
Daniel F. Chambliss writes that the best living spaces for new students have crowded hallways, no singles, and group bathrooms -- in other words, everything too many colleges are trying to replace.


Can we have a friendly discussion about suite-style vs. traditional dorms?

I've got a kid who was assigned to one of the old relics at his big state flagship because he didn't deposit early enough to get to choose his dorm. He's on a wait-list for honors housing (most of which is suite-style), but I'm wondering if we should just leave it alone? Aside from being cheaper, he won't be responsible for cleaning a bathroom and won't have room to hoard a lot of junk I have to worry about moving out later. OTOH, he would love to have his own sleeping quarters (something he hasn't had since he was six and his brother moved into his room) and more spacious accommodations.

Pros and cons of either/both?


Replies to: "Beauty in Ugly Dorms" (Freshman housing choices - suite-style or traditional dorms?)

  • Niquii77Niquii77 Registered User Posts: 10,104 Senior Member
    It comes up to preferences. I will touch on the pros and cons at a later time, but to say one is better than the other cannot be said. I see plenty of holes in the writer's points. Tell the kids anything to get them into the crowded dorms? Isn't that lying?
  • FallGirlFallGirl Registered User Posts: 7,999 Senior Member
    Personally, I think the new suites/ apartments are a bad idea for freshman ( and transfers). My own kids laugh but I met my college best friend in the hall bathroom ( we were doing hair/ makup and started talking). The suites/ apartments are isolating.
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 39,251 Super Moderator
    I agree 100% with FallGirl. I think it's important to have a common room somewhere on the hall, also. My son's freshman dorm didn't have that, and it was hard for him to meet people.
  • Niquii77Niquii77 Registered User Posts: 10,104 Senior Member
    edited June 2014
    There are varying types of set ups. Not all suites are bad. Not all suites lack a common area. Not all traditional halls have a common area.

    Oye, I need to right up something for this thread.
  • gouf78gouf78 Registered User Posts: 7,712 Senior Member
    edited June 2014
    Depends on the dorms. It is true that having common baths, traditional dorm rooms vs a single room/apartment type rooming makes it much easier to meet people.And some of the "old relic" dorms tend to have larger rooms.

    And it depends on the honor's housing. Honor's dorms at son's college had a lot of mixer parties, some honor classes were actually held at the dorm, nicer community rooms and floor kitchens.
  • LucieTheLakieLucieTheLakie Registered User Posts: 4,057 Senior Member
    Has anybody regretted having chosen a suite over a traditional dorm room?
  • ChoatieMomChoatieMom Registered User Posts: 5,352 Senior Member
    My scholarship required that I live in a dorm all four years. It was the quintessential old-style brick, ivy-covered, drafty leaded-window type with long hallways, shared (co-ed) bathrooms and many common rooms and charming study nooks. I felt like I was living in a castle, loved every minute of it, and wouldn't have moved out even if I could have. (My future husband lived a few rooms down; enough said.) Our son is a rising senior who has lived in a traditional dorm at boarding school the past three years. He has loved this experience as well though he has had a single each year. Next year, he will have a roommate for the first time and is looking forward to it. We recently toured a college that was quite proud of its fancy private, new apartments, some of which even included kitchens along with private baths. We thought our son, who is an only child, would like that setup, but he found its modernness unappealing, and I found it to be sterile, completely lacking in warmth or charm. He is used to the fraternity of communal living in the more traditional setup and will probably opt for that in college.

    I don't see anything wrong with fancy suites/apartments. As Niquii said, "not all suites lack a common area. Not all traditional halls have a common area." Neither setup is inherently good or bad. Students come with all different preferences and needs. I would just hate for the new trend to completely replace the older options but, I fear, they must as the older buildings wear down and become increasingly costly to repair and maintain amidst changing tastes.

    Three years ago, my old dorm was closed for renovation. It re-opened with a gourmet dining hall, a subterranean solarium (quite a feat), all new interior (all the dark oak paneling and stone floors gone), and a Starbucks. I have read about these changes and glanced at a few pictures, but will never visit because it would tear my heart out and mess with my memories.
  • LucieTheLakieLucieTheLakie Registered User Posts: 4,057 Senior Member
    Love your story, @ChoatieMom. If only we were talking about something as lovely as the dorm you describe!

    My freshman dorm (which previously had housed only women) was renowned for looking like a prison from the outside and was VERY poorly maintained, but I did make some wonderful friends freshman year. I liked the familiarity and convenience so much I applied for (and was able to get) a single for sophomore year.
  • mathmommathmom Registered User Posts: 32,039 Senior Member
    I lived in both rooms on a hall with shared bathrooms (freshman year) and in suites (the other three). The suites had their own living rooms and bathrooms, though sophomore year someone had to sleep in the living room or one of the bedrooms had to be a double. The first year in the suite (sophomore year) I didn't know anyone else in the dorm including my roommate and I thought it was very difficult to meet new people. There was a junior common room off near the dining hall, a dorm library and a dorm dining hall, but there just wasn't the same kind of casual contact with each other. In the hall setup people left their doors open and there would be a shout out if a group was going to a bar or out for pizza. There was also a nice living room right at the entrance to the dorm that you could hang out in. It was very easy just to stop and say hi to anyone in the living room. I think there was also a tv room slightly separate from the living room. Even after I got to know more people and had compatible roommates I still felt like there was less community than there had been freshman year. I think it's fine to have singles on those halls. The important part is leaving doors open and having people walking by to say hi.

    Anyway, I did regret my choice of going for the suite style dorm, though it had many other nice ammenities. I did eventually meet dh playing pinball in the basement, which just goes to show how important group spaces are.
  • ChoatieMomChoatieMom Registered User Posts: 5,352 Senior Member
    edited June 2014
    If only we were talking about something as lovely as the dorm you describe!

    Guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I thought my old dorm looked like Hogwarts, but my husband and freshman roommate (best friend) thought it was a dungeon and needed those renovations 30 years ago. Freshman roommate couldn't get out of there fast enough, while I used to wonder what those old walls could tell me if they could speak.

    I know that a lot of older dorms, probably what the OP had in mind, are the institutional, cinder-block style you describe. I wouldn't have found that to be attractive under any circumstances. If I had to choose between a prison motif or the charmless new suites/apts, I guess I'd go with the fancier option, but only with a very big sigh.

    If I were choosing a college today, I would choose it solely on architecture and beauty, programs and prestige be damned. It kills me that we can't get DS to look at any of the colleges/LACs I think are the prettiest. Even though I laugh at the kid on the "Stupidest reasons child won't consider a college" thread who said s/he couldn't go to Stanford because of its "Taco Bell' architecture, I guess I'm in that camp.
  • ChoatieMomChoatieMom Registered User Posts: 5,352 Senior Member
    ...goes to show how important group spaces are.

    I think there is a lot to be said not only for having those group spaces, but also USING those spaces. Playing pinball (or ping pong) in the basement with friends or watching the first season of Saturday Night Live with the whole dorm in the one common room that had a TV was huge for connecting with dormmates and sharing laughs. I think that our kids' senses of community have become very virtual with private electronic devices that present community via screens and often behind closed doors. Do kids watch TV together or play games in the common spaces at college, or do they watch their favorite programs/movies and play video games on their computer screens in their rooms? I really don't know, but any living arrangement that encourages face-time seems best to me.
  • Youdon'tsayYoudon'tsay Registered User Posts: 19,507 Senior Member
    Lucie, I'd let it be.

    Both sons were assigned freshman year to the most-derided dorms at their respective schools. Everyone "knew" these were the worst dorms. For ds1, it was the truly nondescript nature of the rooms/building and its location on the edge of campus. For ds2, it was the tiny rooms -- and that was true; I've never seen such a tiny dorm room -- and its location away from every other dorm. Way out there, to the point where students will skip meals because it's so far away from the dining hall.

    But neither of them would trade their experience for anything. There's something about being in the "bad" dorm that is super-bonding. Ds1's two best friends, even after graduation, are guys he met on that floor. Ds2's suitemates next year are all from his floor last year. An amazingly high number of kids from that floor are staying together next year. I've never seen anything like it. They have been to each others' homes, out to eat with parents. They really are insanely close, the guys and the girls. For next year, he could have gotten an off-campus apartment, but his group elected to move into a four-person suite. They like the dorm lifestyle.

    Ds2's gf went to a large public flagship. As a perk of picking the cheaper, in-state school, her parents paid extra to get her in a private dorm on the edge of campus where she would have her own room as part of a two-room apartment. They had their own kitchen and living space. The place had a dining hall, but no one ate there. There also was a common study area on the first floor, but no one used it. It really was like an apt complex without any identity. People didn't leave their doors open to facilitate meeting people. When she visited ds2 at his school, she loved how close everyone was (yeah, literally, too!) and realized that that was missing from her college experience. Now, she loves her school and has met tons of friends, but she does kind of wish she had had ds's freshman experience.

    Certainly, there are pros and cons about each living situation. But even in the cons, plusses can emerge.
  • gouf78gouf78 Registered User Posts: 7,712 Senior Member
    On forums all over CC there are kids who deride Honor's dorms in favor of where they landed by default. My kid loved his honor dorm and his surroundings as did his friends. There you have it. A tie. The main thing is that a freshman meet people and feel part of a group and at home. And it's nice if some of those friends are close in a dorm no matter which dorm you land in.
    Send him to college with a cookie sheet and some chocolate chip cookie mix--pretty much a guaranteed winner no matter where he lands. A couple bags of popped corn will draw an instant crowd also. No kitchen or can't cook? Publix cookies and go down the hall to knock on doors and meet people.
  • amarylandmomamarylandmom Registered User Posts: 631 Member
    edited June 2014
    "But neither of them would trade their experience for anything. There's something about being in the "bad" dorm that is super-bonding."

    My son just completed his freshman year at an LAC. He, too, was assigned to the "worst" dorm (one of two on campus without AC, not renovated at all, nothing really nice to say about it, third floor with no elevator). Oh my gosh, did he have a fantastic time! That hall completely and totally bonded. They did so much together all year long. It really did sound amazing. My son made lots of other friends in other ways too (club sport, fraternity), but all we heard about were the friends on the hall. Two are visiting us over the summer for getaway weekends. It just seemed to really be a bonding experience.

    Next year, most of the sophomores are in suite style accommodations, so perhaps then we can compare and contrast, but I think for my freshman, the traditional dorm hallway was truly a very special experience.

    I certainly wouldn't presume to tell someone else what to select. The suites appeal to me personally a whole lot more. But I just share this one data point in case it helps with the decision.
  • gouf78gouf78 Registered User Posts: 7,712 Senior Member
    And a couple fun party games--Jenga, apples to apples, the ongoing--Monopoly--doesn't matter. Send them in the spirit of fitting out a community room if it's not already there--a donation.to community. Amazing how many Monopoly players there were around for my son--not that any game ever was finished.

    The point is that it wouldn't have mattered which type dorm he landed in--only that he made connections. And had a WAY to make connections and wasn't afraid to do so.

This discussion has been closed.