College dorms are not what they used to be. In fact, at many colleges and universities, they are no longer referred to as dormitories, but are residence halls. Dormitory sounds too old fashioned and austere. Most college residence halls today are anything but austere.
When students and parents take college tours, one of the first things that they ask to see is a typical college room. Colleges boast about the living arrangements and amenities in their residence halls. Clearly, living arrangements are important — and they should be. The college residence hall may serve as your student’s home for four years. You want your student to be comfortable and happy. You are paying a lot of money, not only for the education your student will receive, but also for his comfortable living arrangement.
So how, then, could a dorm room be too comfortable? It’s not the comfort itself that is a problem, it’s the fact that the dorm room may be so comfortable and convenient that your student may not want to, or need to, leave. College packing lists remind you to be sure to purchase and bring all of the things your student will need — not only the sheets and towels and desk lamp, but the stereo or i-pod speakers, the TV, the microwave, refrigerator and computer.
Why your student may not need to leave the dorm room:
- Your student probably has a fridge and a microwave in his room. With those two appliances he can cook most meals and snacks. Add in a few convenient take out meals delivered to the dorm, and your student doesn’t need to leave his room to get his food (although he won’t benefit from his meal plan this way).
- Many college dining services provide take-out services. So if your student has a meal plan and wants to use it, it is possible to purchase her meal and bring it back to her dorm room to eat. She doesn’t need to spend time in the dining hall eating.
- Many residence halls provide free cable service. Your student can watch his favorite shows by himself in his room, and with hundreds of channels available, there’s something for everyone.
- Movies are easily available on line, from libraries, or by mail through services such as Netflix. Students can watch their favorite movies on their laptop or DVD player.
- Almost every residence hall provides free internet access to students. This means that your student can access his favorite music, games, and entertainment without ever leaving his room.
- Internet access also allows your student to do her library research from her dorm room. No longer does your student need to head to the library to search through card catalogs or bookshelves or even the library database. Articles, databases and even most catalogs can be accessed on line.
- Students have their cell phones, and with both phones and their computers they can IM, e-mail, text, or contact their friends through Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. They can even Skype and have a face to face chat with friends anywhere in the world.
- Many professors now post their Power Point lecture slides on line and use classroom sites such as Blackboard to send announcements and provide a forum for students to carry on web discussion groups. For some students, and some classes, actually attending class may not be high priority.
- Many students now furnish their dorm rooms with comfy sofas, futons and chairs. They have many of the comforts of home.
So what’s the problem?
All of these features add up to a very comfortable and convenient life. That’s a wonderful thing for your student. However, the danger is that students may not be getting out of the room enough, connecting with fellow students enough, having face-to-face conversations with faculty members, or engaging in the activities and sense of community of their university. Several studies have suggested that the more actively engaged students are in their community, the more satisfied they will be with their college experiences. Some studies are even beginning to suggest that the more actively engaged students are, the better their grades may be.
Healthy activity and healthy involvement are crucial to a balanced experience for your student. Active engagement on campus will help your student to make those important friends, connect with her professors, and find the richer experiences so important to college life. It will boost self-esteem and confidence, help your student explore careers, build her resume and practice leadership skills. She will be generally more satisfied with her experiences.
How can my student get out of the room and more involved?
Here are some things that may help your student get out of that comfy dorm room – a first step to becoming more involved and engaged. Encourage your student to consider several of these suggestions:
- Eat meals in the dining hall. Find one friend to go to a meal with if you don’t want to sit alone. Invite someone else to join you at your table.
- Stay on campus on weekends. Get out of your room. Participate in at least one campus activity.
- Go to the library to study — at least for a few hours each week.
- Study occasionally in different places around campus — library, coffee shop, snack bar, lounge.
- Go to the fitness center.
- Participate in a club or organization on campus. Most colleges have literally hundreds of small groups with every possible interest. Work on the college newspaper, participate in radio, theater, music, outdoor club, film club, computer club, intramural team.
- Get an on-campus job.
- Volunteer for some type of community service — on or off campus.
- Participate in an internship or shadowing opportunity.
- Form a study group that meets at least weekly.
Once your student begins to stretch her wings beyond her dorm room, she will discover more and more opportunities, expand her circle of friends, and make meaningful connections. The hardest part may be that first step over the threshold. Encourage her to take full advantage of her campus experiences.