Residence Hall Tours: What to Look For In Your College Search

There are several iconic images when people think of a college campus. A vast green quad filled with students and sun. Tree-lined paths leading to stately buildings. A professor overseeing a lecture hall of undergraduates.

You would have to add to those images the university dormitory, more commonly referred to today as the "residence hall" to emphasize the building's place as a center of student life. Your visit to campus is an opportunity to check it out for yourself. 

Some schools offer general tours that include a stop inside; others provide separate residence hall tours that are timed so as not to disrupt student life and learning. In either case, there is a lot you can learn in a walk-through of a residence hall to help with your search for colleges

Use the following as suggestions (not a checklist)

How a residence hall compares is only one component of your college selection. This is especially true because you will probably not see every housing option during a visit to campus. Also, the residence hall you tour may be better (or worse) than the one you end up living in. 

Instead, consider the points below. Then, use your own judgment, ask current college students questions about what you saw, and speak with the admissions office if you have any other concerns.

1. Security

Residence halls with good security have procedures for only letting in people who belong in the building. Still, you should be able to get quick access; it should not be like waiting in line at the airport every time you want to go to your room. 

Security for residence halls differs from school to school. Students may have to use electronic passes to open the building's front door and separate keys to get into their rooms. Residents may also be required to display identification to a uniformed guard or student attendee. Either way, some form of security should be in place around the clock.

Note: Security is one of the top concerns parents have about college selection. If you're a parent taking part in a campus visit, read our other college tips before you hit the road. 

2. Student Programs

Residence halls are hubs for student life as much as classrooms are centers of academics. Many universities employ a staff of residential advisors to create activities that help students socialize with one another. R.A.s also act as points-of-contact in cases of emergency or questions. 

Learn what types of programs residence halls offer students by asking a guide during a university tour or by checking out events promoted inside the building.

3. Community

Most college-bound students are really interested in who their roommate(s) will be. You might ask how roommates are selected and what type of care is taken in making these pairings. Also, find out about the make-up of the rest of the residence hall. You will want to know whether students tend to stay on campus during the weekdays/weekends. If you are looking for a community and everyone abandons the building on Saturday, you may be disappointed. 

In addition, explore special interest residence halls and floors. In these settings, universities house together students who want to learn more about certain academic areas, languages, or cultures. You may want to contact admissions for details on all of your options.

4. Proximity

You may not know your major. You probably do not know the location of the classes you plan to take. However, you can look at where the residence hall is and compare it to where other university facilities are located. Are science buildings on the other side of campus? Are the quad, the student center, and the gym nearby? 

A big concern for some students is whether food is available in the area of the residence hall. Explore the location of dining centers and grocery stores and see whether meal plans can be used at them. 

5. Culture

As you take a look around, try to learn whether the residence halls have a particular approach to student life. Do they encourage quiet so that you can study? Are they focused on socializing? Ideally, you would want some combination of these two qualities. 

It may be difficult to learn the culture just by visiting during the day since students may not be hanging around the residence halls. An overnight stay planned through Go See Campus can give you a better understanding of what to expect.

6. Alcohol and Drug Use

Both alcohol and drug use are issues on most college campuses. They are also realities of living as an adult and having to make responsible choices. Residence halls with observant R.A.s, good security, and clear guidelines tend to make alcohol and drug use in the buildings less prevalent. A tour will not always reveal these issues, but if there are beer cans strewn around rooms or the hallways, you might take that into account.

7. Co-ed

The university's values are typically reflected in their policies towards co-ed housing. Some universities offer single sex residence halls or floors. Others may allow members of the opposite sex to room together. If you have a strong preference, it is a good idea to ask.

8. Ownership

Private residence halls may be an option available to you. Generally, they will be more expensive but offer nicer accommodations. Also, choosing the private option may mean that you will get to pick your location on campus (rather than being assigned a building and room by the university). 

By going with a private residence hall, remember that the residents may not be representative of the university's demographics (not everyone can afford the extra cost). If being exposed to a variety of people, backgrounds, and interests is important, ask whether private ownership supports this goal.

9. Comforts

There are some basics: access to cable and internet, adequate space, and AC/heating controls come to mind. This last item is especially important if you are exploring campus life at cold weather colleges

In addition, you might want to know if construction will be taking place near the residence hall; if quiet hours are enforced; and if there are communal or individual bathroom facilities. If you have a preference, check which residence halls meet these requirements.

10. Student services

Most modern residence halls are equipped with one or more of the following: laundry rooms, study rooms, music practice rooms, computer facilities, kitchens, food service, and common areas for events. If the school lacks these offerings, it may affect when and how you spend your time on campus. 

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