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Freshman 101: Dorm Etiquette

Congrats, freshmen – you’re now three weeks into the best four years of your life. While you’re still newbies, chances are you’ve already learned a lot in your short time at Penn State. There’s an even higher chance you’ve done a lot of your learning outside of the classroom.

The honeymoon stage is nearing its end. Exams have begun, extracurricular activities have started to creep into your schedule, and dorm life is getting a little more…interesting. I was in your shoes only a year ago, so I’ve put together some tips on how to navigate what is a wonderful, difficult, and sometimes just straight-up weird part of your college career.


Take a minute to ask about their day. You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate – for a lot of you, it’s just not going to happen. But when you think about it, it’s a little strange to live with someone for an entire school year without saying one word to each other the whole time.

Ask, don’t assume. You may be on the opposite end of the spectrum, with your roommate as your number one go-to pal. But no matter how comfortable you get with each other, there’s things you need to be courteous about and simply need to ask permission before doing. Whether it’s making a major change to the room (this can mean adding furniture, rearranging furniture, etc.), bringing a guest into your space, or borrowing that really, really nice shirt that could easily get beer spilled on it, people generally appreciate a heads up.

Most people don’t want a third roommate (if you catch the drift). You can go to his/her place every now and then, too.


Just say hi. You’re not going to be friends with your entire floor — you might not even know everyone’s name by the end of the year. But simply saying hi to them when you pass each other can make the experience of living in a dorm so much less cringeworthy. You basically live with these people, so you might as well give them a wave when you see them (inside or outside your residence hall). We all know that feeling of purposefully avoiding a “hi” as a familiar-yet-still-kind-of-unfamiliar face passes by. It’s painfully awkward and completely avoidable. Just suck it up and it gets less and less awkward.

Always respect everyone’s space. One of the best parts of dorm life is that you can basically go right into your friends’ rooms whenever you please. One of the most annoying parts of dorm life is that your friends can basically barge right into your room whenever they want. It’s a lot of fun to live so close to your best friends, but just remember there’s a time and place for everything. Everyone needs personal space sometimes. It’s a hard thing to find in college, so let people have it when they need it.

Don’t dismiss quiet-hour rules. As you might’ve discovered, your residence hall has a rule about quiet hours. Let’s be real — on the surface it sounds really stupid. What Penn State student goes to bed anywhere near as early as 9 p.m.? But trust me when I say you’ll wish this rule was more enforced when it’s you who can’t concentrate on your work because your neighbors just don’t know how to keep it down. At the very least, just don’t be the kid who brings over six noisy friends to your room at 2 a.m. every night. You’ll be sure to get a string of dirty looks the next day, as well as a little shoutout in your floor GroupMe.

Communal Bathrooms: 

Remember that you share everything. Just because it’s “not that busy right now” doesn’t mean it’s your own personal bathroom. It’s also not like you’re at home where the only person you might share this space with is your sibling, who’s forced to tolerate you if you leave hair everywhere. Your 40-ish neighbors have nothing stopping them from coming after you and even getting you in trouble when you don’t respect basic bathroom rules.

Don’t leave anything in there. It’s easy to get into the habit of leaving shower supplies or toothpaste in the bathroom and telling yourself you’ll be back in a moment to grab them. Chances are, you’ll forgot all about it in that 30-second time period and next thing you know, your stuff is sitting in there for hours. It’s inconvenient and confusing to others (especially when it’s busier and people are fighting for showers and sinks), so just take your stuff out the first time.

Try get ready in your own room. The last thing you want to do is listen to ten noisy hairdryers going off while you’re brushing your teeth before an 8 a.m. class. You also don’t want to be fighting to use parts of the bathroom when you have an 8 a.m. class and it’s already 7:55. Whenever possible, just get in and get out.

Things that should be common sense, but you’d be surprised:

Remember that RA means Real Annoying. Kidding, but do be mindful of the fact that you have one in the first place and remember there are boundaries. You could have the coolest RA in the history of RAs and hey, guess what? You still might get written up if he finds you drinking in your room.

*Note: I have a friend who is now dating her freshman-year RA — I guess there are exceptions to everything.

If there’s a conflict, address it now. This goes for roommates, floormates, or anyone else you may be in frequent contact with during the day. The whole thing could blow over if you choose to just avoid saying anything about it, but it probably won’t. That’s just the way it is when you live in such close quarters with other people.

When do you address a conflict, be cordial. There’s a difference between going out of your way to steal someone’s shower supplies and mistakenly grabbing someone else’s things when you’re in a hurry. Chances are, your roommate did the latter. While you shouldn’t let yourself become a passive, personal stomping ground for other people, be reasonable. Communicate your side clearly and be a good listener when the tables turn.

There’s a right way to do laundry, so learn it. You’ll probably feel like you’ve reached a pretty neat adult-type milestone if you figure out how to properly wash your underwear.

Be as smart as you can if you’re being stupid. Make sure to remember little things like the fact that weed smells up a room and that it’s noticeable if you’re stumbling around your dorm hallway at 3 a.m. It can do wonders for staying in good standing with your residence hall and the university.

Check yourself. Periodically have a mini conversation with yourself about how things are going. Am I being a good neighbor? Would I want to live with me if I were in their shoes? Am I being disruptive, disrespectful, or difficult to be around? Cut yourself some slack, but also remember to be honest when asking yourself these things.

If you think you’re breaking any of these rules, you probably are. Enough said.

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About the Author

Claire Fountas

Claire Fountas is the student life editor for Onward State, as well as a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and psychology. She lives in a suburb of Chicago and strongly disagrees with anyone who hates the Cubs or the Blackhawks (so, pretty much anyone at Penn State). You can follow her @ClaireFountas or email her at [email protected]


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