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6 Reasons Why College Dorms Are So Small

Many people speak of their college years with nostalgia and admiration. They remember the professors they loved, the friendships they created, and the parties they attended. But another common experience isn’t talked about as fondly—the tiny dorm rooms.

On average, college dorm rooms are a mere 165 sq ft (15.33 sq m) and often house two students. Here are six reasons why college dorm rooms are so small:

  1. Cost-effectiveness for the school.
  2. To free up building space for common areas.
  3. There is no need for extra space in the room.
  4. To encourage socialization and a sense of community.
  5. To promote learning and good grades.
  6. To assist in the transition to adulthood.

In this article, I’ll detail each of these reasons and explain why college dorm rooms are so small. I’m also going to tell you why the smaller size may actually benefit college students, so be sure to read until the end!

why college dorms are so small

1. Cost-Effectiveness for the School

It’s no secret that schools profit from students who must pay room and board for their dorm rooms. In fact, according to CollegeBoard, students at a four-year institution can expect to pay roughly $12,000 for one year of room and board.

But the students aren’t the only ones paying. Colleges often pay private companies to construct their dormitories on their behalf if they can’t fund the construction with an endowment. This usually means that schools will need to pay for the building.

Because each building has a limited amount of space, making the individual dorm rooms smaller means that you can fit more dorms in a single building. More dorms mean more students, especially when each room houses two to four students at a time.

Colleges are encouraged to construct smaller dorm rooms to bring in more cash flow and pay off the construction costs more quickly. Therefore, smaller dorm rooms are cost-effective for the institution (source).

But make no mistake, just because college dorms are cost-efficient for the university, it doesn’t mean that they are cheap. See Why Are College Dorms So Expensive?

2. To Free Up Building Space for Common Areas

Even though schools are ultimately a business, they’re also interested in the well-being of their students. A residential building consisting only of small, cramped dorms isn’t very comfortable for anyone. This is why dorms typically include common areas that the building residents can share.

These common areas usually include communal bathrooms, shared kitchens, lounges, study rooms, and game areas. If the dorm rooms take up less of the building’s footprint, there’s more room for the common areas in the building (source).

3. There Is No Need for Extra Space in the Room

Another reason why dorm rooms are so small is that they don’t need much. Unless you’re in a suite or apartment-style dorm, your room likely doesn’t have a bathroom. Additionally, you aren’t going to have a kitchen or a living room. It’s also likely that you won’t be bringing all of your belongings with you to your dorm since most dorms are closed during school breaks anyway.

These facts lead to one point; you don’t need the extra space in a dorm room. You won’t need the floor plan for the extra living space, appliances, or extra storage. Dorm rooms are made primarily for sleeping, studying, and storing the belongings that you did bring. Any other essentials can be found in the common areas, the dining hall, or elsewhere on campus (source).

4. To Encourage Socialization and a Sense of Community

If you’re living in a smaller dorm room, chances are you’ll want to go out to meet new people, study with friends, and hang out in the common rooms instead of being holed up in your dorm. This desire to leave a small space promotes socialization among students.

Additionally, having students out and about on campus is good for the college. If prospective students visit campus and it’s a ghost town because everyone is in their rooms, it won’t look good for the school.

Hanging out on the quad, in the student lounges, and other parts of the residential dorm will help students create friendships and build a sense of community within the school. It also looks good for prospective students who want to join your community (source).

5. To Promote Learning and Good Grades

Though it may not sound intuitive, colleges may also keep their dorm rooms small to promote learning and good grades. You’d think that if students are constantly hanging out with their friends, their grades may suffer. Many parents frown upon the dorm lifestyle for this very reason, especially for first-semester students.

However, some studies show that socializing in the residential area is positively correlated with higher grade point averages in first-semester students.

White students who lived in traditional dorm settings had an average GPA of 0.1 points higher than white students who lived in apartment-style dorms. Additionally, Black students in traditional dorms had an average GPA of 0.4 points higher than their more isolated counterparts.

Though apartment-style and single occupancy dorm areas give students more space and privacy, students often report feeling lonely when residing in non-traditional dorms. This extra privacy could also lead to depression, drinking alone, and social isolation (source).

6. To Assist in the Transition to Adulthood

Lastly, colleges may be building smaller dorm rooms to assist in the transition to adulthood. For many students, this is their first time away from home. This could be the first time they need to take care of themselves, take responsibility for their actions, and build a community outside their family unit.

In a lot of ways, traditional college dorms benefit students going through this transition:

  • There’s always someone around, so students don’t feel lonely.
  • Smaller rooms promote good communication skills with roommates and other dorm mates.
  • Sharing a small space will lead to discussions on boundaries with other people sharing that space.
  • Living near students from different backgrounds will help open their eyes to a world they may not have yet seen.

In addition to school resources, having a small living space with other students can give the student added support during this transitional phase (source).

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