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What It’s Like To Live In The Dorms As An Upperclassman

This is, believe it or not, my third year of life in the dorms. When the time came to find housing options for sophomore year, I didn’t look for an apartment like almost all of my friends did; I reapplied to live in the dorms. In order, I’ve lived in Daum, Currier and Catlett. Although it’s not a common living situation for upperclassmen, it’s the best for me, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on my personal blog about why dorm life works for me even now as a junior. A lot of it comes down to mental health. As someone who deals with depression, having a meal plan and a built-in community is hugely helpful. Additionally, I live within easy walking distance of all my classes and don’t have to worry about the cleaning and maintenance that goes along with having an apartment. Because of all these things, I am able to focus my efforts on academics, which is a relief because some days even just that seems overwhelming.

So now that you know why I, personally, chose to remain in the dorms, let’s talk about what it’s like to live there as an upperclassman. Overall, I’ve found that people tend to be much mellower than freshmen. More studious. Less likely to squabble with their roommate. Quieter — or at least quicker to quiet down when asked, like if it’s after quiet hours and people are still rowdy.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this, but in general it’s a different crowd than the one I dealt with freshman year, and I have my own theory as to why. I mean, dorm life is practically a rite of passage, isn’t it? According to the Office of Admissions, 90% of freshmen live on campus… but let’s be honest, not everyone wants to be there. If you choose to come back after freshman year, it’s because you really want to be there, not because it was what was expected of you. So you’re more likely to treat your roommate, your neighbors and your residence with respect.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt that upperclassmen have at least a year of experience under their belts by the time they move back in! I have to admit that it can be pretty amusing to eavesdrop on freshmen as they navigate this major life change, if only because it reminds me of embarrassing mistakes I made when I was their age.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed between my freshman and sophomore/junior years in the dorms is the social life. By the second year, everyone’s friend groups are pretty well-established. We make new friends as we go along, of course, but no one is nearly as desperate for connection as they were freshman year. Last year, when I lived in Currier, people were especially withdrawn. Not in a rude way or anything, just in an “I no longer feel the need to introduce myself to anyone and everyone I meet in the hope of finding a new lifelong friend,” which is cool with me — that got pretty stressful at times!

If I’m being honest, it does sometimes suck to live so far away from most of my friends. Now that they’re scattered far and wide across Iowa City and the surrounding area, it’s not always easy to make plans to hang out. I definitely have to put in more effort now.

Lastly, the dynamic I’ve had with my RAs has changed, since I’m now the same age or sometimes even older (!!!) than them. It becomes less of a mentoring thing and more of a friendship. I needed way more advice and support freshman year than I do these days, but I actually feel more comfortable asking for it now.

If you’ve lived in the dorms as an upperclassman (or know someone who has), feel free to tell me all about it! I’d love to get someone else’s perspective on what it’s like. While it’s true that most residents are freshmen, upperclassmen in the dorm aren’t nearly as rare as you might think! Some choose this life because it puts them closer to their classes (or on-campus employment), some love being surrounded by tons and tons of other students, and some just aren’t quite ready to take the next #adulting step of moving into an apartment. I’ve met so many great people these past two years in the dorms, and although upperclassman dorm life is pretty much a world apart from freshman-year dorm life, it is definitely amazing in its own way.


Photos: cover, all other pictures provided by author

Elizabeth Chesak is a junior at the University of Iowa. She is triple-majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies to prepare for her hybrid dream job of picture book author/National Geographic photojournalist/activist. When not in class, studying, or sleeping, she can usually be found befriending the neighborhood cats.
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