Dorms in university: Should you stay in hall or not?
Three university students share their opinions on dorms, from making new friends to gaining independence.
One of the most impactful aspects of university culture is dorm life. Although Singapore may be a relatively small country where commuting isn’t as tedious, many students will grab the chance to be able to reside in a hall nearby their universities.
Apart from minimising the commute, staying in dormitories also helps students to bond with each other and pick up life values, such as being independent and responsible.
But is the experience worth paying between $200 to $600 each month? What if staying in a dorm isn’t fit for everyone?
We spoke to three undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and National University of Singapore (NUS) to find out more.
Choosing your dorm
Denise Choo, a 19-year-old psychology major at NTU, shared that students at her university don’t get to choose the specific hall they want to stay in.
“How the structure of NTU works is that if you don’t get recommended by a senior into a hall and if you’re in Year 1, there’s a computer generated system that assigns you to a random hall,” she said.
Tricia Ong, 19, studying biological science and psychology in NTU, added: “You can indicate preference for the type of room that you want, such as single or double rooms, aircon or no aircon. But, everything else is just randomly assigned after that.”
This means that NTU students are unable to pick the location of their halls and might end up in one further from their classes. They might also not be able to choose to stay in the same hall as their friends, but this might be beneficial in that they have the chance to step out of their comfort zones to make new friends.
However, other universities work differently, as students studying at National University of Singapore are allowed to choose the halls they wish to reside in, subjective to availability.
The effects of COVID-19
However, the ongoing pandemic drastically changes many things.
With most lectures and classes going online, hall students find themselves spending more time in their dorms instead of around campus.
“I only have school for one day. My physical classes are all on Friday so I only need to be in school on Friday technically. Everything else is online because of COVID-19,” Tricia sighed.
But this means that time spent in dorms are more utilised and students can easily visit each other’s dorms to study while observing safe distancing measures.
CCAs are a major part of hall culture. In fact, certain halls may even focus on specific clubs such as sports or the arts. Every student who joins a hall has to join a CCA of their choice.
When asked if there was a difference between hall CCAs and school CCAs, Denise said: “School CCAs have a wider variety [of activities], such as windsurfing and scuba diving. Hall CCAs are purely set up for inter-hall games like table tennis and volleyball.
“In terms of commitment, it’s (Hall CCAs) much lower because people usually join just to play, get hall points and make friends. For NTU CCAs you have to attend them maybe three to four times a week, but Hall CCAs are roughly only once a week with training lasting around one to two hours.”
Denise recently signed up for hall orientation and will be a group leader for the next batch of freshmen, while Tricia is currently captain of her hall’s volleyball team.
Although students are allowed to join as many CCAs as they want, it is important to keep track of your workload and ensure that you are able to manage your time well.
Gaining new connections and experiences
Staying in a hall with multiple people comes with making new friends and expanding your social circle.
One of Tricia’s favourite things about staying in a dorm is being able to have late night suppers with her friends from hall, as meeting up with friends is way easier when everyone stays near each other.
Meanwhile, Denise shared about the kind people she encountered in hall.
“The people in my hall are so nice! Once, I walked into the lift and forgot to press the lift button and the other guy who entered automatically asked me which level I was headed. And this happened so many other times that I started doing the same too.
“There was another instance where I threw my trash but it landed outside the bin… I was about to pick it up but this stranger wordlessly got up from his chair and threw it for me. And it’s not just because I wear a mask then I look damn chio (pretty), the people in my hall do that to everyone. The chivalry!” she jokes.
Adapting and growing
Residing in a dorm has its ups and downs, but there is no doubt that many students learn something from it.
From having to bring your own pots and pans and cleaning them after cooking your own dishes, to planning your time wisely between lessons and CCA — gaining independence is the key takeaway.
Accustomed to having her father around to kill the bugs around her house, Tricia now has to rely on her own abilities and courage.
“I have killed so many insects on my own,” she joked.
“But in all honesty, hall life has taught me to treasure the people around me. Now that I’m living away from my family, I realised how much they do for me and that has made me much more grateful.”
On the other hand, Denise is the opposite. Having had her first taste of independence and being away from her family, she remarked: “I love my family but I really enjoy being by myself.”
However, with independence comes responsibility — a trait that Denise developed after residing in a dorm.
“One of the good things about staying in hall is that you can always make time for everything. It teaches a lot about time management and perseverance. If you really want to do something, then you’ll make time for it.”
Tips for university students
Ultimately, the choice of staying in a dorm or not all boils down to personal preference.
While Denise and Tricia enjoy hall life so far due to the friends and memories they have made, Dawn How, a 19-year-old nursing student in NUS who does not reside in a dorm as she lives nearby campus, believes she isn’t losing out on much either.
“It’s not very worth staying in a dorm if you already stay near school. If you are not financially strapped, it’s good for the experience. But I personally find it not beneficial for myself. I prefer staying at home where everything’s more convenient… Hall food can get repetitive too, and I dislike sharing toilets and sinks,” she shared.
She added that she hasn’t observed any segregation between those who stay in hall and those who don’t.
“You really can’t tell because everyone’s super close to each other [in my classes]… that’s why I don’t really feel any FOMO (fear of missing out). No one’s left out, everyone’s mixed!”
Meanwhile, Tricia and Denise strongly encourage everyone to try staying in a dorm while attending university if possible.
“Staying in hall is really fun and it’s something to talk about. Hall CCAs are also something you can’t try if you’re not in hall,” Tricia said.
“[If you’re staying in the dorms], just make friends with and be nice to whoever is around you because having connections is important. You can get help whenever, like that time I got stung by a wasp and asked for ice, and some guy offered me a frozen lemon!”
Denise added: “But it depends on what you look for in a uni education… if you’re the type that just wants a good GPA or tends to be more introverted, hall life may not be for you.”
To those who are interested in staying in uni dorms, her tip for them is to “mentally prepare yourself”.
“Hall life isn’t super glamorous in which you hang out with your friends everyday. You’ll need to be responsible and tell yourself to study. But ultimately, just enjoy the freedom you have.”