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How to choose a dorm and pick college housing

Learn about disability housing accommodations and how to choose a dorm layout, building and room location.

I lived in a college dorm for four years during undergraduate, and the first year of trying to figure out how to choose a dorm and pick college housing was extremely overwhelming, because I wasn’t sure what to expect when living in a dorm and receiving disability housing accommodations. Once it came time for me to pick housing for my second year, I felt all of that anxiety disappear and the rest of the housing sign-up process was easy to understand and access. Here are my tips for how to choose a dorm and pick college housing on-campus, from the perspective of a student with low vision and chronic illness.

All about disability housing accommodations

Before I could pick out my dorm freshman year, I had to go through the special housing process and file for disability housing accommodations related to my neurological condition and chronic migraines. Disability housing applications are documented by the Office of Disability Services and then sent to Housing and Resident Life for final approval. Students who use service animals will need to file for disability housing accommodations as well.

In order to get disability housing accommodations, my primary care doctor had to fill out a form certifying my disability and how it impacted my ability to live in a traditional dorm, and also had to make recommendations for what housing accommodations I should receive. This included:

My disability housing accommodations were initially denied as I did not have sufficient documentation of my neurological condition, which was undiagnosed at the time I started college. However, my neurologist submitted a second letter to the university and I had my decision appealed about two weeks later.

It’s worth noting that students cannot be charged extra for disability housing accommodations- I was charged at the double room rate even though I lived in a single room, because the single was medically necessary.

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Types of college dorm layouts

Dorms at my college have three different types of layouts, though each building typically consists of rooms with the same layout. Dorm layouts include:


Hall dorms house 1-3 people per room and have shared (gendered) bathrooms for the entire hall. I never lived in a hall style dorm, but did stay in one for orientation, and carried bathroom items back and forth from my room. One of my friends lived in a hall-style dorm and mentioned that they appreciated not having to clean the bathroom, but didn’t like having to bring their mobility aid in the shower with them.


Suite dorms house 1-3 people per room, and there is a shared bathroom that connects two rooms. This is the layout I lived in for all but my second year, and I shared a bathroom with one other single room that belonged to the resident advisor. This layout worked out well for me when I had a medical emergency in my dorm, as people were able to quickly get to my room and call for help, but I did get locked out of the bathroom a handful of times by mistake- this was fixed by putting a pair of scissors into the door lock and twisting.


Apartment-style dorms house 1-3 people per room, and there are 2-4 rooms in each apartment, along with a shared living room, dining area, kitchen and bathroom. I lived in this layout my second year and appreciated having the extra space to move around, though I didn’t use the kitchen very often since I had a meal plan. This is the most expensive out of the layouts and is typically restricted to upperclassmen only.

Bonus – emergency housing

The average student will likely never encounter emergency/transitional housing, as it is reserved for students who need to evacuate their dorm or stay somewhere else for a short period of time. Emergency housing typically consists of one large room with multiple beds and a private bathroom that doesn’t connect to any other rooms.

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Roommates and suitemates

It’s incredibly rare for a student to have a private room and a private bathroom, so students will need to choose how many roommates or suitemates they will want to live with. When I lived in a suite style room, I had a bedroom to myself and shared a bathroom with one other person, usually the resident advisor. I wanted to have my own room because I had an unpredictable sleep schedule with chronic migraines and would frequently have to sleep in the middle of the day, which would lead to staying up late at night.

I always did random selection for my suitemates, and didn’t know who I would be living with until midway through the summer. If I was going to live with roommates/share a bedroom, I would have requested a specific roommate instead of relying on random selection, since I live with low vision and would adapt my dorm accordingly.

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Choosing a building or housing area

Freshmen generally aren’t allowed to choose their own dorms, but can ask to join a community hall with students that have similar interests- for example, one of my friends lived in a performing arts community hall that was primarily music majors. I lived on a general co-ed hall freshman year that was more quiet than the typical freshman building, but had a very small room size. I requested this location because it wasn’t near any vehicular traffic- since I was still new to using a blindness cane, I was worried about getting hit by a car.

When it came time to choose a dorm building for my second year, I made a list of buildings that were in convenient locations for my classes, the bus stop, and other places I would go to frequently, and listed my top choice building after visiting a friend that had lived there. I decided to move to a different building my third year after visiting another friend who lived in the same building, and was able to keep the same dorm room for the remainder of my time at the university.

My brother and I both attended the same college, and while we could have applied to have a shared suite-style dorm as siblings, we weren’t interested in that and instead lived in neighboring buildings for a semester.

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Determining the best room location

Once I figured out what building and layout I wanted for my dorm, it was time to figure out what location would work best for me. Some features I would look for include:

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Locking the door and getting locked out

All of my dorms had keycard locks, meaning I would swipe my Student ID to get inside the building, inside the elevator and into my dorm. To avoid losing my ID, I would keep it on a lanyard purchased from an accessories store hanging next to my door – no freshman lanyards here! Some dorms use a traditional key or number pad to lock/unlock the door.

Of course, this method was not completely foolproof for not getting locked out of my dorm, and I typically locked myself out about once a month. Before I locked myself out the first time, I practiced walking to the neighborhood desk both with and without my blindness cane, and also put the phone number for the desk in my phone so I could call them and ask for help with getting back into my dorm – this was helpful when I injured my foot and couldn’t navigate to the desk by myself.

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More tips on how to choose a dorm and pick college housing

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated June 2024; original post published February 2017.

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