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Can Multifamily Living Replace College Dorms?

We’re officially halfway through September, which means colleges across the country are preparing to welcome their students back on campus—or not. The shift to online or hybrid learning is stealing many inherent college experiences from incoming Freshmen. Move-in day, orientation, meeting your roommate and neighbors, and the first day of class are the activities that create a roadmap for what our college experience will be. I met some of my closest friends in those first few days of school.

Unfortunately, Zoom breakout rooms don’t seem to be the place to meet lifelong friends. Now, six months into this pandemic, most of us dread the prospect of sitting on Zoom calls for hours listening to information that could have most definitely been an email. However, the reality is that many college residence halls are choosing to close their doors to all or a limited number of their students to help stop the spread of COVID on campus. This left me wondering how, if at all, students would be able to get a semblance of the college experience.

College dorms are an integral part of how students socialize, find their tribes, and gain valuable life experiences. So much growth happens during those first few months after we move out of our parents’ home and into a dorm. This is a time when many of us gain our independence and confidence. So is there a way to provide a similar experience even when college dorms are not available to students?

My mind immediately went to multifamily living. If dorms are unavailable, a multifamily apartment building might be able to provide some of the same experiences dorm life offers. The question is, how does a multifamily building compare to college dorms? What unique experiences does each of these two living arrangements have to offer?

College Dorms

  • Structured living with the supervision of Resident Advisors
  • Assigned roommates
  • Monthly programs, activities, and clubs in which students can participate
  • Secure package and mail delivery
  • Strict control access for students and their visitors
  • 24-hour security
  • Monitoring of student activity to ensure safety
  • Communal areas where students can meet and study
  • Gyms

Multifamily Buildings

  • Freedom to choose your own roommate or live alone
  • Some multifamily buildings offer monthly activities for residents
  • Secure package and mail delivery
  • Control access technology to ensure the safety of residents
  • 24-hour security
  • Communal areas and amenities where residents can meet
  • Gyms

Multifamily buildings and dorms share a lot of similarities. Arguably, the only thing that sets them apart is the structured programs and strict security guidelines that are implemented by Residence Life. But I don’t believe that multifamily living could ever truly replace the dorm experience for Freshmen. Nothing quite compares to being surrounded by other students with similar interests and the sense of community that comes with being around people who are also experiencing college for the first time. On the other hand, for students who are farther along in their college careers, multifamily living can be a great alternative to dorms. Multifamily buildings allow for a sense of community during these isolating times as well as security and access control measures that keep can keep students safe.

As institutions struggle to adapt to the new normal (that wonderful phrase we have been hearing since March), control access in a multifamily setting can offer an alternative for students who have been displaced from their school environments.

Ivana Gatica graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in Fine Arts and Writing. For the past year, she has been working as a copywriter in the marketing and fintech spaces helping businesses find their unique voice. She also likes to take on freelance writing opportunities in her free time and loves to write fiction and poetry.