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~Seasoned advice about dorm life you won't find in college brochures~

by Teresa Santoski '04

For immediate release:
August 25, 2003

Arlie Corday,

After 12 long years of academic struggle, you've finally been admitted to the college of your choice. You framed your letter of acceptance and hung it proudly on the living room wall. You've spent hours checking and double checking the packing list you received in the mail, making sure you have every item they recommended you bring. But just because you have everything they think you need, does that really mean you're prepared for dorm living? Perhaps a seasoned college student can offer you a little more information, the kind they don't put in the brochures. So take a break from your packing, put aside that orientation schedule and consider the accumulated wisdom of a returning student.

Dorm life is unique in that you're sharing your living space with a lot of other people. You're sharing a room, a bathroom, TV rooms, study spaces, dining halls, pretty much everything. Since most dorms have paper-thin walls, it's a good idea to be considerate of your noise level. You might want to leave your state of the art sound system at home and bring along a Walkman and a pair of headphones instead. Even though you may think Brazilian hip hop is the greatest thing since sliced bread, your roommate and immediate neighbors might not agree, especially if they're trying to study for an exam at the same time you want to get down with your bad self.

It's a plus if your headphones will also plug into your computerčthe other people on your floor can probably live their lives quite happily without knowing when you get a new email or instant message. Your fellow dorm dwellers will appreciate your courteous behavior and perhaps even be more mindful of their own noise level. At the very least, it'll give you a better case when you complain to your next-door neighbors about the Bulgarian heavy metal they're blasting.

Speaking of noise, there are going to be times when your schedule conflicts with that of your roommate and you end up trying to sleep while she's trying to study. A sleep mask can help block the light from your roommate's desk lamp and ear plugs can muffle her habitual pencil tapping. A fan can also come in handy for masking louder noises, such as roomie failing in her attempt to pull an all-nighter and slumping out of her chair and onto the floor.

Believe it or not, a good fly swatter is an essential tool for successful dorm living. Even if you keep your window closed and locked and seal it around the edges with duct tape, the occasional bug is going to find its way in. It doesn't matter how tough you think you are--no one wants to be balancing on a desk chair at three in the morning trying to squash a big hairy spider on the ceiling with an engineering text book. It's much easier to smack it once with a fly swatter and send it spiraling down to its doom. In the event that you're unfortunate enough to have an inconsiderate roommate and the sleep mask and ear plugs just aren't cutting it, the fly swatter can also be used to gently encourage him to plan his time more wisely so you can both get some sleep.

While sleeping and studying are good things to do while you're at college, any student can tell you that you can go a few days without them. Eating, however, is essential to make it through the rigors of a typical day. This isn't a problem while the dining halls are open, but sadly, hunger pangs often strike late at night long after the dining halls have closed. It's difficult to continue the serious work of studying (or playing video games) on an empty stomach.

In order to combat this serious problem, some colleges offer refrigerator rental plans. Do not fall for this--they sound much better than they are. The refrigerators typically provided by these plans are the same ones your parents probably rented when they were in college. They're small, cube-shaped, and need to be defrosted every week or so in order to continue functioning properly. If you do the math, you'll discover that you're actually paying more to rent a "vintage" fridge from the late 70s during the school year than you would if you bought one brand-new at Wal-Mart. Many colleges offer storage space for the summer and may even let you keep your fridge there. Upon graduation, you can either keep it for your new apartment (or your parents' basement) or sell it at a discount to an incoming student. It's a much better deal in the long run, and you won't have to be concerned that your mom's initials might be carved into the back of your rental fridge.

Since you can't always be sure that you'll have enough cash to keep your fridge stocked at all times, it's a good idea to have some durable, heavy-duty munchies that don't require refrigeration. Granola bars are filling and normally take at least a month to go stale, making them ideal for college consumption.

But when it comes to snack food endurance, you just can't beat sprayable cheese in a can. If this cheesy comestible does indeed go bad, it's impossible to tell, since it tastes the same the day you buy it as the day several months later when you dredge it out from under a pile of papers behind your bed. If you play your cards right, a single can of sprayable cheese can last you all four years of your bachelor's degree and well into your master's. And because it's in a can and because it's sprayable, plates, utensils and crackers are all optional. Sprayable cheese in a can even comes in two flavors (Monterey jack and Cheddar), so you can offer a classy selection to any guests who might drop by.

As far as emergency dorm room beverages go, it's handy to have a couple packets of Kool-Aid lying around. Regardless of how well you plan your time, there will be some nights when you'll be awake later than you anticipated. Of course, this will be because you've decided to go that extra mile and edit your English paper one last time, not because you're having a hard time beating that last bad guy in the videogame you're playing. Right? Right. Whatever the reason you're still up at two in the morning, Kool-Aid can give you that extra little sugar kick you need to get things done before you hit the sack. Simply combine the contents of the Kool Aid package with the sugar packets you took earlier from the dining hall (or from the nearest Dunkin Donuts). Water is optional, but it does help it go down easier. Remember, it's the sugar that counts.

Once you've dealt with the more mundane tasks of studying, sleeping, and eating, it's always nice to be able to relax a bit. A combination TV/VCR is just the ticket in this case. It can also help your social life. Since other students don't always think of bringing a TV/VCR to school, you may suddenly find yourself the most popular person in your dorm.

You really only need to bring two movies. There will be moments when you will feel nostalgic for high school. You will think of your old friends, how much easier it was to doodle in class, and how much you miss your parents' fridge. At times like these, a John Hughes teen movie from the '80s is a necessity. It doesn't matter which one--Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, or The Breakfast Club will do the trick nicely. These films will help you to forget what high school was really like (anxiety about grades and SAT scores, too many extracurriculars, little sleep) and replace it with happy, fabricated memories of what it should have been like--cool kids with witty one-liners, wild parties that always went humorously awry, one-upping that dastardly vice principal, and enough mousse to put it on the endangered species list.

The second movie you will need is any film starring Pauly Shore, such as Encino Man, Biodome, or Son-In-Law. You will need this film for two reasons. First, it'll remind you that life isn't just about studying and success. Every once in a while, you need to cut loose, be a little wacky and sample the delicacies of your local convenience store while making weasel sounds. Life is short--stop and smell the Slushees. Secondly, it'll remind you of what could happen to you if you do this too often and completely neglect your schoolwork. As much as America loved Pauly Shore, he was still a has-been by age 30. So just make sure that you get your money's worth out of college in terms of education as well.

And last but not least, remember the cardboard boxes to bring all of these items back home again. You can find them at most office supply stores and you should buy them a few weeks before you're scheduled to move out of the dorm, just to be on the safe side. Stores might be sold out if you wait until the last minute, especially if you go to school in an area where there are a lot of other colleges. And when that happens, a rather irate father shows up at your dorm with a pack of paper lawn clipping bags because this is all the stores had left and you're in college now, aren't you, you should think of things like this and not leave them until the last minute, right? Right.

One of the most important things you'll learn at college is that if you learn from the mistakes of others, you won't have to make them yourself.

Reprinted by permission The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.,


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