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The Rise of the Luxury Residence Hall

I still remember walking into my dorm room as a brand new freshman in college. The suite style room featured gun metal gray furnishings, all attached to the wall and floor, warehouse-quality fluorescent lighting which shined just enough light to illuminate the glossy taupe-colored cinder block walls. It was a palace of 1970’s architecture and style, still shining bright in 1995.

My family hauled up the pre-assembled 4x4’s and planks of the hand-me-down bed loft my brother used. We knew it would fit the room perfectly because my father had chiseled out sections of the loft through hours of sweating and cursing to accommodate the odd juts and shapes of previously mentioned immovable desk furniture of the room when my brother had moved in to this very same residence hall years before.

A couple of towels hung up, a mini-fridge, and some posters hung with 50 cent wall putty and we were good to go.

Residence halls are a little different today. As higher education costs have steadily risen over the past two decades, so have the available amenities to students. While most residence hall rooms would still be considered spartan as compared to your typical upscale condo, they are still miles away from what most parents remember from their own college experience.

Here’s some ways colleges are trying to appeal to a new generation of students with more plush living arrangements.

Smaller bedrooms, larger communal living spaces

Several universities are building spaces that allow for individual student privacy in their bedrooms, but feature expansive living areas where students can gather. At Rollins University in Winter Park, Fla., the Lakeside Residential Complex features 4 bedroom suites with private bathrooms, kitchens, and a full dining room/living room. The complex also features private laundry (so no more lugging your laundry to the basement of a residence hall).

Lakeside Residential Complex at Rollins University in Winter Haven, FL
Lakeside Residential Complex holds 125 apartments, with 500 beds, all with private kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry.

At Vanderbilt University, the Warren and Moore Residential Colleges feature extensive gathering spaces, classrooms, meeting spaces, and dining facilities in the Kissam Center, which is integrated into a larger residential college. These colleges dovetail with a broader residential commons style of education where professors and academic fellows live alongside students and provide scholastic leadership within the college.

Vanderbilt University's Warren and Moore Residential Colleges in Nashville, TN

Broader mix of dining options

While colleges still operate the traditional tray-based style of buffet-dining, more and more are adding in smaller markets and pre-made meals to go along the lines of more Whole Foods or Trader Joes. This is not a coincidence as business and major apartment building companies have flooded many college towns offering increased options and amenities for students.

Smaller markets are becoming popular like this one at Hullabaloo Hall at Texas A&M University in College Station

Hotel-Like Amenities

Why are universities investing in better housing facilities? In large part, it is due to the introduction of privately run residence halls, the fanciest and newest of which often resemble luxury hotels with on-site workout facilities, pools, saunas, and sun decks. The Callaway House at The University of Texas at Austin routinely features near the top of “nicest residence hall” lists. It is easy to see why with its game rooms, rooftop deck and pool, and spacious rooms.

The sundeck and pool at The Callaway House, University of Texas at Austin
Hook 'em and rack 'em at the game room at The Callaway House at UT Austin

Pinterest Ready Design

Part of the shift in the way modern residence halls look and feel are created by the students and families themselves, as the bar for dorm-life has been seemingly raised. We received a ton of interest on our social media this week when we featured these images of newly renovated and decorated residence hall rooms at Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS.

So as you pack up your son or daughter for college, be comforted in knowing there will always be a room (perhaps only on Pinterest) that is more boutique and couture! And remind your kid to shower and call home.

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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