Doubles turned into triples and dens turned into quads: these are a few of the plans proposed as the solution to cram a surplus of five hundred students within UW-Madison residence halls.
Although UW-Madison Housing has offered make-do dorm rooms to its incoming freshmen class, it does not mean students are willing to take them. UW-Madison residence halls can feel like a shoe-box when shared with just one roommate. Further overcrowding living conditions are clearly far from ideal.
In non-COVID times, around 90% of the incoming freshmen class opts to live within UW-Madison housing. An increase in newly admitted students paired with heightened demand for on-campus living has left UW-Madison in a clamber to piece together last-minute living quarters.
Undoubtedly, part of the heightened interest in residence hall living is rooted in the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and subsequent return to normalcy. Nevertheless, the new COVID-19 variants and increase in outbreaks forced UW-Madison to update its housing regulations. As of Aug. 5, mask wearing and social distancing is again the protocol for UW-Madison housing residence regardless of vaccination status, throwing incoming freshman's hopes for ordinary dorm life out the window.
Worsening the situation, the elevated interest in on-campus living has upset the likelihood of attaining one of the more popular dormitories. A quick glance at the 2025 new student Facebook page reveals the dozens of students who are unhappy with their placements. These students are scrambling to find anyone willing to switch residence halls, most looking to swap from lakeshore to southeast dorms.
In consideration of the series of unfortunate events, it seems likely that many incoming students are now considering off-campus housing.
To help evaluate the options for incoming freshmen, Em-J Krigsman and Ian-Michael Griffin — the opinion editors on behalf of the Daily Cardinal — have offered their perspectives on their polar opposite freshmen living experiences. Em-J resided in the largest on-campus dorm and Ian-Michael selected a one-bedroom, off-campus apartment.
Residence Hall Living: Em-J’s Experience
In choosing to attend UW-Madison, I opted for dorm life, ranking and attaining Witte Residence hall. As to be expected, I was filled with jubilation regarding how the year would progress in a communal residence hall of 1,330 occupants amidst the ongoing pandemic. I was greeted with strict rules limiting social gatherings and an abrupt two-week lockdown within my first month of arrival. Through thick and thin, I remained within the residence halls. While my experience was unique from all prior years, I could not be more grateful for my choice.
Living under the same roof as countless different people facilitates social interactions with those from all walks of life. With hundreds of students shoved in the same vicinity, finding people with whom you mesh with is inevitable. Being that everyone within my dorm was but a few staircases away, showing up to each other's rooms at a minute’s notice, making late night microwaved quesadillas and having makeshift shower-time karaoke nights became common occurrences. Every day I was encountering new faces and connecting with new people.
In coming to an unknown city in a time of great uncertainty, it was comforting to know every person I lived with was in the same position and sought to help each other. I remember the time I relentlessly searched the laundry room lost-and-found with the hopes of finding my floormate’s lucky sock as clear as the time a boy left his chemistry lecture to help me activate the basement printer. Everyone looked out for each other. My dorm became my second family.
My greatest concern of living in a dorm was not socializing however, it was being able to concentrate on my schoolwork. To my surprise, living in the dorms helped me academically.
On the nights you’re working on your assignments until the sun begins to rise, odds are someone else is in the communal lounge in the same position. Although hard to explain, it felt encouraging to know I was not alone but rather working in unison with fellow students. Similar to me, everyone in the residence halls had exams, labs, papers and midterms to complete. Everyone wanted to have fun, but everyone supported school first.
As I look back on my experience it is truly laughable that I ever considered off-campus living. Yes, living off-campus provides more freedom and security in the face of strict regulations, but living in the dorms is a once in a lifetime opportunity crucial to the true college experience.
These are strange times and so much of our true college experience has already been taken away. In my opinion, it would be a crime to likewise deprive yourself from living in the dorms.
Off Campus Apartments: Ian-Michael’s experience
It is no surprise that, traditionally, many incoming freshmen have opted to choose on-campus housing for many of the same reasons as above. There is no denying that dorm life has certain qualities that are simply conducive to cultivating a vibrant social life. Being roommates with multiple people and essentially close quarters neighbors with hundreds more tends to force one to meet new people, at perhaps the greatest time of needing to.
Personally, I chose to come to Madison so late in the year that on-campus housing was just about unavailable for me. Combined with the threat of COVID-19, my family and I decided it was best that I began searching for my first apartment. In the end, I wholeheartedly believe that this was the best move for me and, perhaps, for some students like myself. It is no shock that for some students, social life is an important aspect of the college experience. For myself, however, I was concerned about my grades and cost.
For my one bedroom apartment in the Regent neighborhood which I sublet for the academic year, I spent roughly $6000 on total rent. Assuming you are aware of the cost of dorm life, that is around half of what you might expect to spend to stay in some dorm buildings. Of course, the downside with apartment living is that no matter what, your landlord expects your rent on the first of the month. No “if’s,” “and’s” or “but’s.” This is obviously a bit different than dorm life, considering it is most likely an out-of-pocket cost every month unless you factor it into your student loans, or you are lucky enough for someone else to foot the bill for you.
Living alone in an apartment building also has some serious advantages, such as, to put it bluntly: getting left alone. The constant comings and goings of dorm life means that no matter what time of day, it’s a lively atmosphere. For someone of my temperament, this can be a tad bit jarring as I prefer a quiet atmosphere, especially when I have to be focused on school work. I cannot tell you how many times during Zoom classes my classmates had to tell their roommate to quiet down, as they were speaking. My place was my own and noise and disturbances were few and far between.
While I undoubtedly traded away some opportunities to build relationships, I gained peace of mind that I had my own space to live in with no worry of overcrowding.
Now, I cannot deny that living in an apartment during your first year of college can feel like a daunting task. It requires a level of personal responsibility and maturity that maybe not everyone has just yet. It is your place, and keeping up with housework is your responsibility. There is no one else to push you to do these things, so you have to be your own master in this regard. If you think you are responsible enough to care for yourself in your own place at this time, I think living in your own apartment is the best choice, especially given these trying times.
To Dorm or not to Dorm?:
Ultimately, every freshman, and what they wish to prioritize in their freshmen living experiences, is different. There is no right answer, only different preferences.
If you are an incoming freshman reconsidering your living situation, take in our opinions and ask yourself which sounds better for you. Whatever choice you land on, welcome to Madison.
Em-J Krigsman is an Opinion Editor at The Daily Cardinal and a rising sophomore studying Political Science and Journalism. Ian-Michael is an Opinion Editor at The Daily Cardinal and a rising sophomore studying Psychology with a pre-med track. Do you agree with these assessments of freshmen living? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ian-Michael Griffin is an Opinion Editor for The Daily Cardinal, and a member of the Editorial Board.
Em-J is an Opinion Editor for The Daily Cardinal, and is also a member of the Editorial Board.