The 8 Colleges With the Worst Dorms

Choosing the right college can be overwhelming, and while dorms shouldn’t be the only factor you consider, living in a glorified prison cell in a ramshackle building that hasn’t been updated in the last century can quickly sour even an otherwise fantastic college experience. Whether it’s moldy walls, unreliable plumbing, or a pervasive bodily-waste smell, you shouldn’t have to deal with a subpar living situation to get an education.

Colleges and universities across America vary wildly in dorm quality, and evaluating the facilities up close at every school on your list is not always feasible. Some colleges are notorious for their lackluster dorms, while others boast luxurious living spaces that could rival five-star hotels.

Listed below are some of the colleges with the worst dorms in America. We’re not telling you to avoid these schools completely — one or more of them might be a great fit educationally and socially. But we are suggesting that you tread carefully when putting down your housing deposit.

The interior of a squalid dorm room.

Colleges With the Worst Dorms in America

We spoke to students across the country to come up with our list of schools with the worst dorms in the country. Here are the 8 colleges that made our list.

The Ohio State University

First, the good news: the dorms at “THE” Ohio State University are generally clean and safe, providing a secure place to live. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end.

Ohio State’s dorms are massive and overpopulated, and at least six of them lack air conditioning, which can be unbearable in Columbus in August and early September. If you’re hoping for a single room as a freshman, you’re out of luck — you’ll be lucky to get a double. Triples and quads are the norm, despite the rooms only being sized for two people.

Perhaps the worst thing about Ohio State’s dorms is that you’re required to live in them for two years, not just one. This can feel like an eternity when you’re living in a cramped shoebox on the 18th floor of a high-rise monstrosity; meanwhile, your buddies at other schools have moved off-campus into apartments with their own bedrooms.

Pennsylvania State University

Exterior shot of Penn State residence halls.
Exterior shot of Penn State residence halls.

The dorms at Penn State are plagued by the same basic issue as the ones at Ohio State: Too many people for the allotted space. Dorm rooms advertised online as doubles often end up housing three or four students due to overenrollment, leaving little space for personal belongings or privacy — or, God forbid, a little peace and quiet.

The worst-case scenario is that you end up in a converted common area with a dozen other students because there aren’t even any overstuffed dorm rooms left. When this happens, students gradually get put into regular dorms throughout the semester as spaces open up.

But even if you get stuck without an actual dorm room, Penn State still requires you to live on campus your first year, regardless of whether or not there is adequate housing available.

This can be a brutal situation when you’re already dealing with the stress of college coursework and adapting to a new environment. If you’re going to be a Nittany Lion, you should ask a lot of questions of the housing office and try to extract some guarantees before paying your deposit.

Purdue University

Purdue University is yet another Big Ten university that is notorious for cramming too many freshmen into too-small dorm spaces. Even when they’re not filled to overcapacity, the dorms at Purdue are known for being bleak and cramped. Think cinderblock walls, linoleum floors, 12-by-12 dimensions… yeah.

To make things even more uncomfortable, many of Purdue’s freshman dorms don’t have air conditioning. And despite its location in the northern reaches of Indiana, West Lafayette isn’t exactly cool and crisp at the beginning of the fall semester.

The silver lining, if you’re considering Purdue, is that no one is required to live on campus — not even freshmen. That said, much of the social scene for freshmen takes place in the dorms, especially if you don’t rush a frat or sorority. If you opt for nicer digs off-campus, you might miss out on the mad rush to make friends and form a tight-knit social group.

University of Miami

Located in the ritzy suburb of Coral Gables, just minutes from the beach and the nightlife of South Beach, the University of Miami should be paradise. But living in the two freshman dorms on campus, Hecht and Stanford Halls, can put a damper on the glitz and glamour of Miami life pretty quickly.

These two monstrosities feel more like living in a glorified hurricane shelter — but you can rest easy knowing you’ll be reasonably safe if another Andrew comes along during your time on campus. In the meantime, you’ll have to deal with cramped rooms, depressing dimly lit hallways, and community bathrooms that may or may not remain clean for most of the week (that all depends on your hallmates).

On the bright side, UMiami only requires you to live on campus for your freshman year. After that, you can skedaddle and find a place to rent with friends in one of the many walkable residential areas nearby.

If you choose to stay on campus beyond your freshman year, the housing options drastically improve once you become an upperclassman. The school recently built new housing for juniors and seniors, and it basically resembles a luxury apartment complex. Living there isn’t cheap, though, so be prepared to shell out some cash if you want to upgrade your living situation at The U.

Rider University

If clean, comfortable, spacious dorms are high atop your list of priorities for choosing a college, you should scratch Rider University in New Jersey right off your list.

Rider is a small private school with only about 3,000 undergrads. Often these types of schools have nicer-than-average dorms, or least nicer than what you might find at the typical massive state university.

But Rider is a major exception to this rule. It is known for having some of the worst dorms around.

The buildings are old and run down. The bathrooms are frequently dirty and smelly, especially if you end up on a “party floor.” The rooms themselves are cramped and small, with two to three people squeezed into a space that will likely be much smaller than your high school bedroom.

Worse still, you’re required to live in these conditions for two full years before you’re allowed to move off campus. That’s a long time to live in squalor, especially during what are supposed to be the best years of your life.

There is one potential escape route. If you pledge a frat or sorority, you can move into your Greek organization’s house for your sophomore year and escape the dorms a year early.

But this option is only recommended if you find a group you truly enjoy and want to call your brothers/sisters. Otherwise you’re just trading one unpleasant situation for another.

The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

One of the newer and nicer dorms at UIUC.

The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (UIUC) yet another Big Ten school known for having some of the worst dorms in the nation. Clearly, this conference, while great at academics and football as well, is not a bastion of palatial living arrangements.

The dorms at UIUC are old, drab, and run-down, not to mention cramped — two or three people fit into a room barely big enough for one person to live in comfortably.

And because UIUC’s campus is massive and sprawling, these dorms are often not even convenient to class, forcing you to trek for 15 or 20 minutes (often in the snow or rain) to make it to your 8 or 9 a.m. class.

Many of the UIUC dorms lack air conditioning, making August and September practically unbearable. The heating is also not the best, making winter months just as much of a struggle.

Unfortunately, UIUC requires freshmen to live on campus. But once you become a sophomore, you’re free to move off campus and explore other options.

Aside from off-campus apartments, Greek houses and program houses are solid alternatives to the dorms. They offer a chance to be part of a community and have more control over your living situation. Their rooms are also typically much more spacious than the shoebox dorms, and many of them even have air conditioning.

Georgetown University

If you’re thinking about going to Georgetown, and if you’re lucky (and talented) enough to get in — the school’s acceptance rate for fall 2022 was 12 percent — you might want to brace yourself for some not-so-great freshman dorms.

Not all the dorms at GU are terrible, but none of the ones freshmen are allowed to live in are great. The real problem is that if you’re one of the unlucky ones in the room-selection process, you could end up in Darnall Hall, which is notorious for being one of the worst dorms not just at GU but in the entire country.

Darnall is old, run-down, cramped, smelly, and moldy. Frankly, it’s a pit, and it certainly isn’t an experience you’re likely to enjoy. If you’re unlucky enough to get stuck in Darnall, you may find yourself wondering if the prestige that comes with a Georgetown degree is worth the suck.

The good news is that even if you get shafted with a room in Darnall, you won’t have to live there again as a sophomore — but you will have to stay on campus, and the same is true for your junior year. Only seniors are permitted off-campus living.

The College of William & Mary

William & Mary is a great school with a rich history, but no one who chooses it does so because of the dorms. The school, known for its rigorous academics and bookworm student body, holds tight to the outdated notion that colleges should be solemn places of asceticism stripped of all luxuries and indulgences. This line of thinking is reflected in the on-campus housing options.

While the dorms at William & Mary aren’t complete pig sties, they take “basic” to a new level. You’ll find yourself surrounded by cinderblock walls and old tile or linoleum flooring, with two beds and two desks and not much room to walk between them. It’s not the lap of luxury, that’s for sure.

W&M requires you to live in the dorms for two years before you can move off campus. On the bright side, you can spend the second half of your college experience in much nicer digs, after which you’ll graduate with a prestigious degree. 

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