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Appreciating the delights of the common room

One evening at dinner the inevitable room-draw discussion came up. I listened to my friends speak of nothing but the drawbacks of their various living options next year. They expressed curiosity at where their housing fees were going, while I contended that the residence halls here at Princeton are comparatively well appointed.

I've spent enough time in state college dorms during athletic/academic competitions to know the value of a common room, however drafty or poorly lit. (Imagine: your whole school looks like 1960s institutional architecture, only it was built in the 1950s.) However, I can see why the dinner crowd might not accept my personal opinions in the matter.

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In the interest of fair-mindedness, I took a quick email poll of my friends at other colleges to prove that Princeton students have nothing, or at least almost nothing, to complain about.

Of all the students I polled, Vysotsky, a sophomore at Reed College in Portland, OR, was most satisfied with his accommodations, which are roughly equivalent to Princeton's. His 10-by-12-foot single is walled in white-painted brick, faces a grassy lawn and contains "a heater that sometimes pretends to work."

Vysotsky's only gripe is with the divided doubles that make up the bulk of the housing at Reed. Because people can shut themselves up in their own area, roommates don't bond, which makes "petty problems escalate, and roommate troubles get out of control." Questioned about recreational facilities, Vysotsky replied: "TV? Ha! There are only four TVs on campus. No cable." However, Reed does boast those ubiquitous collegiate delights, foosball and ping-pong.

Not so lucky is Romilly at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. JMU is experiencing a housing shortage – so severe that the school has bought out a section of the local Howard Johnson's to provide extra rooms. Romilly says her head hits the ceiling of her cinderblock loft, whose top-selling point is its "view of lovely I-81." She shares the room, originally intended to be a single, with one roommate. No private bathrooms, and no free laundry, either. At JMU, it's a dollar per wash or dry.

Audra at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City writes that her 10-by-12-foot cinderblock double is one of "the nicest and newest on campus." However, unlike at Princeton, visits from students of the opposite sex are tightly controlled.

"Can we say penitentiary?" asks Audra. "The housing people here do not have the concept of coed dorms. . . Men must be escorted at all times and have to leave the building by midnight during the week and two a.m. on the weekends. They also have to go through an elaborate sign-in process so that the R.A. can see who is here and who hasn't left yet. It's quite an unnecessary pain in the arse."

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In the emails I received, people described their dorms overall as being worse or no better than Princeton's. As far as I'm concerned, any school where you have a chance of getting a room overlooking a golf course is doing okay in the housing department.

If you're willing to live with more than one person, you're virtually guaranteed a common room. You can spread out a bit (unless you live in a Witherspoon single), watch cable if you have what it takes to beat down the other kids in the TV room, and you can do your laundry for free. You're a college student. Don't expect to live somewhere that looks like a Fifth Avenue penthouse, and you'll never be disappointed.

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