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Learning Curve

College students discover the dorm staycation

Amy Scott Jan 13, 2015
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It’s lonely in Alexander Poling’s campus apartment at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Like most students, his three roommates are gone for the monthlong winter break. Poling, a junior, has a job in a university warehouse.

“I just don’t want to make that commute every day,” he says.

Plus, he’d rather be here than back home in Sparks, Md.

“Honestly, I like being on my own,” he says. “Especially since I have cats at home, and I’m allergic to cats.”

As college campuses become more diverse, students have lots of reasons to stay during breaks. For the growing numbers of international and low-income students, a trip home isn’t always affordable. Others hang around for winter classes or internships. On many campuses, traditional breaks are giving way to a new college tradition: the staycation. 

“We’re seeing a definite spike in students’ need to have somewhere to be,” says Allison Avolio, director of residential life at Johns Hopkins University. “So I think a lot of institutions are looking to find ways to accommodate those needs.”

This school year, for the first time, Hopkins opted to keep its dorms open for Thanksgiving and spring breaks. Around 300 to 350 students stayed for Thanksgiving, Avolio says.

Sophomore Jaya Jasty of New Orleans was one of them.

“It was quite depressing,” he says. “There was not much to do.”

But Jasty had plenty of company when he returned early from winter break to take a couple pass/fail classes and hang out with friends. About half of the university’s 2,300 or so residential students come back for a mini-term known as Intersession, held before the spring semester gets underway.

“We usually play video games nonstop in our common room since nobody’s here,” Jasty says. “We go to a lot of restaurants now, just explore Baltimore.”

Hopkins doesn’t charge students extra to stay during break, but keeping the lights and heat on may pay off in other ways. Students who live on campus and are more “engaged” in college life tend to do better in school.

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