Pets in College Dorms? Yes…Here’s Why Colleges are Allowing it!

golden retriever on duke university's campus

Having a fish tank in the dorms is one thing—being able to have a guinea pig, cat, or dog is another.  Yet more colleges than ever before are moving toward more liberal attitudes when it comes to having a furry friend.  There are plenty of reasons for this, including social support, motivation to be responsible, adding structure to a student’s day, and providing mental and emotional health benefits.  Now schools like Eckerd College and Lees-McRae College are opening up campus housing not just to students, but to their students’ furry (and finned and feathery) friends.

Social Support

Leaving home and going to college can add a lot of stress to a student’s social life.  Not only are they facing challenges being on their own—at least in some ways—for the first time, they’re also faced with the challenge of building a whole new social circle.  Building a new support network during this time of extreme change can be seriously draining.  

Pets can help in two ways. First, it’s tough to feel like you’re out in the world on your own with the comfort of your dog or cat by your side.  Easing loneliness and providing students with a dependable, loving friend who’s there to listen is a role that pets are more than happy to play.  

Second, pets can actually help with building a new social circle.  A student might be tempted to hole up in their dorm room or the library, but pets require us to be out and about, whether it’s to do shopping for their needs, or to take them on adventures. A trip to the nearby dog park, for example, provides lots of opportunities for meeting new people—and our pups and kitties are often more willing to break the ice than we are. 

Responsibility and Structure

Wait, what? Like a gruelling class schedule and constant homework doesn’t provide enough of this?  Sure, college itself is supposed to provide structure and motivate students to be responsible.  But when on one’s own for the first time—especially when in the past parents and teachers have always helped remind students of their obligations—it can be far too tempting to blow off assignments, procrastinate, or skip class.  

While being irresponsible with classes is letting oneself down, failing to come home and feed your pup, clean the litter box, or change your hammy’s bedding—that’s letting your furkid down. Pets give us an emotional motivation to be responsible and structure our lives, and that can rub off on students’ schoolwork as well.  Staying out all night drinking and missing an early class might be tempting if that’s all it is, but knowing your puppy is waiting by the door can be reason enough to call it a night.  

Mental and Emotional Health

While the above-listed reasons can have a positive effect on a student’s mental and emotional health, pets can support psychological well-being in other ways, too.  And that’s incredibly important during times of transition and change—which is exactly what college life is.  Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression, for example. Playing with and bonding with pets can raise the level of certain brain chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, which calm and relax us.  And by reducing stress, pets can even lower their owner’s blood pressure!

Pets also encourage many people to live a more healthy lifestyle overall, which is an important component to good mental health.  People who have pets tend to exercise more, for example.  Knowing that your pet depends on you to take care of them can also motivate you to take better care of yourself—to get enough sleep, to eat healthily, and so on.

Research Your Prospective College’s Pet Policy

If having your pet at college is important to you, be sure to research your potential schools’ pet policies.  Some don’t allow freshmen to have pets on campus.  Some only allow certain pets—small animals, cats, or dogs under a certain size, for example.  Some only allow pets which lived with the student previously—before they entered college. And some schools offer another option for students who aren’t ready for a long-term pet commitment, by sponsoring foster programs in conjunction with local rescues.

Checking pet-friendly college lists online can be a good starting point, but make sure you confirm current policies with a school before committing to attending (and bringing or acquiring a pet while there).  

Pet-Friendly College Rankings

Thanks to College Raptor, check out the list of the top 20 pet-friendly college campuses in America today:

  1. Eckerd College
  2. Lees-McRae College
  3. Stephens College
  4. Stetson University
  5. Principia College
  6. Washington and Jefferson College
  7. University of Northern Colorado
  8. University of Idaho
  9. Johnson and Wales University-Providence
  10. University of Washington
  11. University of Illinois
  12. MIT
  13. Caltech
  14. Case Western Reserve University
  15. Middlebury College
  16. University of Florida
  17. SUNY Canton
  18. Harvey-Mudd College
  19. Ohio Wesleyan University
  20. Reed College

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