I am Italian and I've lived for a while in the US and I heard a lot of people using the word college as a synonym of university; however in Italy the word college often refers to the place where you live and spend most of your time with other students when you are not in class. Basically it is the place where you eat, study, hangout and sleep when you cannot have your own house. You can imagine it as a fraternity house, but with strict rules where you have a principal and have to behave according to certain manners.

So here is my question: what is the English word to express the Italian meaning of college?

6 Answers 6


In a US university context, as you know, college usually refers either to a faculty division of the university (e.g. College of Engineering), to the institution itself if so named (e.g. College of Charleston), or to postsecondary education in general (e.g. college sports, college students). But further, the institution you describe, where students live and spend much of their free time and participate in programming, is relatively uncommon in the U.S. The vast majority of four-year universities house students in dormitories and apartments, and student recreation and social activities are based in a building known as a student union (which may have no relation to the students association).

The least ambiguous term would probably be residential college, although the implementation varies widely from campus to campus. Many so-called residential colleges are nothing more than glorified dorms. At some institutions, such as Yale and Rice, the residential college is the basis around which student life is indeed organized. A number of institutions have created or are experimenting with residential college models, like NYU and Cornell.

Incidentally, any decent fraternity has house rules and operates according to principles. It's the indecent ones who have lost them that show up in movies and in the news.

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    thanks for the answer: i believe that "residential college" is the most appropriate description so far. Commented May 4, 2015 at 16:06
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    +1 for mentioning that the movie depiction of fraternities is almost never the same as the real life version and general description of college life.
    – Karen
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 19:13

You might want to use dormitory which is generally what we call student housing in the US.

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    And is almost always abbreviated as just dorm(s) in normal conversation. See ya back at the dorm after class?
    – Jim
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 15:09
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    A college of the sort at Cambridge is about much more than student housing.
    – choster
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 15:29
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    A "college" as I would say it is also about much more than student housing - but the Italian meaning of the word appears to mean something more specific, as the question states. Commented May 4, 2015 at 15:32

I believe the word you're looking for is dormitory. (or slang, dorm.) According to Google, the definition of dormitory is:

A large bedroom for a number of people in a school or institution.

"A dormitory" refers to an individual room, where as "the dormitories" refers to the building that holds all of these rooms. The other word that might be what you're looking for is "campus" which refers to the dormitories and the classrooms and the place where students eat etc. However, this isn't always the best word because some campuses don't have dormitories, and just have classrooms.

Also, the "principal" of the dorms is called a "resident assistant" or "RA". The RA is usually a student themselves.

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    In my experience, dormitory or dorm refers to the building; individual suites are referred to as dorm rooms. A campus is a reservation of land, which may or may not have buildings on it; the Green is as much part of the Dartmouth campus as is Baker Library. And RAs may be resident advisors, resident associates, residential dons, and many other titles. But fundamentally, Wilson College or Lowell House are a different residential experience from a traditional dorm.
    – choster
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 15:40

As far as a single word goes, I would use residence, or maybe residence hall. Residence hall is a term specific to universities and similar institutions, while residence can refer to anyone's home.

The reason I'm suggesting residence over dorm is that while they normally have the same meaning within the US college system, their meanings differ when used outside the universities. Dormitory is always used for a place where a lot of people sleep. In colleges, it refers to the whole building, exactly the same as residence hall, or residence. But if you've got a building housing a group of people, with shared sleeping space, the sleeping space is the dormitory, while the entire house is the residence. Dormitory focuses on sleeping space, while residence implies the whole living space.

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    yes I believe that residence is a valid alternative too, as a matter of fact a dormitory is quite different compared to the "italian college" which has a more complex structure since it is not only a place for sleeping but also for cultural and personal growth. Commented May 4, 2015 at 19:50

Some US universities and colleges have housing systems which are modeled more-or-less along the line of "colleges" at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge in Great Britain. In these systems (referred to as "the House system" at Harvard, and "Colleges" at Yale) students are assigned to a House or College - at Harvard this occurs during the spring of freshman year, while at Yale it occurs prior to arrival as a freshman - and then remain in that same residential hall for the remainder of their time at the institution.


Short Story: 'Residential College' is the most specific term, but 'dorm' is the one most likely to be understood.

"Residential College" is apparently an official term used to describe the sort of institution you're describing in America.

If you had said this to me prior to me reading the answers on this page, I would not have know what you were talking about, and I expect many American speakers would feel the same. "Residential College" sounds like a place where I take classes related to residences. I don't know what that would be, but perhaps it would be related to construction or hospitality.

After hearing your description and reading about institutions that use this term, I would describe them all as 'dorms', which is short for 'dormitories'.

This term is less specific, and does not necessarily imply as much organization and control as what you're describing, but definitely includes what you're describing.

I went to Iowa State University, where I lived in the dorms all four years due to a scholarship that paid for them. Some of the dorms are highly organized. For example, freshman computer science students can choose to live together in a community where they have scheduled study sessions and activities. A dorm like this will have rules of conduct including quiet hours, visitation restrictions, and substance (read alcohol) bans. Even in my less-organized off-campus dorm we had weekly meetings, often ate meals together, had an RA in charge, participated in officially sanctioned events like intramurals and floor competitions, and had facilities on site for meetings, conferences, and parties.

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