What Are Living-Learning Communities? Should You Join One?

Should you join a living-learning community in college? Find out exactly what these communities entail and how joining one can benefit you.

portrait of Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.
by Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.

Updated September 21, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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What Are Living-Learning Communities? Should You Join One?
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When you start college, one of the most important decisions you make is housing, such as whether to live on campus. Besides traditional dorms, though, many colleges offer a special type of housing called living-learning communities (LLCs). This unique housing option allows you to live with other students who share similar interests or backgrounds as you.

If your college has LLCs — and you're interested in joining one — it's important you know how this type of housing could benefit you and what types of LLCs there are.

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What Is a Living-Learning Community?

Living-learning communities are a campus housing option that groups students based on shared interests, themes, backgrounds, and/or fields of study.

According to the National Learning Communities Association, LLCs are a subset of a broader category of learning communities, defined as "intentional educational approaches" that "prioritize community-building among faculty, staff, and a cohort of students."

Learning communities include students enrolling in linked courses, attending residential colleges, participating in coordinated studies programs, and living in living-learning communities.

The purpose of LLCs is to create smaller, more intimate communities within the broader university residence life program. These communities encourage students to form connections with peers who have similar goals and interests.

Living-learning communities consist of students, residence hall staff, and faculty members. Instructors not only teach classes reserved specifically for students in designated LLCs but also typically hold extra programming, office hours, and learning opportunities for students.

How Can a Living-Learning Community Benefit You?

Part of what makes an effective LLC is a collaboration between a college's academic affairs and residence life offices. This teamwork ensures that students in living-learning communities are participating in coursework and residential programming specifically designed for them.

LLC students report engaging more and receiving more encouragement and support from their school, peers, and professors. A 2015 study by the Council of Independent Colleges shows LLCs can help students achieve academic success because they are unique in how they immerse learners in a campus community and facilitate faculty interaction

Another way a living-learning community can benefit you is by helping you make friends and become part of a social group. Because LLCs are made up of students who have shared interests or goals or who are part of the same student population or demographic, you'll belong to a community of peers you already have a lot in common with.

Finally, a 2015 study in the Journal of Student Success and Retention indicates that the benefits of living-learning communities are even more significant for first-year students and students who are most at risk of not graduating. Compared with other students, graduation rates were higher for those living in an LLC.

What Kinds of Living Learning Communities Are There?

Colleges approach the development of living-learning communities differently based on the school's mission and available resources. As a result, there are many kinds of LLCs.

If you're interested in joining one, it's important to know what's available at the schools you are applying to or the school you plan to attend.

The most common types of LLCs fall into the following five categories.

Shared Identity or Background

Students of similar racial or ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, and more may be able to find living-learning communities geared toward that particular identity.

For example, UCLA's living-learning communities provide housing assignments for students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and for students who identify as Latino/a. The school's First to Go LLC, meanwhile, specifically targets first-generation students.

Shared Interests

Many colleges that offer living-learning communities provide housing options based on shared interests and passions.

The University of Minnesota's LLCs, for instance, include a variety of communities, like FETCH Housing, where pre-vet students can train service animals in their rooms, and the Environment House for students passionate about sustainability and environmental wellness.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, The Studio Learning Community is an LLC that provides a place for students to be creative and innovative by collaborating with peers on various artistic projects.

Shared Coursework

Some colleges offer living-learning communities organized by students enrolling in the same courses as others in their residence halls.

For example, the University of Utah offers sections of general education courses for learners in specific LLCs.

Similarly, Washington State University's First-Year Focus Program connects general education courses and the faculty members teaching them to specific residence halls. Students living in that hall may enroll in one of the designated First-Year Focus sections with their dorm neighbors. You will also get additional support from faculty and residence hall staff working in your LLC.

Same Cohort or Class Level

Some LLCs are reserved for students in specific cohorts or class levels, such as first-year students, transfer students, international students, and honors students.

As an example, the University of Connecticut's Learning Community Program oversees LLCs for transfer students in any major, as well as for students admitted to the school's honors program.

Same Major

Many colleges provide living-learning communities for students pursuing a certain major.

The University of South Carolina offers an LLC for students majoring in a health sciences field, allowing them to gain hands-on experience outside the classroom. Similarly, the University of Washington maintains several LLCs for students majoring in art, business, and engineering.

How Do You Join a Living Learning Community?

At some universities, joining a living-learning community is simply a matter of being grouped based on where you're living. For example, at Washington State University, first-year students are automatically enrolled in a designated general education course connected to their residence hall.

Some LLCs, however, require you to apply to join to ensure you meet the qualifications of the theme or mission of the community. For instance, the University of Utah has LLCs and theme communities that require a supplemental application.

Likewise, the University of Minnesota has limited space in its LLCs. As a result, the school encourages students to apply even before they know whether they've been admitted.

The criteria of an application depend on the type of living-learning community you're applying to join. Some LLCs accept students only from specific majors, some may require you to be enrolled in a specific course, and some may require you to be part of a certain student population.

The first step in joining a living-learning community is to visit your college's residence life website to learn more about what types of LLCs it offers.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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