Policies and Procedures

three students sitting at table with books, papers, and a green backpack in loyd commons

Residency Requirement

Students and families who choose SMU are choosing a residential college experience during their first two years. This experience supports students transitioning to SMU and supports their success at the university. SMU’s residential experience is founded on the Residential Commons system, established in 2014, as a method to improve and foster a more inclusive campus culture. To ensure students are receiving a robust and fulfilling experience, University leaders instituted a two-year on-campus residency requirement for undergraduate students as a part of the Residential Commons system.

This decision to change SMU’s residential structure in 2014 was not made lightly, and came from a desire to foster an inclusive campus culture of support that would improve campus life and the lives of students who attend SMU. This decision was based on national and SMU-conducted research demonstrating students who live on-campus have higher GPAs their first and second-year along with higher retention rates. National data also demonstrates students experience an increase in student development outcomes, interpersonal self-esteem, satisfaction with their undergraduate experience, accessing campus resources, and campus community involvement.  

Since the establishment of the SMU Residential Commons, we have seen first-hand the incredible impact that this has had on our students. Overall, first-year retention increased by more than 1% with second-year retention increasing by almost 3%. Additionally, SMU on-campus students tend to complete courses at a higher rate without dropping classes and loosing valuable time toward graduation.

As detailed in SMU’s Undergraduate Catalogue: First-year students must live on campus for their first two years at SMU and are assigned to 1 of 11 Residential Commons. Within these diverse and dynamic communities, residents have access to peer-mentoring and form stronger relationships with other residents, helping them make campus home.

Beginning with the 2023-24 academic year, new transfer students are not required to live on campus but may apply and be assigned on a space-available basis.


Housing Exemptions

Students who wish to request exemption from the residency requirement may submit the request after completing the housing application. The process to request an exemption varies based on your affiliation with the university and when the request is made.

SMU has a two-year residency requirement and students are expected to live on-campus for their first two years. The university permits very few exceptions to the two year live-on requirement.

New first-year students who are from Dallas may request a personal hardship exemption from the requirement in order to continue to live at home with parent or guardian.  Exemptions may be requested after a student completes the housing application SMU Housing Portal. If exemption is granted, it is valid for the two years of the requirement.

Generally a student requests a hardship exemption for one of these reasons, and it may be helpful to know the following:

  • Financial reasons:  Approval to live at home may affect a student’s financial aid, so it is recommended students check with their SMU financial aid advisor to see how living at home would affect aid.
  • Disability:  The SMU Disability Accommodation and Success Strategies (DASS) office works with students to determine what a student needs for accommodation in order to live on-campus using medical documentation and federal ADA guidelines. It is recommended students contact DASS regarding their situation for meeting their needs at SMU. (The RLSH office does not accept, review or retain any medical documentation.)
  • Family: The exemption to live at home is only for students from Dallas who will continue to live at home. Exemption is not available for students from outside of Dallas who want to live with relatives or family friends.

Exemption Process

  1. Complete your housing application for the upcoming academic year. (The 2024-25 application will be available in February 2024.) Exemption requests are not considered without a completed housing application.

  2. Complete the "Exemption Request" process in the SMU Housing Portal. The request process includes
    • Your written statement for the request 
    • The address where you would live if exempted 
    • Sophomores requesting Greek Exemption must provide a signed copy of the lease with their chapter 
Exemptions are reviewed by designated RLSH staff under the supervision and direction of the Dean of RLSH. Decisions are made on a bi-weekly rolling basis starting in February for the upcoming academic year. Staff will first process returning requests, then requests from incoming students. New students who submit a request by April 15 will receive a response in May. Decisions are sent to the student’s SMU email account. If a request is approved, a student is forfeiting their guarantee housing for the remainder of their time at SMU. Please note that living off campus may result in reduced financial aid packages.
Students who are denied may appeal to the Housing Exemption Appeal Committee. Appeals must be received within 14 days of the decision email. Appeals can be submitted to housing@smu.edu.

Two-year Commons Assignment

Residence Life and Student Housing has standardized housing practices to improve retention and graduation benefits for all Mustangs. Students remain in their initial Residential Commons for two years, because we've proven the benefits through SMU-specific research.

SMU’s campus housing follows a residential college model, which integrates living on campus into the student experience, and is a distinguishing feature of the university. In 2014, the Residential Commons (RCs) were designed to further support this model, integrate students’ academic and social experiences with their residential experiences, and to better cultivate a sense of belonging.

While the Commons are, at their core, a housing system, they establish the foundation of the unique SMU student experience, and are more than just buildings comprised of students, faculty, and staff. The Commons are societies, or collegia, and by picking SMU, you chose to be a member of a Commons, which is a two- to four-year membership and a lifetime association.

Each Commons at SMU is home to a diverse cross-section of students from all majors, with a host of interests, and from different grade levels and backgrounds, all united by their shared experience on the Hilltop. By having created a holistic student experience, SMU is able to simultaneously address academic, substance and other concerning issues, while bolstering student success.

In 2019, SMU and Residence Life and Student Housing engaged in research to confirm that we were providing the experience we promised to our students via the Residential Commons system, to further strengthen the Commons’ effectiveness, and to provide a framework to ensure consistency in the experience and benefits to the 2,600+ Mustangs in the Commons every year.

This research demonstrates we are aiding student retention and graduation efforts but not constantly throughout our housing system. We have come to find that in every student cohort who remained in their RC for two or more years reports up to 2.54% higher retention then those who did not remain in their initial RC. We have further documented that third-year retention and graduation rates are higher for students who live in the same RC for two years.

Therefore, in 2021 Residence Life & Student Housing (RLSH) adjusted some housing practices to standardize these retention and graduation benefits for all Mustangs. RLSH will now prioritize students completing their first two years of college in the same RC through policies and processes. And in order to have a diverse community, it is important for students to stay in their same community avoiding a process of self-selection creating more homogenous communities. These housing changes are consistent with current university retention efforts and support the work of SMU in Four. SMU in Four is a university-wide initiative devised to fulfill the university’s accreditation requirements that focus on improving four-year undergraduate graduation and retention rates.

The Residential Commons system and Residence Life and Student Housing will continue to monitor retention as it relates to the RCs and adjust if needed. However, we must remain consistent in our housing practices to see if these changes prove as beneficial, or more beneficial, than we have historically seen. Since these new policy decisions were based on empirical research, we are confident that these changes will drive improvement of retention and graduation rates, foster an inclusive community, and create a sense of belonging that will benefit all Mustangs at SMU. We appreciate your understanding of our rationale and how we work to support student success via these practices.

Housing Assignment Priority

SMU is committed to providing an on-campus residential experience for all first- and second-year students and provides upper-division housing options for some third- and fourth-year students. Demand for housing is very high, and we work to accommodate as many students as possible.

Residence Life and Student Housing (RLSH) processes housing applications in the order they are received, based on the student classification. Below you can learn about housing assignment timelines and our priority order as they relate to the fall semester. Spring housing application have a similar priority order, but the timeline for assignments will differ.

Incoming, or new, first-year students are required to live on-campus and should complete a housing application as soon as they pay their deposit. Students should apply by May 10, unless admitted after that date.

The roommate request deadline is June 1.

Assignments are made in June and communicated to students via their SMU email address in mid-July. Housing assignments are made on a rolling basis for students who apply later than early-July.

Residency-required students, generally second-year students, must complete a housing application by March 1 to participate in Room Selection.

Students who do not meet this deadline or who do not select a room during the advertised Room Selection period will be manually assigned to one of the below options:

  • A space in their Residential Commons
  • A space in Upper Division Housing
  • Any other available space

Students without a residency requirement must complete the application by March 1 to be included in room selection. Those not picked up to participate in room selection are placed on the "Stand-by" list and are not guaranteed housing.  Non-required students on Stand-by should prepare a back-up plan for housing. If an off-campus lease is signed, students should email housing@smu.edu immediately to cancel their housing application to avoid cancelation penalties.


Transfer students should complete a housing application as soon as they pay their deposit. Students should apply by May 10, unless admitted after that date. 

The roommate request deadline is June 1. Housing assignments for transfer students are made in early July and distributed to students in mid-July. Housing assignments are made on a rolling basis for students who apply later than early-July. 

Effective Fall 2023, transfer students do not have a housing requirement. Assignments are made on a space available basis, with priority given to students who are 20 years of age or younger. Assignments are generally made in mid- to late- July.  Students should prepare a back-up plan should on-campus housing not be available. If an off-campus lease is signed should email housing@smu.edu immediately to cancel their housing application to avoid cancellation penalties.


Current students who lived off-campus the prior academic year may contact RLSH to inquire about availability. Application will be opened in April, if space is available. Housing availability is very limited and assignments will only be made if space is available in Late July and August.

This includes students who were exempted from the residency requirement their first year and would like to live on campus their second year at SMU. Students should prepare a back-up plan should on-campus housing not be available. If an off-campus lease is signed should email housing@smu.edu immediately to cancel their application to avoid cancelation penalties. 

Graduate students are encouraged to check out the SMU Apartments