What is a house?

A house is a group of student rooms in one residence hall that is home to approximately 50 students. These students share a Resident Assistant (RA) and common spaces, like communal restrooms, kitchenettes, dens, or lounges (depending on the housing style and building). This smaller group of students helps build new connections and makes the larger space – and campus – feel more like home.

History of the house system

Iowa State University’s house system dates to the 1950s when it was first established to take a large hall (Friley) and break it down into smaller units. In those early years, the establishment of the house system created closer contact within the community for those residing there and increased opportunities for students in residence halls regarding social, academic, and intramural activities. Since then, the ISU Department of Residence has built with this system as our foundation.

Nearly 70 years later, the house system remains a unique hallmark of the ISU experience. It allows students to develop immediate connections to each other and goes on to strengthen the sense of belonging and connection that those who started it likely envisioned and had as its initial goals. When alums reflect on their experiences at ISU, they can often be overheard saying, “I lived on Chamberlain House in Friley,” or, “I lived in Helser Fleming,” keeping that sense of belonging and attachment to campus housing long after they have left the institution.

Leadership opportunities

For each house, the Department of Residence places a student leader to assist in supporting students (the RA). In addition, each house gets to elect peers into self-governance roles (president, vice president, social chairs, etc.). Both RA and house cabinet positions are a rich leadership and citizenship training ground for students and provide some of the first opportunities on-campus for a student to develop skills in these areas. The leadership positions work in tandem to build their house community. The strength of the house system allows students to become further invested in their floor communities by being able to impact decisions on how what their community looks like, how it is run, and how funds are spent. This, in turn, allows students to become invested and create unique communities on each floor that feel like “home” to them.


  • Is the house just the floor?

Not in all cases. At Iowa State, some of our dorms are wider than they are tall; for example, Friley, Helser, Martin, Eaton, Geoffroy, Oak and Elm. In these buildings, houses may be wings of buildings instead of the entire floor. In other buildings, like Barton, Lyon, and Freeman, one house may span two floors as the buildings are much smaller. Yet other buildings, like Maple, Willow, Larch, Wallace, and Wilson, do follow one floor per house.

  • Do I need to know my house?

While this won’t be critical to memorize before you arrive, it will become second nature to refer to your community by your hall and house names. It becomes an efficient reference point as well as a point of identity and belonging.

  • What are those signs on the sides of the building?

Each house has a sign on the exterior of their building. These signs were designed by students who lived in those houses. Each house is named after a person of influence at Iowa State, ranging from athletes to professors to faculty and staff.