At the beginning of my sophomore year, I decided that I absolutely wanted to have a betta fish in my college dorm, because I loved fish so much. My friend and I went down to the local pet store and purchased inexpensive tanks, filtered water, food, and, of course, the fish themselves. Since then, I have learned a lot about having betta fish in a dorm and have helped many people answer the question of “should I get a betta fish in college?” Here are my tips for having a happy betta, and alternatives to consider if taking care of a fish is impossible.
Why I got a betta, even though I have low vision
Even though I have low vision, I decided that having a betta would be a fantastic idea for many reasons:
First, watching my betta swim around next to my desk helps me deal with eyestrain, so I am not constantly looking at my computer. I can watch my little fish friend swim around for a few seconds every now and then
They can be a rubber duck
Ever heard of rubber duck debugging? Basically, the idea is that programmers explain to a rubber duck how their program is designed so that they can find errors. My betta got to listen to lots of my Java homework as a result of this.
Even though I have poor vision, I can see the colors of my fish very well and I enjoy watching them at the end of a long day. It’s a simple reason, but it’s true!
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Questions to ask yourself before buying a betta for your dorm
It’s important to make sure you are ready to take care of a betta fish in your dorm room before you purchase one. Some questions you should ask yourself include:
Are betta fish allowed in college dorms?
This is probably the first question you should ask yourself. My college allows bettas, but check the housing manual before buying anything.
How am I going to clean the tank?
Do you have access to a bathroom where you can clean out the fish tank? Many freshman dorms have hall-style bathrooms that are shared with several people, so it can be hard to carry the fish tank or to thoroughly clean the tank in a small space. I had a suite-style bathroom, so this was not an issue.
What will happen if I go away for the week?
When I had a concussion, I had to go home for the week unexpectedly and my family couldn’t bring the fish home with us. Luckily, one of my friends was able to take the fish at the last minute, but it was certainly frustrating trying to arrange this last minute move. If you have a roommate or a good relationship with your suitemates, then it might be easier to find someone to watch the fish.
Will I be moving in the next year or so?
When I got my betta fish sophomore year, I knew that I would be living on campus during the summer so my fish wouldn’t have to worry about constantly being moved around. Right now though, I’m planning on graduating in the next year and potentially moving out of state, so it would not be a good idea to have a fish with me, even though you can take fish through the TSA.
Does the temperature fluctuate wildly?
My current dorm has a thermostat with a mind of its own, so the room is always freezing cold, which would be poor conditions for tropical fish like bettas. Make sure the fish tank is away from drafts and vents so the cold air does not hurt your pet.
What if I have to evacuate my dorm?
As unlikely as it may seem, make sure to have a plan for taking your fish with you if you have to evacuate your dorm. In an emergency, I would carry my fish tank or put my fish into a smaller container if I had a little more time.
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If you can take care of the betta fish
If you can confidently answer all of these questions and are positive that you can take care of a fish, then go ahead and purchase a fish along with the supplies. I recommend buying the supplies a few days in advance if possible so the tank can be set up. Here are some other tips for having a betta in college
Use coffee cups as a temporary holding container
One of my favorite tricks for transporting my betta is to walk to the on-campus Starbucks and ask for an empty hot beverage container. From there, I go back to my dorm and add some betta water to the cup, and put my fish inside. The lid on top has a small hole so oxygen can get in the container, and it fits perfectly in a cup holder for the car or next to the sink as you clean the tank.
Use the bottled betta water for water changes
Many stores sell special water for betta fish tanks in the pet aisles, and I highly recommend purchasing this as traditional dechlorination solutions may not purify the college tap water enough. I’ve found bottles for as low as $2 at major chain stores.
Make sure the tank can’t be knocked over
This sounds obvious, but make sure the tank is not located in a place where someone could accidentally knock it over or it could be hit with objects such as a backpack. Some examples of places where my betta tanks have been located include the center of my dresser, next to my desk, and on a counter.
If having a betta fish is impossible
Even if you can’t have a betta fish in your dorm, there are still ways to benefit from watching fish swim around or having a fun distraction, without having to worry about cold dorm rooms or forgetting to feed the fish. My dorm room was too cold for a betta this year, so here are some of my ideas for fun alternatives.
Livestreams of fish swimming
Explore.org has lots of fun livestreams of animals from all around the world, including aquariums with tropical fish, sharks, and more. There have been times where I have pulled up an Explore stream on my iPad and watched as the fish would swim by when I was overwhelmed with schoolwork.
Have another offline distraction
For people with low vision, it can help to have another item to watch or look at when using technology to help deal with eyestrain. Some examples include fidget toys, art on the wall, or plush animals that can act as a brief distraction.
My friend has a marimo moss ball that they like to look at, because they say that it reminds them of having a fish. Personally, I have never had one of these, but it’s certainly an interesting idea.
Play white noise or other relaxing sounds
Some people enjoy listening to the bubbling water in an aquarium, so I would recommend using white noise or other relaxing sounds on a device such as the Amazon Echo to achieve the same effect. There are many different skills available that provide relaxing nature sounds.
As much as I love having a betta fish in college, it’s not realistic for me right now to have one, and that’s okay. I know that once I graduate and move into my first apartment, I won’t mind that I didn’t have a betta fish in college and will adopt another fish- or two!