Question: If I go to college more than 1,000 miles from home and I can't afford to go home for vacations (or I don't want to), can I stay in my dorm room?
Policies vary greatly from college to college. Commonly, dorms will remain open during all of the shorter breaks (Fall break, Thanksgiving break, etc.) but many close down completely during the winter break, and all students will be required to vacate. Some schools, however, will have special provisions for students who cannot return home, but they may charge an extra fee to remain on campus. Dining halls and other on-campus eateries may close down for the vacations or stay open for limited hours.
Students who cannot return home during the winter break and who cannot stay on campus may be able to find a local family to host them. International students are often invited to live with local families in the spirit of cultural exchange. If you are not an international student, you may still be able to find a local family that will welcome you (and your college's office for international students might even be able to help you make the connection). There are also likely to be nearby families looking for a house-sitter, a pet-sitter, or a babysitter during the holiday period. Sometimes, too, students who cannot return home for the holidays will be invited to go home with a friend who lives within driving distance.
In summer time, many (but not all) colleges will rent dorm rooms to students who want to stick around, whether the student is attending summer school, working on campus, or not doing anything that's college-affiliated. Some colleges even rent summer dorm rooms to students from other colleges.
If staying on campus during the school breaks is going to be a necessity for you, you should check with prospective colleges before you apply … or at least before you make your final choice (if you are a senior who has already applied) to see how easy—or complicated—it will be to live in the dorms during the breaks. Although it may feel lonely when the dorm is nearly deserted, many students do appreciate the opportunity to enjoy some peace and quiet (as well as unchallenged access to showers, televisions, and laundry facilities) when most of their classmates are gone.