Objective To test whether the incidence of common colds among college students in China is associated with ventilation rates and crowdedness in dormitories. Methods In Phase I of the study, a cross-sectional study, 3712 students living in 1569 dorm rooms in 13 buildings responded to a questionnaire about incidence and duration of common colds in the previous 12 months. In Phase II, air temperature, relative humidity and CO2 concentration were measured for 24 hours in 238 dorm rooms in 13 buildings, during both summer and winter. Out-to indoor air flow rates at night were calculated based on measured CO2 concentrations. Results In Phase I, 10% of college students reported an incidence of more than 6 common colds in the previous 12 months, and 15% reported that each infection usually lasted for more than 2 weeks. Students in 6-person dorm rooms were about 2 times as likely to have an incidence of common colds ≥6 times per year and a duration ≥2 weeks, compared to students in 3-person rooms. In Phase II, 90% of the measured dorm rooms had an out-to indoor air flow rate less than the Chinese standard of 8.3 L/s per person during the heating season. There was a dose-response relationship between out-to indoor air flow rate per person in dorm rooms and the proportion of occupants with annual common cold infections ≥6 times. A mean ventilation rate of 5 L/(s•person) in dorm buildings was associated with 5% of self reported common cold ≥6 times, compared to 35% at 1 L/(s•person). Conclusion Crowded dormitories with low out-to indoor airflow rates are associated with more respiratory infections among college students.