For most incoming undergraduates, the first year of college is also the first taste of independent living. There are two main options for housing in college; on-campus or off-campus. On-campus living typically includes living in a dormitory, while off-campus living is generally associated with renting an apartment or house. While this type of housing is traditionally temporary, it becomes increasingly important to know the pluses and minuses that are often factored in with the decision to live either on-campus or off-campus.
1. Do You Have to Live On-Campus Your Freshman Year?
Many campuses require freshman students to live on-campus for an allotted amount of time (i.e. one semester, their entire freshman year, etc.). The housing policy is dependent on the institution, but in some cases, off-campus living is available immediately, after a semester, after a year, or after two years. With these different options available, finding the best living situation for you depends exclusively on individual preference.
2. Living On-Campus
Living on-campus has its benefits and drawbacks, as well as opportunities that are not available to those who choose to live off-campus. Even though there is an array of practical reasons to live on-campus, the impractical reasons can outweigh the latter for some individuals.
The Pros of Living On-Campus
- Academic Performance: According to the Inside Higher Ed, students who live on-campus perform better academically than students who live off-campus during their freshman year. Individuals who live on-campus generally have easier access to the resources offered by the institution such as tutors, professors/advisors, libraries, study groups, resident assistants (RA’s), etc.;
- Meet Other Students: When you have roommates, RA’s, and a campus full of students, you are constantly surrounded by friends and a community of resources. Overall, it is typically easier to make connections when living near and with multiple people;
- Meal Plan: Most institutions that require on-campus living also require purchasing a meal plan. With food readily available and no dishes, there is generally more time for academics, as well as other activities offered by the school;
- Reduced Travel Costs: Aside from paying for a parking pass — if you have a car and your institution requires paid parking — there is little-to-no commuting cost. If you have a job on-campus as well, commuting costs may become non-existent.
The Cons of Living On-Campus
- Cost: While the cost of living varies from institution to institution, most off-campus living is cheaper. According to Trulia, on-campus living was more expensive than off-campus living in 15 of 20 examples. Some of the factors associated with higher costs are: meal plans, dorm prices and parking passes. Although there are ways to save money in college, in many cases, living on-campus is not the way.
- Shared Space: More often than not, when you live in a dorm, there are common areas. Most institutions assign two students per dorm. Generally, other shared spaces include community bathrooms, study areas, laundromats and parking. These shared spaces may make individuals feel suffocated by on-campus living (especially those who are introverted, or desire privacy).
- Resident Assistants: When you have shared space, there are general rules and regulations that need to be followed. Resident assistants are the individuals that ensure the rules are followed by living in close proximity to residents. RA’s are generally in charge of noise control, mediation during conflict, and notifying the authorities when illegal activity occurs (i.e underage drinking). This can restrict your freedoms to an extent, and can also cause tension among friends, since the RA’s who are in charge are typically peers;
- Break Closure: When closures such as summer, Christmas or Thanksgiving breaks come around, dorms are commonly closed. If you are someone who lives far away from your campus (i.e. out of state or out of the country), or you work a job off-campus during a break, this can be a potential issue. If you have lots of belongings you’ll either need to find moving supplies and take the items back with you, or you’ll need to find student storage near you.
3. Living Off-Campus
Finding a place to live off-campus that you love can be great. It gives you an escape from college life and offers a plethora of freedoms. There are also more responsibilities that can prove overwhelming such as utilities, and upkeep.
The Pros of Living Off-Campus
- Cost: Although there are extra fees included with off-campus living (i.e utilities, groceries, etc.) living off-campus costs less than living on-campus. According to an article by Urban Institute, over the past decade, living on-campus has outpaced the price of rent associated with living off-campus.
- Independence: With only a landlord to comply with, your independence is greater because you are running your own household. There are no RA’s monitoring you and you either choose your roommate or have none. In some cases, off-campus rental companies will even allow tenants to have pets;
- Privacy: Aside from roommates and neighbors (if applicable), off-campus housing offers more solitude. You can leave your area as clean or messy as you prefer. If you have roommates, you may have some shared areas, but generally, you will not be sharing a hallway or bathroom with 20 other individuals;
- Space: Apartments generally offer more space than living in the dorms. The average dorm room is around 228 square feet while the average size of an apartment is 882 square feet in the U.S. Keep in mind that dorms are also occupied by a roommate more often than not. To put this into comparison, the average parking space is around 180 square feet;
The Cons of Living Off-Campus
- Need to Provide Your Own Furniture: Off-campus living ordinarily requires you to provide your own furnishings as opposed to dorms, which are already furnished. A way to offset the price of furniture is splitting the cost with a roommate, or buying used furniture;
- Responsibilities: Off-campus living requires more responsibilities such as monthly rent, renters insurance, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning/upkeep, as well as setting up/paying for utilities (common utilities include water, sewer, garbage, power, and internet). If you have a roommate, expectations of who does what can cause issues when dealing with responsibilities. In some cases having a roommate does alleviate some stress as well. More freedom usually comes with more responsibility;
- Commute: Although some off-campus living is in close proximity to campus, most off-campus living requires a longer commute. There are solutions in this regard, such as public transportation, buying a parking pass, or biking to school, but all of the above options cost money or resources;
- Campus Disconnect: Besides being physically disconnected from campus, living off-campus disengages students from campus life and community. Being further from campus can create a sense of isolation via less access to campus events as well(i.e. fliers for events, tabling for clubs, etc.). Although it is possible to stay active and connected to campus, friends, and college life as a whole, it takes more effort.
Questioning which factors are most important to you personally can help narrow down your decision of whether to live on-campus or off-campus. For example, is the cost or practicality the most important factor? Does a commute bother you? Can you handle the extra responsibilities associated with living off-campus? Do you hate cooking? Ultimately when you are contemplating whether to live on- or off-campus, the decision comes down to personal preference. Make sure to do your research, and make the best decision for you.