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Resource CenterCollege LifeSocial LifeLiving On-Campus vs. Off-Campus

The Great Debate: To Live On-Campus or Off-Campus

For undergraduates attending traditional, four-year schools, college represents the first real opportunity to live away from home. And as you spread your wings and slowly ease into adulthood, you’ll definitely need a place to stay. While most universities provide dormitories for their students, many schools also allow undergrads to live off-campus. And it can be difficult determining which option is best for you.

Before we go any further, we do want to stress that this is a topic to consider more as an upperclassman than incoming freshman. In fact, a lot of schools mandate that freshmen reside on-campus for their first year. And even if your particular college has no set housing requirements, we strongly urge you to live in a dorm or campus house if possible. This is most assuredly the easiest (and best) way to acclimate/transition to college life.

For those of you struggling with the decision, here’s a brief breakdown of the positives and negatives of each option.

Living On-Campus

There’s a lot to be said (and touted) about living in a college dorm. To begin with, your residence hall (theoretically) places you smack dab in the middle of what’s (hopefully) a vibrant campus life. And you can’t help but feel like a part of the community when you’re living right in the center of it.

Moreover, dorm life translates into easy living. Living on-campus guarantees all sorts of facilities and amenities will be readily accessible – from the gym and the dining hall to your classrooms and the library. And the shorter the trip, the more likely you’ll make it there (8am classes can be rough)! Beyond the quick commute, living on campus also means you’re probably on the meal plan. You won’t have to worry about buying groceries or setting aside time to cook. Everything will be done for you (thanks dining services!). Similarly, the school will also provide people to maintain the bathrooms, common areas of your dorm, etc. And your room will already be wired for the internet/Wi-Fi.

Further, living in campus housing puts you within arm’s reach (often quite literally) of numerous fellow undergrads.  Yes, dorms are a fabulous way to meet people and cement friendships. There’s usually always someone with whom to hang out or grab lunch. And the relationships you establish will inform your collegiate experience as much as your time spent in the classroom or hitting the books. 

Of course, dorm life does have its drawbacks. While it’s fantastic that there are so many social options and outlets mere feet away, that also means it can sometimes be a struggle to focus or carve out some quiet time. Indeed, it can be difficult to study cell division while your classmates are racing desk chairs in the hallway.

Additionally, space and privacy are often at a premium. Yes, there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing a modestly sized room with several people. Further, bathrooms are typically communal which means you might find yourself fighting for shower time, etc. And, simply put, it can be hard to escape your peers.

Living Off-Campus

Living off-campus certainly holds some advantages as well! For starters, off-campus apartments will likely afford you more space and more privacy. You might find yourself feeling more comfortable if you’re able to spread out and if you don’t have to share a bathroom with 20 floor-mates. Plus, it’s quite likely that your apartment will be much quieter than a dorm. Hence, it’ll probably make a great place to study!

Renting your own apartment or house also allows you to escape the college bubble. Your neighbors might be local families or young working professionals. And you may discover that they are a welcome change (and maybe a tad more mature) than your collegiate counterparts.

Living off-campus also affords you the opportunity to get a deeper taste of independence and adulthood. You will be running your own (mini) household. Moreover, your apartment won’t have all the rules and regulations dictated by your college and/or dorm RAs (resident advisers).

Depending on where you live off-campus, you might find yourself feeling isolated from your school and your peers. You likely won’t have as many friends residing around the corner or around the block. And, depending on how far away you live, your commute might affect how and when you choose to socialize.

Further, that taste of independence we mentioned above comes with increased demands and responsibilities. It will be up to you to take care of installing amenities such as cable or internet. You’ll have to keep up with all your bill paying. Additionally, it will be your job to clean (not to mention furnish!) your new digs. Are you really prepared to start cooking for yourself on a regular basis? While we’re sure you have the skills and wherewithal to complete these tasks, don’t forget that they will also eat into your schedule. 

Weighing the Cost

Another factor to consider is cost. To figure out whether it’s a pro or con (for either option), you’ll have to carefully compare the price of room and board with apartment/house rentals in the surrounding area. Don’t forget - your off-campus expenses will be greater than just your monthly rent. You will also have to calculate utilities (they aren’t always included), cable/internet, food, etc. And, if you don’t think you’ll reside within walking distance of campus or an accessible school shuttle, you will need to determine transportation costs (whether for car, public bus, etc.) as well. Of course, depending on where you live/attend school, all of these expenses might still end up being more affordable than room and board. But you will definitely have to do the math.

When it comes to the on-campus or off-campus debate, there’s really no correct answer. As you can clearly see, each option comes with its own set of pros and cons. It’s a decision that truly comes down to individual needs and preferences. And, in the end, even if you come to regret your choice, you can at least bask in the realization that your housing situation is only temporary!


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Don Munce