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Living On Campus vs Off Campus

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To some students, “going to college,” literally means just that – they’ll be leaving home and going away to school. Every August, thousands of recent high school grads leave home for the first time to start college. The chance to live on your own for the first time while gaining an education is an exciting opportunity, but it could seem a little overwhelming at first.

One important choice you’ll have to make has to do with your living arrangements. Will you be living on campus or off campus? Both situations have benefits as well as drawbacks, so it’s important to consider both sides of the story before making your final decision. I lived with my parents when I went to college because I opted to attend school in my hometown, but that isn’t possible for everyone. Even though I never lived on campus I used to visit my friends that lived in dorms, so I do have knowledge about their experiences.

Many colleges and universities have residence halls or dormitories designed specifically for students located directly on campus.

Benefits of Living on Campus

  • You will be close enough to walk to just about everything- your classes, the cafeteria, computer labs, and the library for starters. This also means you will not have to get up as early to drive to campus, and you’ll be able to survive without your own transportation (and the added expenses of a car.)
  • In most cases, you won’t have to pay monthly rent or utility bills. Room and board is typically configured into your total expenses when you are receiving your financial aid package at the beginning of the school year or the beginning of the semester.
  • You probably won’t have to pay for your own food, either. College meal plans are typically available only for the students that live on campus, and meal plans are configured in with your total expenses the same way that your dorm room is.
  • You can show up to start school with your suitcase and a few personal belongings – you won’t have to provide your own furniture for your dorm room. Most dorms are equipped with a bed, computer desk and chair, and a dresser or chest of drawers.
  • It’s fairly easy to make friends when you live on campus. You will have roommates or suite mates, and it will be easy to make friends with others that live in your same building. There will almost always be a friend available for dinner or studying.
  • You will most likely feel safe living on campus. College campuses usually have security guards or their own campus police. Most dorm buildings or residence halls have keyed main entryways that non-residents cannot enter.

Drawbacks of Living on Campus

  • If you do own a car, you probably won’t see it as often as you’d hoped you would. Most large schools have parking garages for residents located on the far corners of campus. You will probably have to pay a parking permit fee, and keep in mind that some schools do not even allow freshmen to bring cars to campus.
  • Although you don’t see a bill in the mail each month, living on campus is expensive. Room and board at some schools can be nearly as much as the tuition. If you’re taking out student loans to help pay for your living expenses, the numbers add up quickly over the years.
  • While the idea of roommates means you won’t get lonely since you’ll have a friend nearby, the opposite may be true. If you wind up assigned to a roommate that you just can’t stand, you might just be stuck with them anyway. Some schools are so crowded; there are waiting lists to even move into dorms.
  • Dorms rooms aren’t very large. You won’t have a lot of room for your belongings, especially if your roommate has more than their fair share of stuff.
  • Dorms and residence halls can get very noisy. If your roommate or your next-door neighbors are loud, you might not get very much studying done. Even if you believe otherwise, parties are destined to happen on college campuses. Even if you’re not interested in partying, if one is down the hall you’re going to hear it. Most like likely alcohol is going to be involved and underage drinking is probably going to happen, too. These parties might go on til all hours of the morning.
  • You will have to go home on breaks. For the most part, students are not allowed to live in dorms during the break between fall and spring semesters or during the summer, so you will have to return home or find an alternate place to stay if you plan on remaining in town to work during your school breaks.
  • Your privacy is going to be limited. Even if you have your own room, which is rare and even pricier than a double, you might have to share a bathroom. Who knows when it’s been cleaned lately, and community showers are a great way to get athlete’s foot.

Benefits of Living Off Campus

  • You’ll have more independence and more privacy in an off-campus apartment than you will in a dorm room. Even if you have roommates to help split the rent, you’ll have your own bedroom where you can hide out and be alone.
  • Rent for an apartment each month of the school year is usually a lot cheaper than the price you are charged to live in a dorm room.
  • Apartments will provide you with a kitchen, living room, and your own bathroom, which you won’t get in a dorm room.
  • You’ll be able to park your car right out in front of your apartment. It won’t be miles away across campus.
  • Even though many apartment communities near college campuses are geared toward students, it will probably be much quieter than a building on campus. It will be easier to study and sleep if the people down the hall aren’t blasting music and laughing.
  • Living on your own off campus will most likely teach you to be more responsible. If you have to drive to class, you’ll have to wake up early enough to commute to school. You’ll have to do your own grocery shopping and cooking instead of running down to the cafeteria for meals.

Drawbacks of Living Off Campus

  • You will have to pay rent every single month. Even if your parents help you out with money, you’ll have to manage that money to write a check on the first of the month.
  • Most apartments require 12 month leases. You’ll be responsible for rent each month, even during the summer months when you may want to go home.
  • In addition to rent, there will be other expenses. Utilities such as water and electricity are usually not included in your rent. Some apartment communities even charge you for garbage or dumpster fees, and many even require rental insurance to be in place before you will be able to move in. You will have to get your own cable and internet. All of these things must be paid monthly in addition to your rent. You’ll have your own fridge and stove, but that also means you’ll have to pay for your own groceries.
  • It won’t be as quick and easy to run to class if you wake up a few minutes late. You’ll have to make more of an effort to be on schedule.
  • Although you’ll have more room, you’ll also need furniture. For the most part, apartments are not furnished. Will you bring your bedroom set from your parents’ house or will you need to purchase additional furniture for your apartment? You’ll also need a sofa and table and chairs, among other things.

There are many other pros and cons to living on campus or off campus that aren’t in my lists. Some things will depend on your unique situation, so it’s a good idea to try and come up with your own lists in order to figure out what’s best for you.

I remember being slightly envious of my high school friends that went away to college when I decided to stay at home for school, but now that those years of my life are over I see that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. It may have seemed so at the time, but going to school that was close to my parents’ house still enabled me to earn a Bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have to shell out extra money or take out extra loans in order to live in a dorm (which weren’t the nicest, anyway, from what I remember.)

So my advice to you? Take everything into consideration and remember that nothing lasts forever. You may live on campus for your freshman and sophomore years but decide to get yourself an off-campus apartment as you finish up your degree. I actually got married during my senior year of college, so my situation was definitely unique from most of my friends’! We’re all distinctive individuals and we all need to do what’s right for ourselves!


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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