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Living On Campus vs Living Off Campus

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

To live on campus or to not live on campus, that is the question. Usually, it is not a question you always get to answer in your first year attending college.

While each university carries its own policy for where freshmen can live, an overwhelming amount require them to stay on campus. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that it costs a single student an average of tens of thousands of dollars to have school-related housing, for both public and private institutions.

While your financial aid and the scholarships you receive can help you offset these expenses, where you end up living can greatly influence your college experience. There are a variety of factors outside of cost to consider when deciding on your living situation as a student, so make the best choice for yourself as we explore the housing options you have in college.

Choosing to live at home with your family while attending college on campus liberates you from the expenses living by yourself or with roommates brings. Commuter students travel to attend classes during the day and then return back to their place of residence afterwards.

Commuting is only applicable if you are attending a school near you, and you have reliable transportation to and from the campus. By staying with your family, you have greater flexibility relating to rent, food, and utility cost.

Consequently, you have to set aside money for gas or transportation, and you may have trouble getting the so-called “college experience.” This is because you are restricted by the amount of celebratory events and activities you can participate in because of your commuting schedule.

Commuting requires you to stay on a strict schedule so you can get to your classes on time and attend any extracurriculars you are involved in before making your trip back home by the end of the day. Making friends with your peers and immersing yourself fully in your college community can be slightly more difficult because you are only on campus for a certain amount of time.

You will need to go out of your way to make the time you do have on campus matter. Developing strong relationships with faculty members and classmates can make your college life more enjoyable.

Consider joining clubs and societies that can work with your schedule, as well as creating study groups with your classmates so you can help feel more connected with your school and your peers. 

To Dorm Or Not To Dorm?

Dormitories and residential halls are housing spaces provided by universities and where many freshmen live in their first year of college. Unlike dorms, residential halls are meant to be more communal spaces for students and faculty to live closer together.

In both, you usually live with at least one additional student in a two bedroom suite or double rooms, with larger campuses even having triple rooms. A few colleges such as the University of Virginia provide single bedroom options for freshmen with shared living and bathroom spaces.

Other colleges only reserve single rooms for upperclassmen and students with special accommodations. Students are commonly assigned to a dorm building at random, at least during their first year, with more flexibility in choosing afterwards.

For roommates, different universities give students the opportunity to pick them either through a separate online portal or questionnaires to complete the summer before the semester begins. Consider browsing social media pages created for students of your class year to meet and find a roommate there.

Today, an abundance of schools have coed dorm buildings or separate floors where students of the opposite genders are able to cohabitate together by sharing common areas and bathrooms while living in same gender bedrooms. Schools like the University of Connecticut have Gender Inclusive Programs as options for students to live with any individual, regardless of gender identity.

Structurally, dorm buildings are designed to make you feel comfortable. Separate housing for students with families and those who are veterans are all options at some colleges meant to ensure your success as a student regardless of your circumstances.

Another way the universities ensure this is by training designated students, known as residential advisors, to oversee the safety of the other students living in dorms and residential halls. Residential advisors are there to enforce the rules of the building, which can vary depending on the school, the dorm, and the residential advisor when it comes to inviting guests, hours that you can be active, and having certain room decor.

It is essential to look into the individual policies that colleges have regarding on-campus living and the accommodations available before applying and committing to a college if you have any concerns about living on campus.

Renting an apartment brings you greater freedom than living in a dorm.  Your university may have school-affiliated apartments specifically for students to live in or apartments not associated with your school and that are near the campus.

Either way, renting an apartment is a big responsibility as it requires you to pay for utilities that would have already been provided if you lived in a dorm room, such as electricity, water, WiFi, etc. These expenses are not fixed and can increase or decrease based on your usage.

You will also need to pay for a security deposit which covers any damages done to your apartment, and you’ll need to search for your own roommate if you can’t afford to live alone.

It’s important to know that while you also must abide by the rules and regulations of a landlord you still have legal rights as a renter, so make sure you know them to ensure your living space is worth what you are paying. Nevertheless, you generally have more independence residing in an apartment.

Wherever you decide to live, make sure to speak with your school housing representatives to know what support and resources you have for living on or off campus, and don’t be afraid to change your housing plans to suit your needs as a student.

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Author: Sophia Bangura

Virtual High School '22 read, write, repeat (in that order)!