To Dorm or Not to Dorm? A Look at On-Campus and Off-Campus Housing
Starting college, whether as a first-time student or a returning upperclassman, ushers in decisions regarding housing. Since where and how you live directly impacts your overall college experience, all students should dedicate time to learning more about the place they’ll call home for the next year or more.
For incoming students, dorms are generally a given as most schools require freshmen to live on campus. But finding out the name and location of the dorm isn’t all there is to it. Dorm life is its own world within the college experience, and each one has different requirements, amenities, pros, and cons.
Likewise, students planning to leave campus life for the first time should put in due diligence to research off-campus housing. Many universities have departments dedicated to helping make the transition easier, and of course parents are a great resource for support in making the right decision.
Approaching the upcoming school year armed with knowledge is one way to ease concerns for both students and parents alike. When it comes to on- and off-campus living, what does each have to offer?
Let’s dig in.
Dorm Life: Why It’s Beneficial
Dorm life is among the top benefits college has to offer new students. Since many dorms are made up entirely of freshmen, they’re an easy place to meet peers and become fast friends.
But there are other valid reasons many schools require freshmen to live on campus. According to Tracy Shipp, marketing and outreach coordinator for residence life at University of Memphis, when students stay on campus after class, they have more opportunity to build and maintain connections through these avenues:
- Utilizing campus resources (e.g., dining halls, student union, libraries, special events, etc.)
- Getting involved in student activities (e.g., student government, extracurricular groups, sports)
- Forming invaluable relationships with other students, mentors, and residence-life staff
Over the past decade or so, college housing has undergone a transformation. At many schools, decades-old towering brick buildings with shared bedrooms and communal baths are now outshone by contemporary structures that boast an apartment-like experience. Some of the newest offerings are more like small communities complete with convenience stores, WIFI cafes, and various entertainment options. Safety is also a factor, with secure buildings and residence-life staff monitoring student behavior.
More than ever, on-campus living is not only practical but also attractive. In line with the changing times, schools are also creating what Shipp calls a 360-degree experience for on-campus living, offering “programming in the residence halls that supports academic achievement, fosters personal development, and promotes college success,” in turn increasing “the likelihood that students stay and graduate.”
While ease largely defines on-campus living, there are certain constraints:
- Rules for visitors
- Lack of parking (for students who choose to bring cars)
- Limitations on decorating
- Restrictions regarding noise and cooking
The Case for Off-Campus Living: What Students Can Expect
After the first year or two of on-campus living — building relationships, taking advantage of programs, enjoying life without utility bills! — students are ready to take that next step. Making the transition to independent living is an exhilarating part of the college experience. Gone are the rules of residence life.
Off campus, students have a plethora of new freedoms:
- Come and go as they please
- Play music as loud as they want (neighbor complaints notwithstanding)
- Cook when they want
- Have a pet
- Set up an outdoor space to enjoy in nice weather
- Have friends over at any time of day
Independent living is a whole new world, and while students are high on excitement, university officials are behind the scenes making sure to prepare them for what lies ahead.
At Ohio University in Athens, prepping students for off-campus living is a priority. “Our role as off campus living staff at Ohio University is to assist students in developing critical life skills while they are living independently on their own perhaps for the very first time,“ said Barbara Harrison, assistant director at the Campus Involvement Center for Off Campus Living and Community Engagement.
Harrison stresses the importance of being prepared for the big move. Part of her job is to provide helpful advice for students, and her strongest suggestion is to research the landlord or property management company, including “conducting a search on your town’s municipal court website to find out if your property owner has been the defendant in any recent court cases. It will also list the outcome.” That’s a great piece of advice to avoid a potentially stressful living situation.
One of the most important pieces of the big picture is choosing a roommate, as most students don’t choose to live alone, at least not right away. Compatibility will come in handy when it comes to tackling the responsibilities of living in an apartment or a house, which can include:
- Bills, like rent, utilities, and groceries
- Cleaning and upkeep, like light bulbs, HVAC filters, toiletries, and possibly yard maintenance
- Parking concerns, like available spaces and fees for neighborhood passes
- Safety measures, like proper locks (also making sure to use them!) and outdoor lighting for nighttime
Finally, choose your neighborhood wisely. The area you call home will have an impact on your day-to-day life. It’ll be helpful to consider a handful of variables, including noise level (e.g., a quiet family neighborhood vs. a livelier, student-populated one); access to shopping, like grocery or drug stores; availability of off-street parking; and safety. All in all, your neighborhood should contribute to making off-campus living an exciting new adventure!
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