Living on campus vs. living off campus


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One of the most exciting parts of heading off to college for many students is living on their own for the first time. Whether that be in a freshman dorm, an on-campus apartment, or in their very own off-campus living space.

Some students may even choose to live at home during some or all of their college years. Leaving home, not having to follow their parent’s rules, and living amongst countless other coeds is undeniably exciting.

There’s no wrong answer about where to live in college as this is a highly personal decision. That being said, to gain a better understanding of the general pros and cons of living on-campus vs off-campus, keep reading!

Related: Do
student loans count as income?


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Pros of Living On Campus

Students dream of the day they’ll pack their bags and begin their new life at college and a major part of that fantasy involves living on campus. Fair enough! Living in a freshman dorm with hoards of other students the same age or making new friends in a sorority house can be really fun. There are some benefits of living on campus that are hard to deny.

Generally, arranging on campus housing is relatively easy, especially for freshmen who may be more likely to get a spot, or may be required to live on-campus. Unlike apartment hunting, which can be time consuming and challenging, living on campus can be a more straightforward arrangement and there are generally additional resources provided for students in on-campus housing.

For example, there is generally a RA (Resident Advisor/Assistant) that can answer any questions and help resolve conflicts with roommates. Plus RA’s may run programming for the floor, or dorm, to encourage community and help students meet each other.

Typically students living in on-campus housing can also purchase a meal plan, which means they don’t need to find time to grocery shop or cook meals when they should be cramming for finals.

Living on campus also means students are conveniently close to all of the resources provided by their school. Of course, they can get to class quickly, but they’ll also have easy access to on campus dining, gyms and fitness centers, the health center, libraries and student recreation centers. Attending on campus events, rushing to office hours after class and sleeping in is a lot easier when living on campus.

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Cons of Living On Campus

While very convenient and exciting in many ways, on campus housing has its downsides. One of the most notorious cons of living on campus is that some schools may not allow first-year students to choose their roommate.

While some schools try to match students based on their preferences (night owl vs early birds or clean vs messy), sometimes, getting an assigned roommate that is truly a good fit comes down to luck.

Roommate pairings can go so right (best friends for life) or so wrong (passive aggressiveness). Having a messy or noisy roommate can add to stress during an already challenging stage of life.

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Pros of Living Off Campus

Thanks to Hollywood’s imagination and penchant for movies about wild college lifestyles, it’s easy to picture living in dormitories or on Greek row as the must-have college experience. But there are actually some benefits associated with living off-campus.

Some students may greatly appreciate having a bit of separation from their school life and their personal life, especially as they inch closer to graduation and they begin to plan their transition to the post-college era.

One major benefit of living off campus is the potential to save some money on living expenses and to have some extra flexibility. Living off-campus can be cheaper than living on campus depending on factors like where the college is located and how close to campus the house is located.

Students may also save money on room and board if they are able to live with a family member or rent a room in a house with multiple roommates, instead of getting their own apartment. Being able to cook their own meals in lieu of a meal plan could also potentially help them cut costs. It may take some number crunching to determine which option — on or off-campus — is cheaper for you.

Another factor to consider is the lease on off-campus housing. Students who are renting an apartment or house may be required to sign a 12-month lease as opposed to on campus housing which generally runs in tandem with the school’s schedule. 

This could be considered a pro in some cases, for example, if you plan to stay in your college town full year pursuing internships or research opportunities or your hometown is so far away that you cannot go home frequently. It could end up being a con if you are on the hook for a lease when you don’t actually need to be in town.

Aside from moving inconveniences, there are a lot of other day-to-day hassles of living on campus, including: having to follow campus rules, dealing with fire alarm drills and not being able to choose a roommate.

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Cons of Living Off Campus

In many ways, living off-campus can offer students more flexibility, but it can be a hassle. One example of this is that the student may have to commute.

While some students may be able to find off-campus housing within walking distance to school, others may have to drive. This brings its own set of complications, such as traffic and parking on some college campuses can be expensive and competitive.

A commute may also make it less appealing to participate in on campus events and take advantage of campus amenities like gyms, health centers and libraries.

Spending time with friends may also take more coordination than just walking down the hall and saying hey. Students who live on campus, and without a car, can also cut costs by not having to pay for car costs like gas, insurance, vehicle registration, maintenance, and parking passes.

When it comes to living in off campus housing, many students may also not be prepared to take on the responsibilities of adult living. 

While each student’s living situation will vary depending on their specific housing arrangements, many can expect to cook more, clean more and be more responsible for properly maintaining their off campus housing. And if they’re having issues with their roommate, there is no RA to help them clear the air.

Not to mention, they may find it challenging to secure a responsible and respectful roommate who will pay their fair share of rent and utilities on time. Some students simply may not be ready to face all of the very adult challenges of truly living on their own.

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Keeping School Requirements In Mind

At the end of the day, there is no “best” choice for a college living arrangement. There are so many variables such as the school’s location, the student’s priorities and personality, and how much each option will cost.

One caveat is that some students may not have a choice about whether they live on campus or not. Some colleges and universities require their students to live on campus for a certain amount of years. This is a more common requirement for freshman students as colleges want them to integrate into campus life and feel engaged and supported.

If a student does not want to live on campus, despite there being a requirement to do so, it’s worth seeing if the school allows students to petition to live off campus.

Allowances are sometimes made for those whose families live nearby, students who have health issues, and even students with specific dietary requirements that can’t be met easily through on campus dining options.

On the other end of the spectrum, some colleges only guarantee housing on-campus for a certain number of years, resulting in students living off campus at one time or another.

Some colleges and universities provide online resources and other information for students who are interested in living off campus. These resources can help students find housing and make the transition to off campus housing a bit easier.

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Financing College Life

Regardless of where you live, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for it. Some students may be able to use the financial aid they receive to help pay for their room and board.

Scholarships may have restrictions on how they can be used, and room and board or rent may not be eligible expenses. Review the details of specific scholarships to understand what costs they can help fiance. Student loans can be used to pay for room and board as well.

There are two types of student loans that may be available to collegiates and their families: private and federal student loans.

There are two main differences (and many smaller ones) between private and federal student loans, the main difference being where they come from. Federal student loans come from the United States government and private loans can be obtained from private lenders such as banks, credit unions, and select state-based or state-affiliated organizations.

For federal loans, the government has set very specific terms and they are followed to the letter of the law. Private lenders however set their own terms and interest rates and repayment plans vary based on the lender. 

Federal students loans have certain benefits that private loans may not offer, such as fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans. Typically, private loans are more expensive than federal ones.

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