Whether you’re an incoming freshman or a seasoned college student, making the choice between living on or off campus can be daunting and confusing. There is no one right way for everyone, and you really do need to take into consideration all of the pros and cons before doing the math for yourself. We’re here to walk you through those pros and cons… sorry, you’ve got to do the math yourself.
- Pros of on-campus living
- Cons of on-campus living
- Pros of off-campus life
- Cons of commuting to campus
Pros of living on campus
For most college students, living on campus is their first experience with living on their own-- away from Mom and Dad and other parental figures. Moving out completely on your own is scary, and living on campus ensures a measure of security and support that is a great transition to go through before living off campus.
First of all, living on campus means that you’re never completely alone. You have Resident Life, RA’s and GRA’s and your fellow dorm-mates to support you through anything you may experience. You have a lock on your door with limited key access and you need your student ID to access the building. Security guards regularly patrol the area and buildings to keep you and everyone else safe. You won’t have those things if you life off-campus.
Living on campus also puts you smack in the middle of the whole college experience. You’re right there where all the action is happening, and you don’t have to worry about transportation to and from home for campus events that run late or take place after classes. Your professors are close by and your classes are a hop, skip and a jump away from your dorm. You’re also able to access campus services in a flash, including the nurse, library, and computer labs.
You’ll also be living closer to your friends. This harkens back somewhat to the support system we references earlier, but having your friends close by makes a huge difference in the college experience. These are the people with whom you take classes, attend study groups and eat lunch (and sometimes dinner). Sure, texting and chat rooms exist, but they’re a poor substitute for real-life interaction. On-campus friends provide you with an anchor to school life that your family just can’t substitute.
Cons of living on campus
There are some cons to living on campus. Namely, the cost. Living on campus costs money, and how much and how it compares to off-campus rent varies from place to place. To figure this out, you’ll need to do a little bit of math-- but remember to include the cost of any utilities not included in rent, plus the cost of off-campus food. You can still have a meal plan if you live off-campus, but the majority of your food will be from your kitchen.
Also, keep in mind that while off-campus rentals (or living at home) has its own stipulations, living on campus does have a unique set of rules and regulations to which you must adhere. For example, most college dorms do not allow coffee pots, candles, or clothes irons in the dorm rooms due to electrical fire concerns.
There are other rules, too, that may not set well with you. Most first-year students have limits placed on overnight guests, and most colleges do not have enough parking to allow non-commuting students to keep their cars on campus. Some sororities and fraternities have separate houses with parking, but some don’t. Quiet hours are enforced-- especially around final exams-- and let’s not forget the mandatory fire drills, regardless of time or weather.
We should also point out that not everyone wants roommates, and not everyone will get along with their pre-selected roomie. Many first-year college students will be forced to live with one or more roommates, and the opportunities for single-person dorm rooms vary greatly from college to college.
Other rules and regulations will also change from place to place, so be sure to check out the whole list with Resident Life. If possible, try to do an overnight stay before you commit to choosing the dorm life or commuter life-- it won’t give you the whole picture, but it will give you a better sense of how dorm life operates.
Pros of living at home
Dorothy had a point-- there really is no place like home! There are some serious pros to commuting from home, so let’s take a fair shot at exploring them. First of all, you save so much money! Especially in an age where financial aid leaves most students swimming in debt for years, saving money any which way you can is crucial to making those loan and scholarship dollars stretch to their limits. Talk to your folks about whether or not you need to pay rent-- it’s the adult thing to do, people!-- and compare it to the cost of living on campus. Chances are, even if you’re paying rent at home it’s less than the cost of living on campus. You might need to pick up a part-time job to pay for home-rent, unless you and your folks agree to a different exchange.
You’re also closer to your family this way, so you’re less likely to miss out on crucial family time and support. Let’s face it-- nobody gives hugs like your family when you need one! And if you get sick, you’re closer to parental loving care. Speaking of emergencies, you’ll also be on hand to help out during times of distress.
College is a time when it’s common to start to lose family members to old age and such, so staying home can give you more time with them before they go. In many cases, it’s easier to deal with the loss of a loved one if you’ve had the opportunity to say goodbye. There’s also less guilt-- a common emotion after a family loss.
On a lighter note, one of the biggest complaints about the college experience probably doesn’t exist at home-- lack of good food! Most colleges have a cafeteria, and many of them have food courts similar to those in a mall. Cafeteria food is notorious for being questionable at best, and it’s hard to eat well at a food court. Eating at home gives you more control over the quality of your diet and allows you to customize your eating schedule with more flexibility. So if you’re hungry at midnight, the kitchen is still open, willing and able to serve!
Last and certainly not least, let’s talk laundry. Unless your house doesn’t have its own washer and dryer-- or if you’re living in your own apartment-- doing laundry at home in much cheaper than doing it on campus. Methods of paying for laundry vary from college to college-- some still rely on quarters, while others swipe a card or charge a monthly fee-- but its nearly always cheaper per load to do it at home.
Cons of living at home & commuting
Now let’s take an honest look at the cons of living at home and commuting to college. We think the first one is obvious:
Whether you have your own car, carpool, use ridesharing, or public transportation, your commute will cost you time and money. What you save on living at home you could-- depending on the cost of your primary transportation method-- be spending (or more) on your commute. Your commute also costs you time that you could be spending on homework, especially if you live in a city and are stuck in traffic or so squashed on the bus you start to envy sardines.
We haven’t even touched parking. Parking on campus comes at a premium-- there is only so much space to go around, so it’s first-come first-served. What if you can’t find a spot? Then you have to find off-campus parking-- which carries the risk of parking tickets and theft-- and hike back to school.
Living off-campus also limits your independence and ability to participate in on-campus activities, especially over weekends. Family members don’t always respect your time and space to do homework, and living at home tempts them to continue treating you the same way they did in high school. They may still expect you to behave and participate in family events as if you’re not in loaded with papers and reading and homework. The average college student receives around three hours of homework per hour spent in class-- will your family be able to understand and respect the type of time and environment you’ll need to get all of that done?
You’ll also be tempted to postpone some personal growth out of sheer convenience-- again, this part varies from home to home, as some parents encourage more independence than others. For example, if your mother has always done your laundry, it will come as quite a shock when you move out after college and need to juggle that on top of grocery shopping, graduate school or work. If someone is always asking you if you’ve done your homework, you don’t exactly learn how to prioritize assignments and chunk your homework time to avoid burnout. College professors don’t care if your dog really did eat your homework-- you’d better remember on your own to create a back-up for it.
Deciding whether to live on or off campus-- or at home-- is not an easy choice for most college students, regardless of what year they’re attending. The best advice we have is to examine the pros and cons of each, and do your research on the cost of living for each. Then take into account your own personal growth and needs. We’re confident that with an honest approach and some number-crunching, you’ll make the best choice for yourself.
And remember… it’s just for one semester at a time. You can always change your mind next semester, and change it back the next!
Which do you plan to do-- live on campus or at home? Why? What factors helped you make the decision, and how is it working out for you?