Loving College Life: The On- and Off-Campus Experience


Housing is one of the most basic needs you have as a college undergrad or graduate student, but you have options about where to go. Generally, you can live either on or off campus, based on your budget, needs and personal preferences. Which you pick has a huge effect on the overall experience you get through your academic journey. Here are a few factors to think about when you consider whether to live on or off campus.


If you opt for on-campus housing in the dorms, you likely will be assigned at least one roommate. It’s standard for you to have to share your bedroom as well as a common living space, but some colleges are set up to offer more privacy, with each student getting their own bedroom. The majority of institutions allow you to submit a roommate request if you know someone you’d like to live with, but there might be stipulations, such as not living with someone of the opposite gender. If you go off campus, you can have your entire apartment to yourself if you want. For some students, this is essential, as the added privacy and quiet helps them feel comfortable and study. If you decide to get a roommate—a great way to lower your rent and other utility costs—you can screen them yourself to find someone you think you’ll get along well with.


Most college dorms are overseen by resident advisors (RAs), who enforce rules about quiet times, use of common laundry or kitchen areas, visitors and so forth. Additionally, because you share space or other resources with your roommate(s), you cannot always complete tasks or entertain yourself in the way you want. By contrast, if you find an off-campus property you do not have anyone watching over you the way an RA would. As long as you abide by the general rules stated in your lease, you can do what you like when you please, such as cooking, watching television or staying out later. The added freedom, however, might come at the expense of lower security. Your apartment complex, for instance, might not have campus police regularly patrolling or someone posted inside your entrance at night.


Off-campus housing is often cheaper than opting for a dorm room, but not always. The cost of utilities the university normally includes, such as Internet and electricity, quickly can bump up the price of having an apartment, and you also must factor in the added cost of gas or public transportation fees with your commute. Some students find they save money living off campus because they can choose their own types and quantities of groceries, avoiding meal plans that tend to be inflated in cost. One other big consideration here is that, when you live on campus, you generally don’t have to deal with utility or other providers yourself—the college does that for you after you pay your semester or annual fees. With an apartment, you must shoulder more responsibility. You usually have recurring payments every month involving many providers. You must keep track of and handle these on your own, so budgeting becomes more critical. Dorm living also doesn’t help establish your credit and rental history the way living off campus does.

Meeting Others

Almost all colleges provide some opportunities for students to meet and interact with each other, but the culture from college to college can be very different. For instance, in a smaller college, the student body might provide good opportunities to socialize but be very closely knit, lacking a broader view of the town or city. In this type of situation, living off campus can expose you to other opportunities in the area where you can meet people who don’t necessarily fit the campus demographics. By contrast, if your college is very large, there might be more than enough diversity to challenge you right on campus. Off-campus housing might mean you have to work harder to stay connected with your campus friends or groups.

As a college student, you can choose to live on or off campus. Both of these options provide very different experiences and have their own unique advantages and drawbacks. The majority of students who live in the dorms find dorm life invigorating and positive with some minor difficulties, often because of roommate conflicts or general noise. Those who opt for off-campus housing usually have few regrets and concentrate well, but not everyone is ready for the added adult responsibilities having their own place requires. If you’re still not sure whether to live on campus or in your own place, it’s a good idea to talk to others at the college you’re considering. They likely will have insights specific to the institution that others might not.


Thomas Browne is a property consultant and a Dad of 2 older teens. He has recently been exposed to the college housing issue and enjoys blogging on these topics. See FrankInnes for more college/university housing options. 

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