When you’re elbow-deep in SAT prep, college searches, and FAFSA forms, it’s sort of easy to neglect a really important decision about your time in college:
Where are you going to live?The good news is that you have options. A lot of options. Colleges are getting increasingly creative about the kinds of housing choices they offer students, and different schools will offer different choices in where you’ll lay your head after classes are done for the day. It’s no longer a question of just “Do I live in a dorm?” or “Do I live at home?”
To help you figure out what kind of housing situation makes sense for you, we’ve put together a list of some of the pros and cons for different living scenarios. But remember, these are just a start: it’s important to talk to current students to find out about their experiences.
A really big draw of living in dormitories is the “built in” social life. You’ll be living alongside a lot of other students—your roommate(s), your floor mates—many of whom will also be first-year freshmen. Most dorms sponsor different activities, like group movie or game nights, to help everyone meet each other.
Dorms are generally located on campus, or at least nearby. This means you’ll be close to your classes, the library, the student union, and places to eat. Some even have built-in dining halls or cafeterias, while others have small convenience marts.
A lot of dormitories also feature on-site laundry facilities, fitness centers, lounges, and computer labs. When you’re exhausted after a full day of studying, the convenience of having these amenities close by can’t be overstated.
Finally, living in the dorms is sometimes considered part of the “classic” college experience, at least for your first year or two. If this is the kind of experience you’re looking for, living in on-campus housing may play a big role in shaping that.
Like we noted earlier, you’ll be living alongside a lot of other students. If you’re an introvert, this could be overwhelming. Social life varies from dorm-to-dorm, too; make sure you know ahead of time if a particular dorm building is considered the “party dorm,” since this will be a distraction. Also keep in mind that, in some dormitories, bathroom facilities are shared—you could end up sharing a sink with 20 or more other students.
Your first year, you may be subject to “roommate roulette” and have to share your room with one or more strangers. Obviously, this could go either way—you could make some new friends, or you could be running as fast as you can to the RA to ask for a new room assignment next semester. This also means you might have to forfeit some privacy if you’re sharing cramped quarters.
On-campus housing can be expensive at some universities, and if you want a larger dorm or a space all to yourself, that’s going to make your rent costs go up. You also might be at the mercy of on-campus dining options, unless you can get creative with your microwave.
Some colleges are now offering suite-style housing, which more closely resemble apartments than the traditional dormitory. These housing units typically offer larger living spaces with private bedrooms—and sometimes bathrooms—that give a greater sense of independence while still providing the conveniences that come with living on campus. Typically, these housing options also come with full kitchens in each unit.
You may or may not have roommate(s), but you also may not live in such close quarters. You’ll still share the building with other students, so you’re still likely to get invites to house activity nights and have opportunities to make friends and network with other students.
A lot of the same cons that apply to dorm life can also apply to suite-style housing. If you don’t like your roommate(s), you may have to take steps for a new room assignment. If your housing bloc is loud, you may find it hard to study.
Depending on the school, suite-style housing can also come with a bigger price tag than traditional dorms—with all the added amenities and living space, you could be looking at a higher rent, especially if you choose to live by yourself in a single.
Living off campus in an apartment comes with a lot of independence. You’ll have your own room. You can choose who you want to live with—if anyone. You’re responsible only to yourself (well, and your landlord). This can be a huge draw if you’re big on privacy and protecting your “me” time.
You’ll also have more options if you look off campus for housing. Maybe you want a really modern one bedroom in a complex with a pool. Or maybe you want a stylish studio with character in a historic neighborhood. This can free up a lot of options with layout, size, rent, and amenities.
The trouble with being responsible only for yourself is that it comes with a ton of responsibilities. Rent, utilities, furniture, food—these are all on you if you choose to live off campus.
That extra bit of freedom also sometimes comes with a steeper price tag. When you factor in groceries, internet, TV, gas, heating, and electric, you may end up spending a lot more each month living on your own than you would on campus.
Finally, living off campus means you lose the convenience of being close to your classes, the library, and other sites you’ll be visiting often. Are you willing to walk, bike, or drive across town every day?
Living at Home
It’s free! (Unless they ask you to pay rent, of course.)
Living at home means you don’t have to worry about roommates—well, other than your family, but at least they won’t be strangers. You also probably won’t have to worry too much about meal plans or utilities.
You can save a lot of money by living at home, which may dramatically reduce your overall college expenditures and lessen your student debt when you graduate.
Since you’re not living on campus or nearby, you may miss out on a lot of the social aspects of college—the activity nights, the floor-versus-floor games, and the new friends you might make.
You’ll also be farther away from your classes, so you’ll still have to factor in your commute. Again, ask yourself: am I willing to walk/bike/drive to class every single day?
If you’re still not sure which option feels right to you, a campus tour is a great way to get a better feel for what the housing at your school is like. You can tour the facilities, talk with current students about their experiences, and compare housing costs between different options.
Planning a campus visit? Don’t forget the College Visit Checklist
If you’re starting to schedule college visits, make sure to download the College Visit Checklist. It’s packed with questions to ask and things to do besides the “official” campus tour (like ask to see student housing not shown to you on the tour).