On-campus vs. off-campus living: What will you choose?

What living situation is best for you?

Choosing where to live when going to school might seem like a no-brainer. All the movies and TV shows make college living look like the dream, whether students are in a killer dorm or in a super nice off-campus apartment. But what is it really like?  Living on- or off-campus in reality has some perks and some not-so-perky sides, too. Check out some of the pros and cons here.

Pros of on-campus living

Being close to your classes and on-campus activities. When you live on campus, everything you need to do for the day could be steps away from your bed. You can sleep in a little bit knowing that it won’t take you long to get to where you need to be.

Access to campus amenities. Campuses typically have laundry facilities, a gym, different study lounges, and more for students to take advantage of. If you live on-campus, using these amenities is way easier for you than if you lived off-campus.

Meal plans. Many students are required to have a meal plan if they live on-campus, and that can take a lot of the guesswork out of where all your meals will come from. With tons of options to choose from, meal plans can ensure that you’re fueled up all day long.

Socializing with friends. A lot of people tend to live on-campus, and it’s easier to hang out with everyone when they’re all in one, centralized place. You can also get involved with campus clubs and organizations—this is a super easy way to make friends with similar hobbies and interests.

Security. College campuses typically have around-the-clock security to help keep students safe, which is something you can feel good about. Some campuses also have blue light emergency phone systems, which are blue poles with phones located in certain areas of a campus. These allow you to call campus security directly if you need help wherever you are.

Cons of on-campus living

Cost. Room and board isn’t cheap, with average costs ranging from $11,000 to $32,000 a year.footnote 1 You also have to pay for all of the campus amenities whether you use them or not. Schools often have fees you need to pay to help them with other costs of running the school, so living on-campus can rack up a pretty hefty bill.

Roommates. Gone are the days of retreating to your bedroom to be alone at the end of a long day. If you’re lucky, you might get a single dorm room to yourself, but most students have to share. A lack of privacy and needing to be considerate of another person’s schedule and wishes can be a lot to take on. It can be overwhelming to constantly share a space with someone else, especially if you don’t get along with your roommates.

No choice on where to live. As you become an upperclassman, you might get more privileges when it comes to what building or room type you want to live in on campus. However, for most students, it’s up to a lottery or some other system. You can offer your preferences, but at the end of the day, your living situation will be chosen for you.

Difficulty focusing on studying. Dorms are known for being loud spaces. Some students respect the fact that people need quiet to study or sleep, but let’s face it—plenty of students don’t think about that at all. It can be hard to concentrate on schoolwork when there’s loud music or conversations happening in the room or down the hall.

Pros of off-campus living

More space. Off-campus housing can give you more living space, a bigger kitchen, and more room for your belongings. You also won’t have to share a bathroom with the entire dorm floor—no more shower shoes and lugging a caddy around!

More privacy. If you’re living alone or with a select few roommates, you’re more likely to have alone time and peace and quiet. It’s perfect for when you need to focus on studying or for when you just want to take a good nap.

Independence. Living off-campus without any supervision or campus rules to follow can be super freeing. You can do whatever you want (laws permitting, of course).

More choices on where you can live. You get to decide where you want to go if you live off-campus. This can give you endless options on location and housing type. You also won’t have to pack up and leave during school breaks or at the end of the academic year.

Can be less expensive overall. You won’t have to pay for a meal plan or pay a fixed cost for a dorm if you live off-campus. You can choose to live alone or with roommates to split costs, and you can pick housing that you know you can afford.

Cons of off-campus living

Distance from campus. Living off-campus means that you’re a commuter student. Can you walk to campus? Will you need to invest in a public transportation pass or your own car? Can you pay for car maintenance, gas, and insurance?

More responsibilities. You’ll be responsible for everything if you choose to live off-campus. Buying groceries, paying for electricity, Internet, and water, and any other bills are now your job to take care of. If you fall behind on bills, you can get evicted or have your utilities cut off. You’ll have to cook and clean up after yourself. These are all a part of being an adult, but you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for these responsibilities if you choose to live off-campus.

FOMO. You might be wondering what everyone on campus is doing or feeling like you’re missing out on social events. You could struggle with a sense of belonging if you don’t spend much time on campus. If you don’t have a solid friend group, living off-campus could feel isolating.

Can feel more expensive in the moment. You might have to pay first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit right away—this can feel like a ton of money to drop in a very short amount of time. You also might need to buy new furniture, home décor, groceries, and everything else you’ll need. That number can hurt your pockets for a while.

Make a home wherever you roam

From my experience, dorm living can be a lot of fun, and it’s a new experience if you’ve never shared a room with another person before. Off-campus living is also great, and it could be the first time you’ll live alone. No matter what choice you make, make the best of it, and create your college home.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote 1. https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-college

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