Choosing Where to Live
Choosing Where to Live
Vasin Lee /

Where you live—and with whom—plays a vital role in your satisfaction with your college career. Your home should be a place where you can rest, relax, study, feel safe, and be productive and happy. You might find that place on campus or you might decide to consider off-campus housing or living at home. Find out what options are available at your school, and then learn about the pros and cons of each option here.

Living On Campus

Do I have the option to live on campus?

It is important to note that many four-year institutions require first-year students to live on campus. Some expect sophomores or certain scholarship recipients to do so as well. Commuter schools, on the other hand, have no on-campus housing options. You may be required to arrange your own housing if you choose a community college, vocational school, or online college. Don’t be caught off guard by these policies. If you have your heart set on living on campus during college, it’s a good idea to research a school’s housing requirements before you accept an admissions offer.

  • Does the school offer on-campus housing?
  • Are you required to live on campus? If so, which years?
  • Are there multiple options for on-campus housing (e.g., dorms, suites, townhouses, gender-neutral housing, etc.)? Can you pick your preferences?
  • Can you request a certain roommate? Can you request multiple roommates?
  • Is a meal plan required for students who live on campus?

What are the benefits of living on campus?

  • Location: On a college campus, everything you need is just around the corner. You’re close to events, classes, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of new people. No car is necessary when you can walk everywhere or when there’s a campus-sponsored bus system to take you from one side of campus to the other.
  • Productivity: When you live within a five-minute walk of the library, you have more time to spend on your schoolwork than you would if you lived an hour away. Instead of spending hours on the road each semester, put your time to good use.
  • Integration: By living so close to campus events and other students, you’re part of the fabric of your college. Living on campus helps you feel connected and stay in the loop. Your social life will benefit when you create a close-knit group of friends on campus. Instead of planning all of your social events ahead of time, you have the freedom to spontaneously get a cup of coffee or go for a run with friends.
  • Community: Not only will you be part of the campus community, but you will also be part of your housing community. If you decide to live in single-gender housing, honors student housing, or LGBT+ housing, you will be surrounded by a community of like-minded students. If you elect to live in one of the many residence halls instead of housing affiliated with a specific group, you will still have a residential assistant who works to build community on each floor and throughout the dorm as a whole.
  • Homework help: You have the flexibility to drop by your professor’s office hours or hold an emergency study session with your classmate who lives down the hall. When you have more contact with your learning environment, you can ask more questions and get answers quickly.
  • Food: Meal plans are always available to students who live on campus. Choose from hundreds of dining options and never worry about cooking or grocery shopping.
  • Saving money: Cut down on gas by enjoying the free recreational activities offered to you by your college. Check out that clothing swap, movie night in the quad, or student theater performance. You’ll save more than gas money, too; you’re not paying any bills outside of room and board. What you pay is already inclusive of internet, electricity, water, etc.
  • Safety: Everyone has your back, including campus police, desk attendants, security cameras, roommates, and residential assistants. In an emergency scenario, at least one person can get you the help you need.
  • Transition to independence: If your first year of college coincides with your first year living away from your parents, you might enjoy on-campus housing as you transition into independence.
  • Academic boost: A comparison of Kent State University freshmen who lived on campus and who lived off campus from 2012 to 2016 found that those who lived on campus had higher first semester GPAs and were more likely to return to school the next semester than those who lived off campus.
  • Convenience: Whether you live next door to the library or the dining hall, you can’t knock the convenience factor. You have access to friends and classmates who also live on campus at all hours, you don’t have to drive home after a long night in the library, and your meals are served to you. You won’t find anything quite like that if you live off campus or at home.

What are the downsides to living on campus?

  • The cost of room and board: Room and board is not cheap, and many students can find off-campus housing that is more affordable and more comfortable than a dorm room.
  • Small rooms. Dorm rooms aren’t know for being luxurious. Rooms are small, and unless you get really lucky, you’re probably sharing the space with at least one other person. With small rooms come small beds, so if you can’t sleep on anything smaller than a queen mattress, you may want to rethink living on campus.
  • Monotony: When the novelty wears off, campus life can seem tired and stifling. You may get bored of being around the same people, going to similar events, and spending most of your time on campus.
  • No kitchen: It’s challenging to cook for yourself when you share a communal stove with an entire dorm. Other students may fail to clean up after themselves or decide to snack on the food you keep in the fridge.
  • Lack of privacy. Many dorm bathrooms are communal, and at some schools, bathrooms are gender-neutral. If you’re uncomfortable sharing a bathroom (not to mention a bedroom) with other people, on-campus living may be hard for you.
  • Overstimulation: You’re sharing a building with dozens, maybe a couple of hundred, others. Friends knock on the door at all hours of the day. When walking down the hall, you can hear parties, band practices, and gossip about everyone on your floor.
  • Inconsiderate residents: Not everyone is considerate. People may kick over the trash can when they’re running through the halls. Others don’t clean the bathroom sinks after they shave their beards or dye their hair. At the end of the semester, most colleges will charge you for dorm damages. If a window breaks, for example, and the school doesn’t know who threw the rock at it, everyone in the dorm could have to split the cost to replace it.
  • School bubble: You’re in the middle of the on-campus social scene but disconnected from off-campus happenings. The real world can feel out of reach. You may get tired of constantly running into the same people or eating the same food.
  • Car ownership: Having a car on campus is a struggle. Some universities do not allow freshmen to bring vehicles while others stick first-year students with faraway parking spots. Your classmates may ask you for rides to the grocery store or airport. You can say no, but that doesn’t always shake the feeling that you’re being used.

Living Off Campus

Do I have the option to live off campus?

Off-campus housing describes any housing that is not organized by the school itself. If you are interested in living off campus, you will work with a private landlord or building management company. You may choose to live in an apartment or rental house with or without roommates.

Before you plan your student housing, check with your school. Your college may have housing policies that dictate where you can live. Commuter schools, such as vocational schools, community colleges, and online colleges, require you to arrange your own housing. If you are attending a commuter school, you are welcome to live in off-campus housing. If you are considering a four-year, residential college or university, you may be required to live on campus for one or more years.

  • Are you allowed to live off campus? Which years?
  • Can you afford to live alone or do you need to look for a roommate?
  • Does your school provide a list of landlords and building management companies that have worked well with students in the past?

What are the benefits of living off campus?

  • Credit establishment: By living in off-campus housing, you can begin building a renter’s history. Your credit score will have some substance to it, and your landlord will serve as an excellent reference when it’s time to move on to your next apartment, provided you’re an excellent tenant.
  • School assistance: Most schools offer resources to assist you with your off-campus housing search. The office of residential life can put you in touch with good local landlords and steer you away from the ones who have taken advantage of students in the past.
  • Independence: If you’d love to have your own bedroom, living room, kitchen, and backyard, you may be able to find the perfect place off campus. You have the freedom to personalize your living situation. You no longer have to blindly accept the roommate that residential life assigns to you. Live alone or with close friends who understand your schedule and needs.
  • Location choice: When you live on campus, your housing choices are so similar that location doesn’t matter. Now, you can choose a neighborhood that works for you. Live within walking distance of the grocery store, the train station, or your internship.
  • Personal space: You will have not only your own space, but more of it. You could even bring your pet if the landlord allows it.

What are the downsides to living off campus?

  • Budgeting: It’s not all fun and games. You now have to pay serious attention to your budget, pay your rent and utility bills, and pay for groceries and laundry. You’ll be making frequent payments to a variety of venues and need to keep track of them all.
  • Friendship test: It’s easy to hang out with friends, but living with them is a different beast. Can you split chores and bills with them and trust them to not throw parties on school nights?
  • Safety not guaranteed: Off-campus housing lacks the security that campus has. Security guards and other students aren’t roaming around at all hours of the night. Your sidewalks might be poorly lit, and the nearest campus shuttle stop could be a mile away.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses: Many financial aid packages assist students living off campus, but some do not. Be sure to indicate that you plan to live off campus when filling out the FAFSA. Click here for more information about applying for financial aid, and check with your residential life and financial aid offices before apartment hunting.
  • Responsibilities: You may be able to get on a partial meal plan, but chances are you’re going to be cooking for yourself. If your car breaks down, you have to find another way to get to campus so as not to miss class. If you miss a rent payment, you need to understand how that affects your credit and the possibility of being evicted. Living off campus forces you to become an adult with adult responsibilities sooner than if you lived on campus.
  • Transportation: Buses don’t always run on time, and parking can be limited. You need to leave for class much earlier than you did when you lived two buildings away, and your commute will consume much of your time. You must buy a parking pass for certain campus parking lots or a city transit pass if you’re relying on public transportation.
  • Distance: Once on campus, you may not have time to go home for lunch before later classes. Bring all the materials you need for the day so you’re not caught in an afternoon class without your homework or your computer. Pack your lunch or buy into a meal plan to deal with the hassle.

Living at Home

Do I have the option to live at home?

Your options depend on your circumstances. Even if your family lives close to your school of choice, each school has its own housing policy. Commuter schools like community colleges or vocational schools will require you to find your own housing or live at home. Four-year, residential schools, on the other hand, may or may not allow you to live off campus. If you are hoping to live at home during college, it is important to talk to your school about its housing policies before you accept an admissions offer.

  • Does your school allow you (or require you) to live off campus?
  • Does your family live reasonably close to campus?
  • If you are too far away to bike or walk to campus, do you have access to a car or public transportation?
  • Would your family have certain expectations of you if you lived at home? Would you need to pay rent to your parents or do certain chores each week?

What are the benefits of living at home during college?

  • Saving money: Room and board costs vary by college, but the nationwide average is nearly $11,000 a year. To help you save money as you pursue your degree, your family may charge you little to no rent.
  • The comforts of home: At home, you’re already comfortable in your own space. You may have lived in that same bedroom since you were a baby. You don’t have to buy new sheets or posters to deck out your dorm room, and you don’t have to deal with moving. Without a roommate, you’ll always find peace and quiet to study. You know the area like the back of your hand, and you probably already know campus well too.
  • Strong support system: While some students may attend college thousands of miles away from their families, yours will be right down the hall. If something happens or you have a family emergency, you don’t need to travel far to find your way home. Plus, your family members know you well enough to recognize when you need help and when it’s time to celebrate your successes.
  • Privacy: In the dorms, dozens of strangers share the same bathrooms, and students may be assigned random roommates who may or may not ever leave their rooms. You, on the other hand, can study from the privacy of your own home.
  • Free time on campus: Gap periods between classes become instant study halls when you can’t go back to a dorm room to bum around for an hour. Spend your extra time on campus hitting the books, which will free up your schedule once you get home for the evening.
  • Making friends with common interests: Since you live off campus, you only need to commute for class, group projects, clubs, and events. Because your trips to campus are filled with intention, you’re likely to meet friends who have similar interests right off the bat.
  • Few distractions: With no friends or classmates surrounding you at all times, you can actually focus on studying when you’re at home. Plus, your parents want you to succeed and are unlikely to bother you if they know you’re working on schoolwork.

What are the downsides to living at home?

  • Commuting expenses: A lot of money goes into your commute: buying a car, maintaining it, paying for insurance, forking over money for gas, paying for a parking permit, and buying food when you’re stuck on campus. Those expenses can quickly add up.
  • Less networking: Networks develop over time by cultivating relationships with mentors. Your professor’s office hours might not be compatible with your schedule, which can create challenges throughout the semester. This is especially trying for students in large lecture classes. As a commuter, you have less time to speak with professors and potential study buddies.
  • More work, less play: Commuters spend more time traveling to and from campus than other students do, so you’ll lose time that could be dedicated to classwork or fun activities.
  • Time wasted in the car: A busy schedule is hard to manage when you have to spend hours in transit or looking for a parking spot. If you haven’t given yourself plenty of extra time to get to class, you could accumulate absences and tardies.
  • Less flexibility: Relying on fellow classmates to do quality work for a project is hard enough, but coordinating group projects and meetings has to be done well in advance when you live off campus. You need to know when to drive to campus, and you can’t be as flexible with last-minute cancellations or location changes.
  • Lack of integration: It’s easy to feel cooped up at home and excluded from residential life activities. When you attend fewer campus events, you may feel less connected to your school than students who live on campus do. This can inhibit your integration into big friend groups and tempt you to fall back on the friendships you developed in high school. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining old friendships unless they keep you from branching out.
  • Free time on campus: It can be both good and bad to have on-campus downtime between classes. On one hand, if you have work to do, you’ll be able to study at the library. On the other hand, if you have nothing to do, you’re stranded until your next class.

Page last updated: 02/2019