As if choosing a college to go to and a major to pursue weren't enough, now you must decide where you will live: on-campus or in a rented apartment. Of course, if you have chosen to go to school in your home city and stay in your parent's house, you have one problem less. If not, I have prepared some tips and details to consider in this post.
I must warn you though: the competition is too close to call. The decision between campus and apartment is always a personal one. It will require you to consider all aspects of your unique situation – from needs and wants to choices available in your particular city or town. Moreover, many colleges require freshmen to live on-campus for the first year of studies. However, if you tried it and weren't entirely thrilled, the good news is you have plenty of options. At least now you will be able to make a balanced and informed decision.
On-campus accommodations are usually parents' favorite. They believe residence hall to be a more economical option. When you think that you will be sharing a room with one or two roommates and probably share a communal bathroom with dozens of others, it figures, right? Not really. In fact, if you calculate the monthly price, a place in the dorm is more expensive than renting a room or sometimes a small flat.
However, colleges charge for room and board. That means a meal plan is included, along with utilities, Wi-Fi, and the use of amenities like laundry and gym, for example. Dorm rooms also go fully furnished, while for the rented apartment you will probably need to buy a lot of flat-packed stuff. Moreover, you will have to check if your financial aid covers off-campus housing – calculations are usually different.
On average, it's a stalemate financially. So if you aim to save money, you will have to compare the dorm options your school offers with rent prices in the area and available choices.
As a rule, this one is the primary argument in favor of on-campus accommodations. No commute, no fuss. Everything is at your doorstep – classes, library, labs, social events, gym, etc. Minus grocery shopping, cooking, and washing the dishes. You will also have a resident advisor to mediate in case of conflict with your roommates. You will be pampered and looked after.
With a rented apartment, you will typically have to commute, which is a bummer, especially if you like to sleep in. You will have to plan your meals, shop for groceries and household supplies, take care of bills, and clean your apartment.
That said, choices may vary. For example, sometimes campus can be scattered around the town, so you will still have to commute between your residence hall and the buildings where classes are held. Plus, if the cafeteria is far from your dorm, grabbing breakfast before the lessons can be inconvenient. On the other hand, some urban environments present a wide variety of co-living and co-housing choices. Co-living spaces often offer you many amenities similar to the campus environment, events, and community experiences. On the other hand, "the more rural the school, […] the more of the college life revolves around the campus, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your preference," as Scott White from SW College Consulting points out, so it's all very case-specific and depends on the location of your school.
Of course, when it comes to privacy, dorm loses to every other option available – apartment, room in a co-living space, and co-housing. As a rule, you will share a small dorm room with a randomly assigned stranger with only a bed and a desk to call your own. Trying to sleep when they play a videogame or studying when they entertain guests is a challenge. Navigating this situation is stressful, especially if you never had experience sharing a space with siblings or other family members. Of course, you can always request a single room, but it usually costs a pretty buck.
Rented space off-campus is another kettle of fish. Your room is your own. No distractions. No neighbors barging in with requests like "Help me write my paper for tomorrow" or "Can I borrow your glasses for my party?" No parties behind the wall, for that matter. Well, not that often anyway.
Suppose you are a free spirit and think the curfew is a personal attack on your liberties. In that case, you will like a rented apartment better. You can come and go as you want. You can invite guests over and let them stay the night. You can do whatever you like – within the boundaries of law and reason, of course.
On the other hand, lease agreements sometimes prohibit all sorts of stuff, and co-living spaces can be even stricter than your dorm, so, again – it is case-specific. Only by knowing all the detail of your situation can you decide the degree of freedom you will be buying by renting off-campus.
Campuses provide accommodation for an academic year – that is 9 months. That means they expect students to vacate the premises for the break. You will have to either plan a trip home or look for a place to stay elsewhere if you want to take summer classes.
Still, there usually are sublease options for the summer you can look up on campus Facebook groups, so don't let it deter you from the dorm if it otherwise suits you. Just another thing to consider and plan for.
Living on-campus is preferable if you don't want all the domestic responsibilities of adult life yet. All you have to do is stick to your schedule, buy snacks if you need to, do your laundry, and keep your room reasonably tidy. Sometimes even regular cleaning is provided for you in the student residence hall, so strike that last one. For those who wish to concentrate on studies, this environment is most supportive.
The apartment, on the other hand, is a whole bunch of responsibilities. First and foremost, it's the utility bills. There are usually separate ones for electricity, central heating, running water, recycling, cleaning, maintenance, etc. Plus, you will have to pay every single one of them every month. Otherwise, prepare to add late fees – to say nothing of mark it would leave on your credit history. If anything is broken down and needs repairs – you will have to deal with it or report it to your property owner.
On-campus, you will be assigned a roommate – as well as the room and the specific residence hall if there are several. Your dorm preferences might or might not be taken into account. When you rent an apartment on a room off-campus, you can pick (within the limits of your budget, of course). You can also choose your roommates and move in with your friends, which sounds like a dream.
However, if you don't know your flatmates and find them through Facebook or Craigslist, it is a gamble anyway. Plus, without good knowledge of the city, it's a challenge to find a suitable place. That is why it might be a good idea to live the first year on campus until you get to know the area and form connections with other students. Then you can "graduate" to an off-campus rental with a suitable company. Those colleges that make living on campus mandatory for freshmen do that for a reason.
The bottom line
Overall, on-campus accommodation is a graduate transition from living with your parents to independence. In many ways, a dorm is a walled garden – more things are tackled for you, but there are also more rules to follow. If you find household responsibilities intimidating and would rather devote your full attention to studying and socializing, this option is better. However, if you want more privacy, freedom, and control over your life with all the accompanying responsibilities – you are ready to move into an apartment. Don't stress out, and remember – whichever you choose, your commitment is only for a year (or even a semester!) You can always change your mind and select another option if anything isn't working out as you expected.