Dorms vs. Off-Campus Living: Pros and Cons of College Housing

by | Dec 16, 2021 | Campus Life, College Planning | 0 comments

College is a time for growth and change — academically but also personally. College students are often living away from their families for the first time, and this chance for independence and autonomy carries opportunities of its own.

With that in mind, the question of where to live becomes an important one. Many colleges require students (especially freshman) to live on campus in dorms, but some have flexibility in their housing policies from the beginning. Even those with on-campus living requirements for first-year students often open up the arrangements in later years.

If you’re choosing between on-campus and off-campus living, the consideration can be a little overwhelming. Let’s break down some of the pros and cons.

On-Campus Living

Dorm living is a staple of college life, and much of our idea of a “typical” academic experience is wrapped up not just in the classrooms but also in the housing. From shared bathrooms to tight-knit roommates, from microwave cooking horror stories to study sessions in the common spaces, dorm life offers experiences that are hard to get anywhere else.

Pros of On-Campus Living

There are plenty of pros to on-campus living, and they extend from the financial to the personal:

On-campus living is probably more affordable. While the breakdown of costs may vary based on the specifics of the location, on-campus living usually comes out ahead. The average cost of room and board (that’s housing and a meal plan) is $11,140 for a public school and $12,680 for a private school. While that may sound like a lot, those fees often include all utilities (even internet). Unless you’re going to split the cost of an apartment with several roommates and live on a pretty tight budget, you’ll likely have a hard time beating the cost of on-campus living.

Living in the dorms offers an easier transition. While independence and autonomy are great, it can be overwhelming to have too many responsibilities thrust upon you at once. Living in a dorm is often a smoother transition between living at home with family to living completely independently. The framework of living expectations and the proximity to other people (including professionals tasked with keeping things going smoothly) can give students the space to safely build those independent living skills.

Dorm life comes with more social opportunities. One of the key elements of long-term student success is peer connections, and living in a dorm simply offers more chances to get to know other students. Lifelong friendships are often formed between students who share a dorm, and many schools work to put first-year students in the same space to help overcome early barriers to connecting.

Classes are easier to prioritize. It’s a lot harder to justify skipping class when you’re mere steps away from the classroom. Dorms are often centrally located to classrooms, the library, and other campus facilities. School and its priorities can never be a distant thought because you’re, quite literally, in the middle of it.

Cons of On-Campus Living

It wouldn’t be fair to only talk up the positives without considering the negatives as well. Here are some of the top complaints about on-campus living:

There’s a lack of privacy. Sure, you get to live in close proximity to potential friends, but you also have a distinct lack of privacy. Most dorms require roommates, and even those living in single rooms are subject to the rules of the space and sharing common areas. Some students find the closeness a little too close.

Finding quiet time to focus can be a challenge. While the chance to live alongside other students can have a positive impact on study habits and school priorities, it’s also true that some students find themselves surrounded by those who don’t have the same needs for productivity. It can be difficult to find the space and quiet in shared quarters.

The facilities are often small and minimal. You’re not going to get to practice a lot of independent living skills in a dorm simply because the opportunities don’t exist. You probably won’t have access to a full kitchen, and you’ll likely be living in a tiny room with a shared bathroom.

Off-Campus Living

Many students opt to get an off-campus apartment at some point in their college years, and this arrangement offers its own opportunities for growth. With more freedom and space, off-campus living can be a fuller transition to the life skills needed after college ends.

Pros of Off-Campus Living

There are plenty of things about getting a space that’s truly your own that students love. Here are some of the common pros of off-campus living:

You’ll have more space. Even if you have to share an apartment with roommates, chances are that you’ll get more space of your own than you would in a dorm. The common living areas are also going to be shared by far fewer people — and they’re people you get to handpick!

Focus can be easier. If you’re someone who needs to study in peace and quiet, getting an off-campus apartment or house may provide just the opportunity. If you find roommates with similar personalities, you can ensure that your space is perfect for getting the work done!

You’ve got a full kitchen! If you like to cook, want to avoid the cafeteria food on campus, or have specific dietary needs that are hard to meet, having a full kitchen and the ability to customize your own meals on your own schedule can be a major pro to off-campus living.

Cons of Off-Campus Living

Of course, everything is a trade-off, and the positives of off-campus living come with some steep costs as well. Let’s take a closer look:

Budgeting becomes a lot more important. When you’re living on campus, your expenses are typically set and paid for as part of your college payment plan. Living off-campus means negotiating all of those expenses yourself. You’ll need to pay rent and utilities, buy groceries, get cleaning supplies, and juggle the budget each month to make it all come together.

Transportation can be a pain. Off-campus living requires you to be, well, off campus, and that means that you’ll need to commute to get to classes. Inclement weather, traffic, and even just staying up late studying can make that commute a barrier to getting to class on time and ready to work. It can be even harder to get yourself to campus for optional things like events or studying at the library.

Making friends can be a challenge. Those who live on-campus have built-in opportunities for socializing and mingling. Living off-campus, you’ll have to be much more intentional if you want to make those kinds of connections. The cohesion of those who do live together on campus can also leave off-campus dwellers feeling a little lonely and outside of the group.

There’s no easy answer about where you should live while attending college. Both on-campus and off-campus housing options have their benefits, but they also come with downsides. Students should consider their own personalities, preferences, and struggles to choose a living situation that’s going to set them up for success.


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