Many colleges require freshmen and sometimes sophomores to live on campus. Juniors and seniors usually have the option to live off campus, which may be a way to save money and possibly improve social and academic circumstances.
I’ve experienced both sides of that coin. I lived in a dorm my first year of college and lived off campus my remaining undergraduate years. As you recent high school graduates head to campus this fall, you’ll be transitioning to a whole new domestic and social world.
Of course, for some of you, this may be old hat. You already may have done summer college programs where you resided in dorms with one or several roommates. If so, your transition will not be as stark as those of you who have never had to share living quarters with someone else, and likely a complete stranger, to boot.
Eventually (hopefully), all you about-to-be first-year college students will reach the place where you will have the option to decide between dorm or off-campus life. I thought it would be useful to explore the pros and cons of living on campus.
CollegeNews.com proffers a list of pros and cons about dorm life. So, I’ll make a few brief comments on some them, based on my experience (if you can trust someone my age :-)).
– Easier to become involved on campus
Amen to this. During my sophomore through senior year, I commuted to campus (from 40 miles away — I was married and my wife worked as a nurse at a hospital far from campus), I felt completely divorced from what was happening on campus: concerts, sporting events, parties, etc. That was a significant negative for me.
– Access to all the resources the campus offers (computer labs, library, etc.)
This is an important advantage. Putting distance between yourself and these resources can lead to missed opportunities that can take a toll on academic performance.
– No parent-enforced curfew
If you’re living at home, Mom and Dad will be keeping an eye on your comings and goings. Not so in a dorm, where you can be out all night (or for days at a time). The obvious caution is, “Don’t get hurt, sick, or killed!”
– Easier to be a student worker while living on campus
Once again, the distance factor has an advantage. You’re probably more likely to engage a job on campus if you don’t need public transportation to get to and from it.
– Less of a commute to class
I had to drive for almost an hour to get from my home to my big-university’s campus. One term I had an eight o’clock English class on a Monday morning. I look back now and wonder how I ever got up at that awful, early hour and made it to class on time.
– Ability to meet with professors more often or, even, at their house
Very true. Living far off campus, I discovered that my profs’ office hours fell mainly during inconvenient times for me. Just when I needed to speak with a prof about something, I would find that I had a conflict with something at home. Living off campus where you need to rely on public (or even private) transportation can also conflict with professorial office hours — take a meeting, miss your bus.
This would affect students who are within a reasonable distance from home. If you’re going to a West Coast college and your home is on the East Coast, then you’ll have to suck it up, since flying across America just because you miss your dog, cat, Mom, Dad, etc. is extremely impractical.
– Having to stick to a meal plan
This is an economic factor. Most colleges won’t refund for uneaten meals. Breakfast may be the most-missed meal on meal plans due to students’ propensity to sleep as late as possible. The flexibility factor comes into play, too. If you’re tired of Mystery Meat Mondays, you’re probably going to spend your own cash of non-college food. That can add up, leading to a shortage of spending money and wasted meal plan dollars.
– Limited privacy
A middle-ground solution here is a private dorm room, but they can be hard to get, plus there’s no guarantee that your little haven won’t become a hangout for other dorm residents. If you don’t study effectively amid noisy surroundings, dorm life can be quite distracting. It won’t be like your bedroom at home, that’s for sure.
– Not being able to “get away” from campus environment
Even a big university can become way too familiar. This factor has been identified as the motivation for the infamous college “road trip.”
– Having to deal with roommates
This issue is worthy of an entire article. My freshman roommate was a chain smoker and although he would put out his smoke when I appeared back in our room, everything in my room, most disturbingly my clothes, smelled of cigarette smoke. Yuck! Of course, other issues can arise, such as dissimilar interests, quirky behavior, and even having to listen to your roommate make out with his/her significant other while you try to solve differential equations. Yuck [again]!
– Limited access to appliances like stoves, ovens, washers and dryers
While many colleges today provide amenities like this in common areas, it’s not like home or the convenience of your own apartment. The kicker here is having to share with the general population of your dorm. That’s something you can avoid by living off campus.
– Student housing restrictions on parties, drinking, etc.
Well, even apartments can have landlord-based restrictions, but, thanks to Resident Advisers (RAs) and the institutional rules they must enforce, the “fun factor” of dorm life can be highly limited.
Check the entire College News article for deeper insights. Overall, deciding the the issue of on- or off-campus living can make a big difference in your college experience. Don’t take that decision lightly.
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.
On-Campus vs. Off-Campus Housing
Some considerations in comparing on-campus and off-campus housing:
Finding a good place to live takes time, but remember there are a lot of choices. If you're wondering whether you should live on-campus or on-campus, here are some things to consider:
Space in the UW residence halls (dormitories) is limited. If you want to live on campus, you should apply to a residence hall as soon as you can. Generally, the best, least expensive, and most convenient places to live near the university are often filled 2-3 months before a new quarter begins.
If you live in residence hall, you will only need to walk a short distance to classes. Off-campus apartments can be either near or far to campus, but you can usually walk, bike, or bus to the university from many apartments in the University District. There are several other neighborhoods with good buses to the University, including Green Lake, Wallingford, and Ravenna.
Residence hall rooms come with furniture (beds, desks, chairs, closets, etc.) They also have free cable tv and internet access. Off-campus housing may be furnished or unfurnished, and you may need to set up your own telephone, internet, and utilities.
Some residence halls have only limited access to kitchens, and others have in-unit kitchens if you want to cook for yourself. Most residence hall rooms come with a required "dining plan," with a range of levels you can choose from depending on your needs. Choices range from salad bars and sandwiches, to pizza and international food. If you live off-campus, you can cook for yourself - this can be cheaper, healthier, and more flexible than on-campus dining. Please remember that eating at restaurants can become expensive if you do it a lot!
Residence halls are clean and well-maintained; some are brand new or have been open only one or two years. Cheaper off-campus apartments can vary in quality; however, most can be made comfortable. Before signing a contract (lease) for an apartment, make sure to walk around with the landlord and write down any repairs needed for their information and for yours. Make sure the place you want to rent is clean and has everything working well.
Residence halls house hundreds of students, so sometimes it can become noisy. Most residence hall rooms are shared with at least one other person, so you will need to make adjustments and be flexible. However, living in the halls does provide a social atmosphere and the chance to meet friends. If you live off-campus in a room in a shared house, you will also have several people living in the house with you. Living in an off-campus apartment may be quieter, more private, and you can also have more choices about how you live.
7) Legal Obligations:
Contracts for both residence halls and apartments are legally binding documents. Residence hall contracts are for the academic year, but you can leave early by paying an extra fee. Apartment contracts (leases) are more difficult to break; however, you choose the length of a lease before you sign it. Talk about this with your landlord or with Student Legal Services before you sign a lease.
Residence hall costs for room and meals are usually similar to apartment costs off campus. Depending on the neighborhood, you may be able to rent inexpensive off-campus housing with other students and share food, rent, and other costs.
9) Living with a Roommate:
Sharing room or apartment with people can be an interesting experience. To have a good living situation, you should be open and communicate honestly with your roommates. It is a good idea to talk about issues such as privacy, using the phone, schedules, study and social habits, food, chores, cleaning, and finances before problems arise.
Click here for more information on on-campus housing options.