For many students, one of the most exciting parts of heading off to college is living on their own for the first time. That might mean moving into a freshman dorm or an on-campus apartment or finding an off-campus living space.
Which is better? The answer will depend on your personal preferences, what year you are in school, your budget, and where you go to college. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of living on campus vs living off campus.
Pros of Living On Campus
Many students dream of the day they’ll pack their bags and begin a new life at college. And, for many, a major part of that fantasy involves living on campus. The reason is that living in a freshman dorm with hoards of other students the same age can be a lot of fun.
Living on campus also comes with some other advantages. Generally, arranging on-campus housing is relatively easy, especially for freshmen who may be more likely to get a spot, or may be required to live on campus. Unlike apartment hunting, which can be time consuming and challenging, living on campus can be a more straightforward arrangement and there are generally additional resources provided for students in on-campus housing.
For example, there is generally an RA (Resident Advisor/Assistant) that can answer any questions and help resolve conflicts with roommates. Plus RA’s may run programming for the floor, or dorm, to encourage community and help students meet each other.
Typically, students living in on-campus housing can also purchase a meal plan, which means they don’t need to find time to grocery shop or cook meals when they should be cramming for finals.
Living on campus also means students are conveniently close to all of the resources provided by their school. This not only makes it easier and faster to get to your classes, but also to access on-campus dining, gyms, the health center, libraries, and student recreation centers. Attending on-campus events and getting to a professor’s office hours can also be easier when you’re living on campus.
💡 Quick Tip: Make no payments on SoFi private student loans for six months after graduation.
Cons of Living On Campus
While very convenient and exciting in many ways, on campus housing has its downsides.
For one, dormitory living often involves small spaces and lack of privacy. You may need to share a bathroom with your entire hall. And you may end up living in close quarters with a roommate you don’t know or have much in common with. In addition, finding quiet time to focus on your studies can be a challenge in a dorm.
Another potential downside to living on campus is that you may not have access to a kitchen and will need to eat your meals according to the dining hall’s schedule.
Living on campus can also be more expensive than living off campus.
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Pros of Living Off Campus
While you may think that living on campus is the key to having a true college experience, there are actually some benefits associated with living off campus.
Some students may greatly appreciate having a bit of separation from their school life and their personal life, especially as they inch closer to graduation and they begin to plan their transition to the post-college era.
Another major benefit of living off campus is the potential to save some money on living expenses and to have some extra flexibility. Living off campus can be cheaper than living on campus, depending on factors like where the college is located and how close to campus the house is located. Living off campus may also allow you to spend less on food, since you will likely have access to a kitchen and full-size refrigerator.
Another potential advantage of off-campus housing is that you may be able to find a larger living space than you could get in a dorm. Plus, you may have a 12-month lease, which gives the option of staying on campus over the summer to study, get an internship, or find a summer job. (However, this could end up being a con if you are on the hook for a lease when you don’t actually need to be in town.)
Cons of Living Off Campus
While living off campus can provide more flexibility, it may involve having to commute to campus. In some cases, students may be able to find off campus housing within walking distance to school but often you will need to drive. This brings its own set of complications, such as traffic and parking (which on some campuses can be expensive and competitive). Owning and maintaining a car also adds to your college costs.
A commute may also make it less appealing to participate in on-campus events and take advantage of campus amenities like gyms, health centers, and libraries. Spending time with friends may also take more coordination than just walking down the hall.
When it comes to living in off-campus housing, many students may also not be prepared to take on the responsibilities of adult living. While each student’s living situation will vary depending on their specific housing arrangements, many can expect to cook more, clean more, and be more responsible for properly maintaining their off- campus housing. And if they’re having issues with their roommate, there is no RA to help them clear the air.
Keeping School Requirements In Mind
At the end of the day, there is no “best” choice for a college living arrangement. There are so many variables, including the school’s location, the student’s priorities and personality, and how much each option will cost.
One caveat is that some students may not have a choice about whether they live on campus or not. Some colleges and universities require their students to live on campus for a certain amount of years. This is a more common requirement for freshman students, as colleges want them to integrate into campus life and feel engaged and supported.
If you don’t want to live on campus, despite there being a requirement to do so, it’s worth seeing if the school allows students to petition to live off campus. Allowances are sometimes made for students whose families live nearby or who have health issues or specific dietary requirements that can’t be met easily through on-campus dining options.
On the other end of the spectrum, some colleges only guarantee housing on-campus for a certain number of years, resulting in students living off campus at one time or another.
Some colleges and universities provide online resources and other information for students who are interested in living off campus. These resources can help students find housing and make the transition to off campus housing a bit easier.
💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.
Financing College Life
Regardless of where you live, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for it. Some students may be able to use the financial aid they receive to help pay for their room and board.
Scholarships may have restrictions on how they can be used, and room and board or rent may or may not be eligible expenses. Review the details of specific scholarships to understand what costs they can help fiance. Student loans can generally be used to pay for tuition as well as living expenses and housing.
There are two types of student loans that you may be able to tap — private and federal student loans.
Federal student loans may be subsidized by the government, which means interest won’t start to accrue until six months after you graduate, or they may be unsubsidized, which means interest begins accruing right away. Either way, you don’t have to start making payments until six months after graduation. Federal loans come with a fixed interest rate set by the Congress annually, and don’t require a credit check.
If federal student loans do not fully cover your costs, you may also want to explore getting a private student loan.
Private student loans are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates and terms vary, depending on the lender. These loans do require a credit check and, generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.
Keep in mind, though, that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness — that automatically come with federal student loans.
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