The first year of college is a milestone for many things, including individual freedoms, self-reliance, and personal development. It’s also a period of increase in frequent decision-making; suddenly, life comes with an abundance of choices – many of which don’t have black-or-white answers. Your course of study, your classes, your social circles, how you’re going to pay for college and your extracurricular activities are of your own choosing. For many, so too is the decision of where to live: on or off campus.
Whether this choice arises your first or subsequent years (some schools have required on-campus living for freshmen), it’s an issue that deserves careful thought and consideration.
The first critical factor in your decision is cost. How much does it cost to live on campus, and how does that compare to living elsewhere in your city? While the price of campus housing may look expensive, many universities include meal plans and utilities in the overall cost. It’s important to calculate an off-campus budget that includes monthly bills and projected food expenses, and then to compare it your university’s housing packages.
You must also keep in mind that, if living off campus, you need to factor in commuting costs. Will you be driving a car to campus each day? Do you currently own a car, or do you need to purchase one? Make sure to calculate an estimated gas total for each month and determine if this amount fits in your budget for college.
One of the biggest pros to living on campus is the built-in social network around you at all times. Activities will regularly occur on or very near campus, and involvement is always easier when it’s at your fingertips. In fact, ease of access overall is a large advantage to living on campus. Classes will be closer, travel time will be shorter, and amenities (libraries, gyms, etc.) will be nearby.
On the other hand, living elsewhere in your city gives you the opportunity to become more involved with the community at large. Living on campus can keep you confined to a smaller microcosm within larger social networks. Especially for individuals who have chosen universities outside their home states, off-campus living might be the best way to take advantage of the whole city and gain more independence.
Your lifestyle and personality will act as strong determining forces when deciding on where to live. Do you see college life as incomplete if you don’t live on campus? Will you be missing out on a crucial collegiate experience? Would you rather live in a smaller, private apartment away from the chaos of student life, or do you like to be in the center of it all? Do you have specific living requirements, like a kitchen, or a specific roommate setup? Will you be working off campus or have a work-study on campus? The most important thing to consider is how your living situation will affect your ability to pursue opportunities and benefit your lifestyle. Considering all of these questions and weighing the pros and cons will lead you to the decision that’s right for you.
Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet, a website dedicated to helping students find the best scholarships.