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Dorm vs. Off-Campus Housing? Here’s What You Need to Know

The choice between a dorm and an apartment away from campus can be just as confusing as deciding which school to attend. Each offers its own unique perks and challenges, and you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of off-campus housing as well as dorms when choosing your home away from home. Below are a few factors to heed for the best college living experience:

What do dorm rooms have to offer?

Proximity to campus: Students who live in a dorm room are typically within walking distance of class, dining halls, study labs, and recreational centers, and campus activities/events. Depending on the size and geographic location of the college, students may be further from the main campus, but some college and universities provide access to free shuttle services which can also provide transportation to local amenities such as the grocery store or mall.

 All-inclusive options: In dorm rooms, students can expect to have a fully-furnished room with a bed, a dresser, and desk, including access to all other campus amenities. Utilities like internet, telephone, cable, electricity, and water are also included with room and board, and students do not have to worry about the cleanliness of shared areas such as shared bathrooms or dorm lounges.

Added security: Students’ safety is one of the most important matters on campus. Most colleges have security systems in place such as I.D. activated key locks in residence halls and an on-campus police department. Students are expected to fill out a form for overnight guests, and the front desk staff ensures all safety measures are followed 24/7. Residence halls also have security cameras to monitor for any suspicious activity.

This sounds good. So why go off-campus then?

More space: On average, an upgraded dorm room that includes a shared bedroom, combined kitchen/living room area, and a small bathroom offers less than 130 square feet per student. For example, at Boston College you can expect around 96 sq. ft. for a single room, a double room measures 192 sq. ft and triple dorm rooms come in at 368 sq. ft. By comparison, the average apartment size in Boston starts from 536 sq. ft. for a studio.  One-bedroom apartments will range anywhere from 600-800 square feet anywhere you go in the U.S. These include a full kitchen, bathroom, and living room area, in addition to the extra bedroom space. A shared two-bedroom apartment with a roommate generally costs less than a one-bedroom apartment for yourself, and still provides more privacy and multiple times the space and comfort of any dorm room.

Fewer restrictions: Dorm room living comes with strict codes of conduct enforced by resident advisors, surprise inspections, and possibly a curfew. One of the main perks of apartment living is that you can come, go, and do as you please in your space as long as you comply with the policies in your lease.
Another benefit is that many apartment landlords offer 3-month, 6-month, or 9-month lease terms, which translates into much more flexibility than you have with a dorm room.

More cost-effective: Depending on how much your university charges for a room and the housing market of the city, moving into an off-campus apartment can potentially reduce the cost of living/student debt quite significantly in the long run. Apart from the rent itself, if you live in an apartment off campus you can opt out of expensive meal plans. Yes, you will be more likely to eat out every once in a while, but your kitchen means you can prepare meals at home between cheat days for a fraction of the cost. Apartment living can also help students with vehicles to save on parking. On-campus parking can cost an extra $200-$500 a semester, which is one of the disadvantages of living on campus, whereas apartments often provide at least one complimentary parking spot. If at some point you fall short on money, you can opt for a small student loan for your college living costs, just be responsible about it, spend it wisely and make a solid plan to pay it back.

Added privacy: It can be difficult to have privacy and tranquility when living in a dorm because most spaces are shared. You’ll have both in an apartment, since you’ll have your own bedroom/bathroom and you won’t be at the center of campus activity and interruptions that occur in dorm living.

Dorm room and apartment similarities

Though dorm room and apartment living have obvious differences, they do share some similarities. For instance, living on campus offers a social experience but apartment communities do as well with free, planned social activities like resident parties, exercise classes, and movie/game nights. Amenities are also included with both dorms and apartments. However, campus amenities are mainly for student use and apartment communities are more lenient towards guest use.

Dorm room living can be an appropriate choice for those who’ve never been away from home for a long time, but apartment living may be the better choice for more established students who desire independence and privacy. However, there is no right or wrong decision. You ultimately need to weigh all the pros and cons of dorm rooms as well as apartment living to determine which option best fulfills what you’re looking for in your college living experience.

Read next: Find Rental Apartments around Your University Campus

Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec is a writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart. Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics.

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