I recently had a decision to make about on campus living. I’d lived on campus for two years. The first year, I was just a student. The next year, I was an RA (Resident Advisor), which meant that my room and board were paid for as a part of my job. There will always be debate in families concerning students who have the option to either live on campus, off-campus, or stay at home. The decision varies from family to family, depending on preference. However, college finances should always be considered.
On Campus Living
The college experience changes from university to university. However, I know that most students really enjoy living on campus (for a variety of reasons that their parents may not like to hear). Unfortunately, living on campus is expensive! Dormitories (or Residence Halls), can be quite expensive and in most cases cost just as much, if not more than the tuition to the University. Not only that, but also many universities have meal plans that students must pay for in order to eat.
Add in the cost of other necessities (such as toiletries) and living on campus can put a serious dent in anyone’s wallet. To many people, the experience of living on campus is priceless, and the friendships that form throughout the course of a year on campus are long lasting. There is also a certain stability available with on campus living (no angry landlords to deal with). Although the cost may be slightly higher, convenience and experience can be enough to drive people to live in the dorms.
Make sure you or you’re child take the time to analyze the housing options. Many campuses have different costs for different types of dorms. While having air conditioning and a ton of space is great, don’t be afraid to save money and go with the more affordable housing that lacks air conditioning and has students packed into rooms like prisoners. Consider where a majority of the student’s classes will be taken. If you or your child is at an extremely large university, whole departments can be on different sides of campus.
If one is studying engineering, it wouldn’t make much sense to live close to the humanities buildings. Also, consider the learning environments. Many colleges have specific residence halls designated for certain types of majors, freshman, sophomores, etc. Living with people who have similar interests, backgrounds, or work ethics can be very beneficial. For more information, be sure to consult the housing web sites or booklets offered by your University.
Off Campus Living
Campus is great, but often times, come junior and senior year, students get tired of living with freshman and dealing with their RAs. They can also get tired of paying the expensive housing fees that many universities hand out. For this type of person, off campus living is a viable option. The truth is, that living off campus can save you or your child a significant amount of money. It has to be done right, but it can be done.
Again, doing research is paramount when considering off campus options. Consider proximity to campus. How will you get to class each day? Can you walk or take a bike? Can you take a bus? Will you need a car or a parking pass? How much will gas cost? These types of questions must all be considered. Next, consider roommates. The fact remains that, while everyone has the story of the hellish roommate, having one can greatly reduce costs. If rent is $500 a month for one, it’s only $250 a month for two. Using my college math skills, I determined that $250 is less than $500, so I
would certainly be willing to put up with some dirty socks on the floor or some roommates troublesome girlfriend in order to save thousands of dollars yearly. Keep in mind, that when living off campus, bills will be different. Be sure to ask the tough questions concerning utilities. Take the time to understand the terms of the lease. Think about food. Many people are surprised with how much food can actually cost. On campus living is safe with all of the dining halls right there, and meal plans bought at the beginning of each semester or quarter. However, off campus, one actually has to cook things and consider those costs.
I have talked to people who love living off campus. They wouldn’t change it for the world. It is also a great step towards true independence. While living on campus is a great experience, it still has that safety net. Off campus living, if you miss a rent payment, you can get kicked out. Students can learn how to manage their monthly bills in a way that was previously impossible.
Lifestyle changes may also have to occur. When one could previously fall out of bed and make it to class in 5 minutes, that person must now consider the time it takes to get to class from the off campus location. If you rely on a bus, being late is no longer an option. No longer will an RA be banging on your door to quiet you down, you may just have to deal with the cops. In that same vein, no longer will an RA be able to bother your neighbors about their music, so if it’s thumping at 2AM on a Tuesday and you have a 9AM exam, you’ll have to deal with it yourself.
The last off-campus option is always to live at….home. Yes, I know it’s the nightmare of all college students to be stuck at home with their parents. Depending on families, this can be a great choice. Financially, it is the best out of everything, because you are avoiding housing costs altogether. Of course, if you go to school far away, this isn’t an option, but if you live in the same city, it should be considered. No matter what you decide, be sure to make the college experience your own and enjoy it. Parents, make sure to let your kids experience college as well. Consider finances, weigh the options, and I’m sure you’re decision will work out (and if it doesn’t, there’s always next year!).