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How to Choose Between On-Campus and Off-Campus Student Accommodation

When it comes to selecting whether to live on or off-campus, there’s a lot to consider. There are pros and cons to both living arrangements, so take the time to carefully consider your options. If you’re trying to decide which is right for you, here’s how to choose between on-campus and off-campus housing.

Apr 11, 2021
  • Student Tips
How to Choose Between On-Campus and Off-Campus Student Accommodation

The pros of living on campus

No matter where you go to university, living on campus definitely has some benefits. For starters, dormitories and residence halls are often conveniently located close to or on campus, making it a breeze to get to class. You won’t have to worry about finding transportation to campus, catching a bus, or finding a parking space if you need to drive. If you value a few extra minutes to sleep in, being on campus might help you make it to those 9am classes on time.

One of the best ways to get connected at university is to live on campus. Students who do so get to meet other students in their residence halls and quickly form friendships. Additionally, you’ll have access to programming, events, and assistance from student life staff. For incoming students, this can make the transition easier. Living with a roommate is also a great way to learn about sharing a space, compromise, and communication. Many people who live together go on to have lifelong friendships

Princeton graduate Libby Tolman made three great friendships in her time at the US university. She met one before moving in to their residence hall, on Facebook, and another when there, while brushing her teeth! “I was eager to start sophomore year with the four of us together in Holder Hall,” she writes. “It was a busy two semesters, full of problem sets, late night conversations, eager trips to ice cream stores in Princeton and parties to watch Pixar movies. Through all the chaos, I got to know each of my roommates better and to respect them more and more.”

“Junior year has brought us all closer together. My roommates are the people I know best at Princeton, and the people at Princeton who know me best, and I often turn to them for encouragement, advice and inspiration, which they never fail to provide. In one particularly memorable moment, Kelly and Nikhila organized a surprise Valentine's Day party after a busy week in February. I came back to the dorm late on a Friday and found a desk covered with flowers and cookies. Nikhila, Kelly and Saumya are my faithful hands at Princeton and will shape my memories of the school for years to come.”

And, who knows, you may even meet more than friends living on campus. In fact, around one-fifth of UK students find the love of their life on campus! Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, for example, met while students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Michelle, a University of Birmingham politics graduate, told The Tab, "We met on the first day ever at uni. We were in the same flat and had rooms opposite each other. I fancied him almost immediately. One night he asked if anyone wanted to watch Mulan and while everyone else said no, I swept in for a private movie night. He was still oblivious that I liked him until our flatmate pointed it out. We’ve now been together for over a year and still live together, I’ve even been to France to meet some of his family."

And fellow Birmingham graduate Albert says, "We were in the same flat and from day one we became really good friends. It started with a few drunken kisses after nights out, but then I started getting real feelings for towards her. We had our first proper dinner date on Valentines Day last year. Then, I eventually plucked up the courage to ask her out after about three months of seeing each other."

Finally, students who choose to live on campus have a lot of their day-to-day needs met. They have access to laundry facilities, bathrooms cleaned by custodians, meal plans so cooking and shopping aren’t so much of a concern, and they live in secure buildings. For students who want to focus on their studies, this can be really helpful, as you don’t have to worry about taking care of those things, as you would with an apartment or off-campus housing.

The cons of living on campus

Like most good things, there are also some things about living on campus that might prove challenging for some students. For example, living in a residence hall can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, especially for students who haven’t shared space before. It can at times be noisy and you don't know what type of people you will be living with, so those who need quiet to study may need to find an alternative place to hit the books.

Depending on your residence hall’s set-up, there can sometimes be a lack of privacy. In the USA, some residence halls offer individual bathrooms, whereas others offer the more traditional locker-room style facilities. And some residence halls offer singles, but those can be difficult to come by, and are often reserved for students with more seniority at the university. In most other nations, students have rooms to themselves in student accommodation

Finally, depending on the university, living on campus can be expensive. Each university is different in regards to what they charge for on-campus housing, as well as meal plans. Many universities also have a mandatory meal plan included with the costs of their housing, which may or may not suit your needs. Therefore, it’s important to carefully review any charges and fees to make sure you understand exactly what you’re paying for so you can make the best financial decisions.

The pros of living off campus

Living off campus brings its own advantages. For most students, living off campus means finding an apartment where you can have your own private bedroom and bathroom. There are many apartment complexes designed specifically for students with the desire for privacy in mind. Many of these apartments offer the opportunity to live with friends, but still give you the chance to retreat to your own room when needed. Sometimes students find living alone to be preferable and are able to find a single-person apartment as well. Having your own room and space to decorate can be a great next step past living on campus. This can also be beneficial for students who need more quiet to study. Carolin Hallock, a student at UC Davis, “Began living in an apartment during winter quarter in the hopes of creating a better learning environment for herself.”

For those ready to pursue more independence, living off campus may be the way to go. Campus can be a bit of a 'student bubble', which suits some, but not others. When you do so, you’re in charge. It’s up to you to determine when to pay bills, clean your place, shop for and prepare food. You get to call the shots, and learn more about what it’s like to be an adult in the real world. You’ll get the freedom to come and go as you please. While you’ll most likely have to sign a lease, most leases aren’t as specific as housing agreements for on campus residences.

If you’re interested in saving money, living off campus might prove to be more economical. You can manage your budget for housing, food, and other expenses. Since you won’t be locked into a housing arrangement, you can decide if you’ll need a roommate, can go it alone, as well as what you want to spend on food and utilities each month. Additionally, you can pick how close you want to be to campus, or if you’d like a bit more distance from your classes.

The cons of living off campus

There are some things to consider before making the leap to live off campus. Often, housing closest to campus can come at a premium, so if you’re looking to save money, you might find yourself lodging further from campus. In that case, you’ll need to make sure you can budget enough time and money to ensure safe, reliable transportation to get to campus for your classes (cycling can be a good, cheap option). Additionally, you may need to pay for a parking space at home and or campus, so plan accordingly.

If you’re not ready to take on the full responsibility of caring for yourself, living off campus may not be for you. When you live off campus, there won’t be anyone to check in to make sure your bills are paid, you’ve eaten, and that you’re getting to class.

In addition, you might miss out on some opportunities for connection, personal and or professional. It can sometimes be difficult to convince yourself to stay on campus or go back for evening or weekend activities. Therefore, if you do choose to live off campus, it’s important to make sure you’re able to stay connected to campus, as well as your social network.

Michigan State University (MSU) Community Liaison Suchitra Webster recommends, “Students to take the time they need to consider all of their options when it comes to payment, transportation, utilities and amenities.” Deciding whether or not to live on campus is a big decision for students, so taking your time to think through your options is the best way to go. Be prepared to think about the big things, like finances, transportation, and the chance to connect with others. Most importantly, remember to do what feels right to you.

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Chelsea Castonguay


Chelsea is a Student Affairs expatriate, who now works as a freelance writer and editor. She homesteads in a small town in rural Maine, USA. She enjoys hiking, fishing, cooking, reading, all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, spending time with her family, and chasing her black lab puppy, Cash.

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