For the first few months, the dorm-versus-apartment-living debate lies dormant. Colleges and universities usually mandate that freshmen live on campus to immerse themselves in college social and academic life. However, by October, students are pinging parents about moving off campus to try independent apartment living with a few (hopefully) carefully selected roommates.
Most campuses simply don't have enough dorms for everyone. To attract top students, even state schools boast dorm-room mini-apartments complete with bathroom, kitchenette and individual bedrooms.
Along campus perimeters, however, schools and developers are building living communities specifically intended for college students, and the best ones are usually claimed by December for the following year.
However, living off-campus is different from living in a dorm in some significant ways. We at GET.com list these here:
FAFSA – Free Application For Federal Student Aid
If you live in the dorms, FAFSA applies your college's established room and board amount. If you'll be living off campus in an apartment or house, FAFSA assigns a housing allowance that is usually less than the dorm figure. If you live with a relative, FAFSA reduces your housing allowance even further.
Amenities, Expenses And Roommate Budgets
For a dorm, the fee is paid, and most amenities are part of the package: electric, gas, Wi-Fi and Ethernet access, heat and air-conditioning, water, cable and even garbage removal. The free laundry may be just down the hall, and the gym is up the street.
While some apartment rents include utilities, many don't, and roommates will have to ante up for rent and all the associated bills every month.
An important point is that rent and other expenses carry with them issues of credit and credit history. Depending on your ability to meet your obligations, this can ultimately either build or cripple your credit score.
If a roommate or 2 decide not to pay, you may be left with full responsibility. This could be disastrous if you can't afford to cover costs in full.
Cars, Parking, Gas And Time
If you can rent an apartment within easy walking distance of campus, your car expenses may actually decrease. Parking fees at off-campus housing are typically lower than fees for dorm parking lot permits.
However, if distances intervene, you could find yourself paying for apartment parking as well as a campus commuter parking lot permit, and you might still have a hike from your car to the other end of campus. Additional expenses like gas and short-tripping wear and tear can mount up.
Consider, too, the availability of public transportation or bicycle accessibility, and don't forget that roommates and other students may expect rides to or from classes or the grocery store.
Food Costs And Accessibility
While dorm living usually entails a meal plan, dining halls may not be convenient in location or hours. On many campuses, in-dorm dining cafeterias have been replaced by standalone dining halls that may be a 15- or 20-minute walk from a freshman dorm. Serving lines have stepped aside for ordering stations, where students wait another 20 minutes or more. Many dorm students buy groceries weekly, using the dining hall only once a day.
Apartment living can erase the board charges, but ordering or eating out frequently can easily up expenses, and shopping trips for groceries take time.
Dorm Mates Versus Neighbors
Everyone living in the dorms is a student in a communal, academically oriented environment. Sometimes, colleges even devote particular dorms to certain majors or academic focus, such as a scholar's program. Residential student counselors keep floor members socially involved, are available to answer questions and even have authority to settle disputes.
In contrast, off-campus housing can be more removed. Neighbors may or may not be students, and their hours and focus in life may be in stark contrast to yours. If things get out of control, the only authorities to turn to may be a landlord or law enforcement.
Assistance And Guidance Versus Freedom And Responsibility
Every personal situation is different, as are individual preferences and levels of maturity. Some savvy students spend all 4 years of their college career in the dorms, even taking on residential counseling responsibilities. Others may have to find off-campus housing because none is available on campus.
Some students need a place to live year-round while others are anxious to head home for holidays or a summer abroad. Some work part-time to supplement financial needs or have time-intensive academic commitments that make living on campus a smarter choice. Most students eventually will move off-campus. It's all a matter of determining when is the right time to do so.