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Articles / Campus Life / Dorm Life vs. Off-Campus Living

June 4, 2015

Dorm Life vs. Off-Campus Living

Many colleges require freshmen and sometimes sophomores to live on campus. Juniors and seniors usually have the option to live off campus, which may be a way to save money and possibly improve social and academic circumstances.

I've experienced both sides of that coin. I lived in a dorm my first year of college and lived off campus my remaining undergraduate years. As you recent high school graduates head to campus this fall, you'll be transitioning to a whole new domestic and social world.

Of course, for some of you, this may be old hat. You already may have done summer college programs where you resided in dorms with one or several roommates. If so, your transition will not be as stark as those of you who have never had to share living quarters with someone else, and likely a complete stranger, to boot.

Eventually (hopefully), all you about-to-be first-year college students will reach the place where you will have the option to decide between dorm or off-campus life. I thought it would be useful to explore the pros and cons of living on campus.

CollegeNews.com proffers a list of pros and cons about dorm life. So, I'll make a few brief comments on some them, based on my experience (if you can trust someone my age :-)).


– Easier to become involved on campus

Amen to this. During my sophomore through senior year, I commuted to campus (from 40 miles away — I was married and my wife worked as a nurse at a hospital far from campus), I felt completely divorced from what was happening on campus: concerts, sporting events, parties, etc. That was a significant negative for me.

– Access to all the resources the campus offers (computer labs, library, etc.)

This is an important advantage. Putting distance between yourself and these resources can lead to missed opportunities that can take a toll on academic performance.

– No parent-enforced curfew

If you're living at home, Mom and Dad will be keeping an eye on your comings and goings. Not so in a dorm, where you can be out all night (or for days at a time). The obvious caution is, “Don't get hurt, sick, or killed!"

– Easier to be a student worker while living on campus

Once again, the distance factor has an advantage. You're probably more likely to engage a job on campus if you don't need public transportation to get to and from it.

– Less of a commute to class

I had to drive for almost an hour to get from my home to my big-university's campus. One term I had an eight o'clock English class on a Monday morning. I look back now and wonder how I ever got up at that awful, early hour and made it to class on time.

– Ability to meet with professors more often or, even, at their house

Very true. Living far off campus, I discovered that my profs' office hours fell mainly during inconvenient times for me. Just when I needed to speak with a prof about something, I would find that I had a conflict with something at home. Living off campus where you need to rely on public (or even private) transportation can also conflict with professorial office hours — take a meeting, miss your bus.


– Homesickness

This would affect students who are within a reasonable distance from home. If you're going to a West Coast college and your home is on the East Coast, then you'll have to suck it up, since flying across America just because you miss your dog, cat, Mom, Dad, etc. is extremely impractical.

– Having to stick to a meal plan

This is an economic factor. Most colleges won't refund for uneaten meals. Breakfast may be the most-missed meal on meal plans due to students' propensity to sleep as late as possible. The flexibility factor comes into play, too. If you're tired of Mystery Meat Mondays, you're probably going to spend your own cash of non-college food. That can add up, leading to a shortage of spending money and wasted meal plan dollars.

– Limited privacy

A middle-ground solution here is a private dorm room, but they can be hard to get, plus there's no guarantee that your little haven won't become a hangout for other dorm residents. If you don't study effectively amid noisy surroundings, dorm life can be quite distracting. It won't be like your bedroom at home, that's for sure.

– Not being able to “get away" from campus environment

Even a big university can become way too familiar. This factor has been identified as the motivation for the infamous college “road trip."

– Having to deal with roommates

This issue is worthy of an entire article. My freshman roommate was a chain smoker and although he would put out his smoke when I appeared back in our room, everything in my room, most disturbingly my clothes, smelled of cigarette smoke. Yuck! Of course, other issues can arise, such as dissimilar interests, quirky behavior, and even having to listen to your roommate make out with his/her significant other while you try to solve differential equations. Yuck [again]!

– Limited access to appliances like stoves, ovens, washers and dryers

While many colleges today provide amenities like this in common areas, it's not like home or the convenience of your own apartment. The kicker here is having to share with the general population of your dorm. That's something you can avoid by living off campus.

– Student housing restrictions on parties, drinking, etc.

Well, even apartments can have landlord-based restrictions, but, thanks to Resident Advisers (RAs) and the institutional rules they must enforce, the “fun factor" of dorm life can be highly limited.


Check the entire College News article for deeper insights. Overall, deciding the the issue of on- or off-campus living can make a big difference in your college experience. Don't take that decision lightly.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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