Living On- or Off-Campus: What’s Best?

Posted By Terri Williams on May 30, 2017 at 2:17 am
Living On- or Off-Campus: What’s Best?

Next to selecting a major and choosing which college to attend, deciding whether to live on- or off-campus may be one of the most important decisions that a student can make. (Whether to get renter’s insurance or not is another issue for students to consider.) Granted, some colleges require all freshmen (and sometimes, sophomores) to live in residence halls. Also, the student population is exploding at some schools and there’s not enough room for everyone who may want to live on-campus. But for students who have a choice, below are some of the factors to consider before making a decision.

The on-, off-campus checklist


Joyia Williams, a student at the University of Montevallo, and her friends believe that living on campus puts students closer to where they need to be. This includes libraries, labs, food courts, and other campus locations. As a result, on-campus students spend less time commuting, which can lead to longer sleep times and less time spent searching for parking spaces.


Williams and her friends also believe that it is easier for students to form relationships when they live on-campus since there’s usually a heightened sense of camaraderie and community.  And Williams says students living on campus are also less likely to miss out on campus activities. “Students who live off-campus may feel like outsiders,” she explains. “And this disconnect may create feelings of isolation.”

On the other hand, some students may like the idea of shifting gears when they leave class. Also, off-campus living provides the opportunity to develop friendships based on other factors than just attending the same school.

Hoang Uyen Nguyen, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, says she lived off-campus throughout her time in college. “As an incoming freshman, who had two older sisters attending the same college, I lived with one of them my freshman year; the other sister lived in the same building but in a different unit.”

During her sophomore through senior years, Nguyen lived in her sorority’s house. Both times, she lived close to campus. “It was fine, and I’d probably do the same thing over if I had to repeat,” Nguyen says. So, does she think she missed out by not living on-campus? “No,” Nguyen replies, “I had friends that lived in the dorms, and I would visit them and hang out frequently in the dorms.”


While on-campus living provides convenience and opportunities for socializing, Williams and friends say it can be quite expensive.  Also, space is at a premium in on-campus dorms, and some students may feel claustrophobic. While most schools offer more luxurious options, many students find them cost-prohibitive.

As a general rule, students can find much larger off-campus apartments or rent spaces in houses for less than they would pay to live on-campus. And having a roommate can further reduce expenses.


Depending on the distance from campus, transportation can be a problem for students without a car. They may have to walk or bike to campus in the sweltering heat, bitter cold, or torrential downpours. Catching a ride with friends may depend on the ability to sync schedules, and it might be unrealistic to expect others to drive to campus merely to drop someone else off. This may work once or twice, but it’s not a good strategy for an entire semester.


College campuses typically have a dedicated police department, in addition to residential housing staff available around the clock. However, this may create a false sense of security.  A recent survey reveals parents of college students are concerned about sexual assault, but most of these assaults occur on campus and by someone the victim knows.

Off-campus students might choose to live in gated communities, but regardless of where they live, students need to be alert and vigilant.

Food Options

Students living on campus usually purchase meal plans, so they can eat in the cafeteria or various on-site food courts. However, most of them don’t have the ability to cook in their room. Many students have stated that this causes them to develop less healthy eating habits than those who can prepare meals in their apartment. It should be noted that some dorms do include kitchens, but this is not the norm.

On the other hand, off-campus apartments provide an opportunity to students to prepare their own meals, saving money – and probably calories, fat, and sugar.  However, having a kitchen is no guarantee that students won’t prefer to order pizza, microwave Ramen noodles, or frequent the many fast-food restaurants in close proximity to most colleges.

Housing restrictions

Williams also notes that students who live on campus are subject to various housing restrictions. For example, UCLA has on-campus housing regulations related to alcohol and gambling, as well as designated quiet hours. To reduce the risk of fires, the school does not permit microwave ovens, coffee makers, hot plates, toasters, and space heaters. In addition, only mini-refrigerators – less than 6 cubic feet – are allowed. (These restrictions also affect food preparation and storage options.)

Some students may find these living arrangements too restrictive, compared with the relative freedom of living off-campus.

Several people, who did not want to be quoted, felt that students should live on campus-during their first two years because this would ease them into the college environment and provide a support system of residential advisers.

However, most of them also agreed that students should eventually live off-campus since this provides a more “real-world” experience. One individual stated that the primary goal is to save money and avoid running up student loan debt. To this end, he thought that students close enough to commute should live at home and those who lived too far away should choose the less expensive option.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

You May Also Like