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How College Housing Options Work

Last updated August 17, 2023

As you work your way through the summer before college checklist, you'll notice that an important component of ensuring you have a smooth transition to college is to secure your housing plans. Many schools will require students to live in dorms if they are under 18 or 19 or are attending school from out of state. Be sure to check in with your school to learn about their housing requirements for first-year students so you understand what your options are before researching and finalizing your plans.

With this in mind, here are a few common college housing options, how they work, and the pros and cons of each!

Living in a residence hall (dorm)

A large majority of first-year college students live in the dorms to meet new people and make friends. At some point during the summer, your school's student life/admissions office will reach out to you to gauge your interest in living in the dorms. If you want to dorm, be sure to respond to their message and complete any action items they ask you to take care of, such as:

  • Completing their survey about your lifestyle preferences (e.g., if you’re an early riser or night owl, are strict about keeping your space tidy or don’t mind a bit of mess) so you can be placed in an appropriate dorm/building with a roommate who shares your preferences.
  • Submit a deposit that locks down your spot in your new dorm.
  • Sign any waivers/contracts before moving in.

Different schools will require you to complete and submit different types of materials, so be sure to check your student portal to learn more about what you’ll need. If you have any questions about the cost of dorming, you can contact your school's financial aid office to learn more.

Pros of living in a dorm:

  1. Make community. Living in a dorm is a common way that first-year students make new friends. A majority of the people living in your dorm will likely feel the same way as you - nervous and excited to be away from home and make new friends!
  2. You’re close to everything on campus. Everything you'll need on campus will be conveniently within walking distance - your classes, food spots, study lounges, and more. 
  3. Amenities. It’s common for dorms to offer things such as TVs, pool tables, or video games for students to use in their downtime - typically for free. In addition to these amenities, schools typically require students living in dorms to purchase a meal plan for the dining hall. Dorms are typically small spaces, so unless there's a shared kitchen, cooking options are limited. With a meal plan, you have access to on-campus dining that you already paid for upfront.

Cons of living in a dorm:

  1. Cost. Dorming is typically more expensive than living in off-campus housing - the specific cost will be broken down in your financial aid award letter from your school. Some schools will require students to pay for their housing up front, while others allow students to pay every quarter/semester. Be sure to look on your school’s housing portal for a payment schedule. Your meal plan can potentially be another con. Because you're required to buy one when dorming, you could be spending more money up front, and you may be limited on your options - cost of meal plans are usually divided by meals per week (i.e. 10 meals per week), and the more meals you want to purchase during the week, the more expensive your meal plan is going to be.
  2. Noise/lack of privacy. With many people on your floor or in your building, it might be difficult to get some privacy and find some alone time. While having people around can be fun, it can also be distracting at times - especially when you need to focus on school.

Off-campus housing

Living off campus is a great option for students who want to cut down on the cost of living and gain some independence during their first year of college. Many colleges have student-run Facebook groups where students and alumni can look for a place to live and post any open spots in their house or apartment. Be sure to start your search in these types of groups. Additionally, some college’s housing departments may have off-campus housing resources, so make sure to check there as well.

If you're allowed to and interested in living off campus, there will be a few things you must take care of this summer before moving in: 

  • Sign your lease or sublease.
  • Make your arrangements to move in: who will help you, what you’ll need to move in, how long you expect it to take, etc.
  • Calculate your total cost of living (rent, groceries, utilities, etc.) to ensure you’ll be able to afford it.
  • Talk with your new roommate(s) about things like chores, paying bills on time, lifestyle expectations, house rules, etc.

Pros of living off campus:

  1. Independence. Whether you choose to live off campus alone or with roommates, you'll be independent in the sense that you're responsible for your security deposit and lease, moving fees, keeping up with bills and paying rent on time, groceries and food for yourself, laundry, and managing your mail. This can be a challenging experience for those who have never done it before, but rewarding in the long run!
  2. Privacy and space. If you’re someone who needs some extra privacy, living off campus might be for you. Even if you have roommates, there will likely be fewer people around than if you were living in the dorms. This means less distractions and a bit more privacy.

Cons of living off campus:

  1. Difficulty making friends/community. It can be more challenging to make friends in college if you’re not on/around campus as much as a student who’s dorming.
  2. Less convenience. Depending on where you live, you might not have the same access to food, study spots, etc. as a student who’s living on campus. You might find it’s a bit more inconvenient to grab a snack or find a quiet study spot.
  3. Getting to campus. Even if you don’t live far from campus, you will still need to make an effort to get there for classes, meetings, etc. Walking/driving to campus can take time out of your day to study or see friends.

Commuting from home

Some students attending college close to home prefer to live there and commute to school. This is a great option for students looking to cut down on the cost of living.

Pros of commuting from home:

  1. Saving money. You can save a lot of money on housing if you’re living from home - especially if you’re living rent-free. This can significantly cut down on college expenses in the long run!
  2. Being close to loved ones. Starting college can be an intimidating transition for many! Having your loved ones around during this time for extra support can be beneficial.

Cons of commuting from home:

  1. Lack of independence. Those living at home might find it difficult to get some time or privacy to study, do homework, and decompress after a long day.
  2. Difficulty making friends/community. It can be more challenging to make friends and meet new people in college if you’re not on/around campus as much as a student who’s dorming. 

Need some help deciding which housing option is best for you? Text #College to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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