Where you will live during your time in college is one of the many exciting decisions you will have to make as you transition into the next phase of your life, but it can also be one of the most stressful. While movies about college tend to show long corridors of dorms as the norm, a 2016 survey of 89,000 college students found:
Note: the remaining 8% of students attended more than one institution, so they were left out of these statistics
Many factors should be considered when choosing where to live during college, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. We’ve outlined a few guiding questions here, as well as some tips for each housing option.
Keep in mind that COVID-19 may have a lasting impact on housing options while in college. Check with your school to see how their housing options have been impacted. Prioritize your safety when choosing where you will live by reviewing the most up-to-date housing and COVID-19 policies.
Which Housing Option Is Right For Me?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when looking at housing options:
These requirements can be detailed, so look into them! For example, the University of Houston requires first-year students to live on campus unless they are married or live with their parents. Texas State University requires first-year students to live on campus unless they meet certain age and credit requirements.
In most places, on-campus housing is more expensive. However, in some very popular or busy cities, you may need a long commute to find something cheaper. Shop around to look at the cost to rent near your campus.
Check out transportation to class. Will you drive, bike, take public transportation? Some schools charge for parking, so check these rates out as well.
Financial aid awards are distributed at the beginning of each semester, and these funds can be used towards your room and board costs. You may be able to use your financial aid award to pay for your housing deposit as well but check with your school first.
Life is about more than just money. Take some time to reflect on what you will need to excel and feel great in your college experience. For some students, being close to family and saving money by living at home is the best fit. For others, exploring their identity and independence in a new space is a priority.
Some Potential Pros and Drawbacks of Different Living Options:
On-campus housing has both single-sex and co-ed dorms. There are lots of different layouts, with most first-year students sharing a room with a roommate.
- You will have a short commute to class.
- It’s an easy way to meet other students.
- All of your bills are included in the cost (utilities, water, internet, etc.).
- Dorms usually provide basic furniture.
- Sometimes, you are required to purchase a meal plan.
- You are less likely to have a private room.
- It can be more expensive.
- Sometimes dorms are loud and distracting.
- It may be cheaper than on-campus housing.
- There are more options for the type of housing.
- You have the option to live alone or have your own room in an apartment or house.
- You may have more private space.
- Your commute to campus will be longer than on-campus housing.
- You are responsible for purchasing all your food/utilities/furniture etc.
- You may have a large deposit (first and last month rent plus deposit), and your application needs to be approved by the landlord.
- You will need to determine the safety of the area.
Living at Home
- Generally, the most economical option, and may allow you to save up some money while in school.
- You can stay close to your family.
- You don’t need to move.
- Your commute to campus will be longer than on-campus housing.
- It can be more difficult to form connections and make friends.
- Sometimes you are still expected to help with chores and finances.
- The desire to have more independence can be difficult.
On-Campus Housing Tips
Many on-campus housing options are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Contact your college or university ASAP if you plan to live on campus to try to secure housing.
If you have someone you plan to room with, contact your university to ask about those steps.
When you know who you’ll be living with, contact your future roommate to organize who will bring what and share expectations for living together.
Some on-campus housing requires a deposit. If you cannot pay the deposit, some schools offer deposit waivers or loans to help with this cost.
Use our ON-CAMPUS HOUSING CHECKLIST to track your progress towards housing!
Off-Campus Housing Tips
Look around for a place to move, comparing prices, utilities, safety, and distance from campus.
Will you live alone or with a roommate? Living with a roommate can help reduce costs, but you want to make sure that your schedules and expectations are a good fit.
If you’ll live with a roommate, contact your future roommate to organize who will bring what and share expectations for what living together.
Read our safety tips at the bottom of this article. Never move somewhere you may not feel safe.
Make sure you have enough money for the application fee, initial deposit, and first-month rent.
Read your entire leasing agreement and ask any questions if something seems unclear or incorrect before signing. For example, some leases stipulate that parts of the deposit or pet deposit are non-refundable.
Use classified (e.g. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace), friends, family, and thrift stores to find great deals on things to fill your new space. Make a list of essential items and “nice to haves.”
By checking online maps for driving and public transportation routes, you can get a sense of the time it will take you to get from your new place to class and anywhere else you will frequently go.
Use our OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING CHECKLIST to track your progress towards housing!
Living at Home Tips
If you will continue living at home, discuss changing expectations with your family. We have some suggestions in the handout below.
If possible, change up your living space. Make sure you have a comfortable space to study since college has lots of independent work time!
Research clubs, neat spaces on campus, and events to make sure you take advantage of all campus has to offer! It helps to have a comfy place you know you can go between classes.
Choosing to live at home can save lots of money! Yet, sometimes living in the same space during both high school and college can feel anti-climatic. If you can, splurging on something for your room or workspace, like a new piece of art, a desk, or a lovely lamp, can help! Make a list of things you will find helpful (or fun) in college, and keep an eye on sales and resale boards!
Use our LIVING AT HOME CHECKLIST to track your progress towards housing!
ALWAYS be safe! - Regardless of where you live!
Most campuses are relatively safe, but it’s always a good idea to take precautions just in case. Here are a few tips and tricks for keeping you, and your things, safe while in school.
- Keep in mind that you’re not going to be under your parents’ supervision! You’ll be out on your own, and you need to be keeping yourself safe and making responsible decisions!
- Ensure that you always lock the door to your room/apartment, even if you are just leaving it for a few minutes. Better to have the inconvenience of a locked door than the inconvenience of a stolen computer!
- Don’t loudly brag about all of the awesome expensive stuff in your room. Bragging is rude, you don’t want to broadcast the things in your room.
- Don’t let anybody you don’t know into your building. If somebody is loitering outside your dorm/apartment building because they “forgot their key,” don’t let them in! They might be telling you the truth, but they might not be, and some risks aren’t worth taking.
- If you will be living in an apartment, you need to check their security and safety and make sure that they measure up to your expectations; if you have even slight hesitation, then it’s probably best not to live there.
- Make sure that valuables are not visible through a window outside your apartment or dorm room.
- Have a hiding place for valuables, such as cash or electronics.
- If you are having issues in your dorm, be they issues with your roommate or other people on your floor, speak to your RA (resident advisor/residence assistant) sooner rather than later. A great way to avoid conflict is to dig it out before it can take root!
- If anything happens, do not hesitate to contact campus security! Part of your tuition goes to paying them to keep you safe! We suggest programming campus security’s phone number into your phone before attending school.
- If you feel unsafe walking to/from your dorm or apartment at night from campus, walk with a friend, or campus security can provide an escort.