How Much Does College Housing Really Matter?
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The location of your school can shape your college experience. For instance, living close to campus can make it easier to get to class and stay on campus late to study or participate in extracurriculars. On the other hand, commuting to college can eliminate the stress of living on your own (perhaps for the first time) and taking on new responsibilities.
There are many different housing options like on-campus dorms, apartments, co-ops, sorority/fraternity houses, and more. Each college campus approaches student housing differently, and you should usually try to have your housing figured out well before you get to campus — a few colleges even make it part of the application process!
Should your housing options at each college determine whether you apply to that college or not? Is it that big a factor? To get these answers, along with some general college housing and tips for assessing housing options, keep reading.
A Brief Introduction to College Housing
There is a diverse range of options for housing while you’re in college.
Here are some of the most common:
- On-Campus Dorms: Many colleges offer dorm-style housing, which either takes the form of a stereotypical one-room dorm or an apartment-style dorm with a living room and kitchen. Oftentimes, first-year students who apply for on-campus dorms are assigned a dorm room with one or more roommates. The dorms are usually furnished with a bed, mattress, desk, and a closet/dresser, but the furniture accommodations will differ on each campus. Note that on-campus dorms are not guaranteed to students at every university. Sometimes, dorms are only offered to students that belong to a specific year or a certain program.
- Off-Campus Apartments: Apartments are a common off-campus housing option for students who either can’t live on campus because of university restrictions or want their own private home that they can live in year-round (as opposed to dorms, which are usually available only during the school year) and use to build their rental history. To live off campus, you usually have to search for a place via online rental websites, referrals from peers, open houses, or other sources. Then, you’ll need to contact the landlord, fill out a rental application, and sign a lease. Since you’ve likely never rented an apartment before, a parent or other adult may need to co-sign your lease in order for it to be approved. Once you’ve moved in, you will need to pay rent, along with utility bills, every month. Having your own off-campus apartment can be a lot of responsibility, and it may not be as convenient as living on campus; however, sometimes off-campus apartments are cheaper and/or nicer than on-campus housing. Off-campus apartments aren’t an option for everyone, though; some colleges require all students to live on campus unless they are living with their parents or only allow upperclassmen to live off campus.
- Other Types of Off-Campus Housing: Many college campuses and the surrounding areas have other housing options for students. These include co-ops, fraternity and sorority houses (though you usually need to be a part of these organizations to apply for housing there), off-campus houses, and private dorms. Sometimes, these are the cheapest and nicest housing options; however, it is worth noting that many of these housing options are not available to first-year students. You should keep them in mind, though, and look into them for the future.
- Living With Family: If you are going to college close to home or have a family member that lives near the campus, you can choose to live at home and commute to campus while at college. Oftentimes, this is the cheapest housing option, and there are many benefits that come along with it, like not having to pay bills or deal with the stress of living on your own. However, some students find that this option lacks the independence that the other housing options provide and prefer to live on their own. If you’re considering living with family while attending college, assess your individual situation and decide if this option is right for you.
After exploring different housing options, you may find that you like one better than the other. If you’re unsure, see Room and Board Made Easy: Which Style of Housing is Right for You?
It is important to note that each college has specific rules for how they handle student housing and what they offer students. You may find that some colleges don’t offer each housing option listed above. Therefore, it’s worth taking a look at each college’s individual housing page when you’re deciding which colleges you would like to apply to/attend.
Is housing important enough to consider when you’re applying to college?
No matter where you attend college, you are going to need a safe and secure place to live. Thus, when you’re applying to college, it is worth doing some basic research on each college’s housing website to get a sense of what housing options would be available to you if you decide to attend that university.
Specifically, you should look out for whether housing is guaranteed and how much on-campus and off-campus housing at that university costs. If housing is guaranteed (even just to first-year students) at the university, the college transition is often a lot simpler, because you won’t have to deal with the hassle of applying for different housing options, and you’ll be close to campus. In addition, housing costs are a large chunk of your overall college costs, and these costs have to be affordable in order for a college to be a logical option for you.
To understand more about your total college costs, check out Tuition vs. Total Cost of Attending: Understanding Your College Expenses.
You generally don’t need to get into the details of the on-campus and off-campus housing options when you’re just applying to colleges, though. Usually, each university and the surrounding area has housing. It may not be luxurious and it may require a roommate, but this housing should be adequate for your needs. You can sort out the details of which housing option is best for you after you’ve gotten into the college. For now, just make sure that there are affordable housing options available to you.
That being said, if you have a disability that influences your housing needs, the details of college housing are far more important. For those students who need special accommodations, make sure to do your research and/or talk to the college’s student services and disability services to find out if there is housing at or near the university that fits your needs. Not all housing options (especially older dorms) may be accessible to you.
Important Things to Take Into Account When Assessing Housing Options
Once you’ve gotten into the college and are deciding which housing choice best suits you, you can use these criteria to compare your options:
- Location: As a general rule, housing that is closer to the central points on campus is more convenient. It allows you to go to and from class and extracurriculars without having to worry about a commute. In addition to proximity to campus, you should check to make sure that your housing options are near other necessities like grocery stores, transit stops, and places you go on a regular basis.
- Safety: Especially for off-campus housing, you want to make sure that your housing is located in a safe area. You should find out if the area is well lit, if students feel safe walking around that area at night, whether the surrounding neighborhood is notorious for crime, and whether there is a campus shuttle or other transit that will take you close to home.
- Facilities: Each housing option offers different facilities for its tenants. You need to assess whether your housing has things like a study lounge, laundry facilities, a kitchen (especially if you don’t have a meal plan), common areas, ample storage space, etc. A useful strategy when narrowing down housing options is to pick which of these facilities you absolutely must have and narrow down your housing search from there. For instance, if a kitchen is essential for you because you don’t have a meal plan, you can rule out all stereotypical on-campus dorm options.
- Comfort and Attractiveness: Unfortunately, college housing is rarely glamorous. Even the most prestigious colleges and universities may only have moderately nice housing options for their students. So while comfortable and attractive housing is nice to have, it should not be your top priority. Focus instead on the more practical features of your college housing and trust that the quality of your housing will be good enough and may even help you build a community on campus.
For More Information
These are some general trends and tips for your college housing search that apply to all colleges. If you want to hear more personal accounts about the experience of living on or off campus, take a look at CollegeVine’s Zen Blog. This blog provides firsthand experiences from current college students in posts like A Guide to Being a Good Roommate and Splash of Cold Water: Independence Woke Me Up.
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