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Living On Campus vs. Off Campus: Which is Right for You?

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Posted: October 24th, 2023
Living On Campus vs. Off Campus: Which is Right for You?

Deciding to live on campus or off campus can be a big decision. You may be tempted to make this choice based on money, or what your friends are doing, but that may not actually be the best way for you to decide. Before making any choices you should be sure to carefully consider all the aspects of life that can differ between living on campus and off campus. So, let’s do just that! 

Required on campus living

Before we get too deep into this article, there’s one thing that you should keep in mind before trying to decide where to live: knowing whether or not you’re allowed to live off campus. Each college will have their own rules regarding how many years they require students to live on campus. You may also have received scholarship money or are involved in programs that require you to live on campus. So, be sure you are familiar with your school’s policy and your personal situation. Okay, now let’s go!

Living on campus 

Let’s start by talking about living on campus. Below you’ll find a list of different points to consider. We opted to not make this a list of pros and cons because each individual’s preferences and situation is unique, something that is a benefit to one person could be a challenge for another. But without further adieu, let’s get into it. 

Proximity to class

Let’s start with an obvious one, if you’re living on campus you will likely have a shorter commute time to class. Unless you’re at a large university, you will likely be able to walk or bike to class in a reasonable amount of time and not have to do too much planning ahead of time. This means you don’t need to worry about having a car or paying to take public transit. You’ll save money and time on things like gas, car insurance, parking permits, finding a parking space or the potential unpredictability of public transportation.  Some campuses also offer a free shuttle that can transport you around campus and sometimes into the closest city you’re living by! 

One all inclusive price

One perk of living on campus may be that you have fewer monthly bills to pay. Typically students will play one flat rate for their room and board. Included in this will be expenses like water, WIFI, electric, heat and more. 

Limited personal space

Whether you’re sharing a room or living on your own in a dorm, college dorms can be quite small. Even if you have a spacious single sweet dorm, having only your room as your personal space can be difficult, not to mention if you have a roommate. On the other hand, if you grew up sharing a room or have a large family you may find that a college dorm is the first time you’ve had a space to call your own! Again, this is something that is up to you to decide how you feel about it, we just want to get you thinking! 


Safety may be something that your parents are thinking about more than you, but nonetheless, it is an important factor to consider. If you’re living in a residence hall on campus, you can usually count on only student residents being able to access the building. Additionally, your campus will have either a police system or campus security that is available 24/7. Living off campus may mean that your safety is more so in your hands. You’ll still have local law enforcement, but anything else like security systems, campus safety personnel, and keeping your house locked are up to you. 

Meal plan

When students live on campus they may be required to have a meal plan. Colleges will usually have levels of meal plans that students can choose from that will range in price and number of meals. It may take you a little bit of time to figure out what meal plan is right for you and you can usually adjust your plan between semesters. Make sure to look into your school’s meal plans and think about how much you would want to buy your own groceries.

Building community

We can’t finish this list without mentioning the “classic college experience” of building community. For most people, graduating high school and going to college means living in a dorm and getting to be fully immersed in college life. Living on campus gives you easy access to meeting a lot of different people, joining groups and clubs, or random events and opportunities that pop up out of the blue. Of course, you can also have these experiences living off campus, but it may require more intentionality on your end to get connected. Ask yourself if you think not living on campus is something you may regret. Talk to parents or friends who may have faced the same decision about where to live in college. Remember, there isn’t one right answer, it’s just about what’s best for you! 

Living off campus

Alright, let’s talk living off campus! Because many colleges require students to live on campus for at least one year, you may have started  to consider what the off campus living options look like. So, let’s talk about some details together to help you make your choice about whether you want to live off campus!

May be cheaper

Let’s start with the biggest attraction to off campus living: cost. A college will usually have students pay one lump sum for each semester you live on campus which can be quite expensive, whereas apartments or houses will charge a monthly rent. If you’re unsure which is cheaper, divide your college room and board by how many months you lived in the dorms and then compare it to the monthly rent you would pay elsewhere. Remember, your off-campus rent cost doesn’t include things like food, internet bills, and even utilities. Don’t forget to look for scholarships, rent assistance programs, and even student loans to help you pay for living expenses!

Another potentially cheaper off-campus option that might work for you is living with your family if they are located close to your school. While living at home might not fit your vision of the typical college experience, for some students it is an important option to consider in order to meet their personal or financial goals. If you do choose to live at home, make sure you have conversations with your family about how this arrangement may look different than high school. Your family may expect you to pick up additional chores around the house or chip in on bills and you’ll likely have a packed schedule and need a quiet space to do homework or study. 

Will have to pay for things separate (WIFI, food, electric, water, other utilities)

Since we’re talking about cost, let’s not forget to factor in all the expenses that can add up each month as well. Things like WIFI, food, electricity, water, trash collection, streaming services, and more can all be quite costly if you’re not careful. Before signing a lease, ask if utilities are included in your monthly rent. Sometimes a landlord may cover one thing, like gas or water, and require you to pay for other utilities. Having roommates is a great way to split the cost for other things like WIFI streaming services and even food. 

Longer leases

For students who live far from home, or do not have the option to return home during things like winter break and summer break, having a longer lease may come in super handy, while for others it may just prove more costly to be paying for something that they’re not using. Dorms will typically only allow students to stay in the dorms while classes are in session, which can cause a big problem for some students with nowhere else to go during long holiday breaks or over the summer. Even if a school does allow you to stay over breaks, it may come at a steep cost to you. So, consider the fact that living off campus may provide you with a longer lease.

Choose who you live with

Living in an apartment or house means you’ll get to have a lot more say in who you live with and how many people you live with. Trying to sign a lease with friends can be difficult at times, but it can also be a super fun and cost effective choice. Be sure you think carefully about who you’d like to live with before signing any binding agreements though. 

Further from campus

Even if your new living accommodations are near campus, you’ll likely still be further than you would be in a dorm. For some people this may be no issue at all, but it’s still important to keep in mind. If you plan to drive to campus at all, you’ll need to consider getting a parking pass. You should also consider what it will be like driving or walking to campus in various weather conditions; missing class just because of weather is not an excuse that will hold up with most professors. Don’t forget to also look into public transportation options like the train or bus systems as sometimes colleges have discounts for students. 

More space to yourself

Last, but not least on our list, is thinking about the amount of space you’ll have to yourself if you live off campus. In a dorm you may have a small communal kitchen, shared laundry, a living space and shared bathrooms. Think about how your space would look in off campus living options. Will you be sharing a bathroom? How many people may be living with you also using things like the kitchen and living room? It’s not that you’ll have loads of spacious rooms if you live off campus, but just that that space may feel more like your own.

Ask yourself…

The biggest factor in deciding where to live (aside from your college’s housing policies) will ultimately come down to what you feel is the best option for yourself. Take some time to really consider how you feel.

  • Is there anything that makes you nervous about living on campus?
  • If you live off campus, what sort of transportation (car, bike, walking, etc..) will you have to campus?
  • Have you spoken to your parents about your living options and considered their thoughts?
  • What does the cost of living on campus and off campus look like at your college?

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Whether you decide to live on campus or off campus, the cost of living can be quite expensive and should definitely be taken it into consideration when thinking about the cost of college
  • Who you live with can make a huge impact on how successful or unsuccessful you are in college, which means whether you live on or off campus, you should be cognizant of who you are living with
  • Almost every college will have a page on their website that gives students an idea of what on campus life may look like, be sure to spend some time exploring this page
  • Make a list of your own pros and cons for living on and off campus, as well as some of the points we mentioned above, to help you make your decision
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about living on campus or off campus

Do students who live on campus do better?

LIving on campus can be a great way to keep yourself involved and focused on school. Some colleges require students to live on campus for just this reason. However, you need to assess for yourself what you think would be best. The decision process should involve consulting a parent and perhaps even asking a guidance counselor. These people may be able to shed some light on things you haven’t thought about and should be able to help steer you in the right direction.

Does FAFSA give more money if you live on campus?

Unfortunately, living on campus or off will not affect the amount of money you receive from the FAFSA. However, your school may have separate policies about aid and housing costs. If you’re unsure about your college’s policies, reach out to your financial aid office to ask.

Is it better to live on campus or off campus in college?

If we had one straight answer to this question, we promise we would be more than happy to give it to you! Unfortunately though, there is no simple answer. Living on or off campus has to be your decision. Try not to stress yourself out too much trying to decide, as your housing will likely change every year that you are at college. If something isn’t working out, remember that it’s temporary. Take your time and think through your choices, seek advice from trusted family and friends, you’ll figure this out!

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