College Housing Part One: On-Campus or Off-Campus?

College Housing: On-Campus or Off-Campus? The pros and cons of living on and off campus

You’ve just committed to a college, or maybe you’re just about to finish a year of school and a housing contract. Either way, you need to figure out where you’re going to live next year. There are a lot of choices, and picking the right college housing for you can be a difficult decision. I’m here to lay it all out to make your decision a bit easier.

Some colleges require freshman to live on campus, or don’t even have dorms, but at a lot of colleges, the first housing choice you need to make is whether you want to live on or off campus. People tend to have very strong opinions on which is better, but the truth is this tends to vary from person to person. I lay out all of the pros and cons of each and you can choose for yourself which is right for you.

On-Campus Housing

Most colleges offer on-campus dorms where students can live. There are a lot of different kinds of dorms, which will be covered in part two. However, let’s just focus on on-campus housing in general.



Most college dorms have a Resident Assistant (RA) assigned to students who live in dorms. A lot of times RAs are seen as annoying and controlling, but they can be a huge asset in your college life. RAs are there to enforce the rules, which is annoying until it’s your roommates breaking the rules. An RA can help you settle any disputes that may arise between you and your roommates. If you have any concerns, you can visit your RA and they will help you or connect you to resources you need. Your RA isn’t there to be your mom, but to be a helpful resource to you. Having an RA is definitely an advantage.


One of the biggest advantages of on-campus housing is right in the name: it’s right on campus. Your dorm is right next to all of your classes. This means that you can roll out of bed ten minutes before class and still make it on time. If you have an hour break between classes, you can simply go home and eat or nap between classes. You don’t have to carry everything you need all day with you, because you run home and grab it. It’s so nice and you save so much time when you live right on-campus.

Dining Halls:

Most dorms people who live in dorms use a meal plan, meaning they can eat in the cafeteria. The cafeteria is usually right next to the dorms, and has a lot of different options. This means that instead of having to cook for yourself, you can just pop over to the cafeteria and grab some food. This is convenient for a lot of busy students.


On campus housing usually involves a lot of students packed into a small space. This isn’t great for privacy, but it is great for building a sense of community. When you live in a dorm, there are always people around, meaning you have a lot of opportunities to make friends. A lot of dorms also host activities to help you make friends with your neighbors.



On-campus housing tends to have a lot more rules than other forms of housing. These might include quiet hours and even curfews, cleaning checks, rules about having the opposite gender over, rules about alcohol and other substances, etc. The RAs are in charge of enforcing these rules, which makes them seem like your mother sometimes. These rules are meant to provide a living environment that works for everyone, but they can feel restricting if you don’t agree with them.

Space and Privacy:

Dorms are notorious for being small. You usually have a roommate with whom you share a small space, and it’s hard to get away from them. There’s not a lot of space or privacy to be found in most dorms.


While some colleges have different types of dorms to choose from, your choices are usually limited. If your school has a lot of people who want to live in the dorms, you might not even get any choice where on campus you live. You also might not get to choose your roommates; instead they’ll be randomly assigned to you by the school.

Off-Campus Housing

There are a lot of different options when it comes to living off-campus, which will be covered in part three of this housing series. For now though, here’s what off-campus housing has in common.


More freedom:

Off-campus housing usually has less strict rules, and it doesn’t have RAs to enforce the rules. This means you have a lot more freedom to do whatever you want.

Live with friends:

With dorms, you’re usually randomly assigned someone to live with. If you have friends that you want to live with, you can all arrange to live off-campus together. You can also live by yourself, which is a rarity on-campus.

Feels more like home:

Dorms can sometimes feel more like hotel rooms than homes, but off-campus housing usually doesn’t have that problem. When you live off-campus, you usually are in an apartment or house which feels a lot more homey. There’s usually more space, and you have more opportunity to personalize your space. If you live in an unfurnished apartment, you can bring your own furniture from home that’s probably a lot more comfortable than the dorm beds.

More options and variety:

When you live off campus, you can choose to live in an apartment, a townhouse, a house, etc. Additionally, each place will have a different floor plan to choose from. You can find something that works best for you, an option that usually isn’t available on campus.


Especially if you’re willing to live farther away from campus, you can usually get an off-campus apartment for cheaper than a dorm. This depends on the city you’re in, of course, but this is generally the way things are. You also have a lot broader range of prices to choose from, so you can choose a cheap but less nice apartment, or a nicer, more expensive apartment, depending on your means and needs.



Living off-campus means that you have to get to campus somehow. If you drive, you have to worry about parking on campus, which can be expensive and limited. Another option is taking the bus if your city has one, but this means you’re tied to a bus schedule. You can also walk to campus, depending on how close your housing is. However you decide to commute, it can be complicated and take a long time. You can’t just wake up ten minutes before class and make it on time.

Stuck on campus:

Another part of the commute means that if you have an hour break between classes, you can;t just go home. By the time you would get home, it would be time to turn around and go back to campus. If you forget something, it’s much harder to go back and get it. Living off campus means that end up feeling stuck on campus most of the time.


When you live off-campus, you have to worry about things like utilities, which are usually included in dorm prices. This means you have to figure out to split utilities and collect the payments from your roommates every month. This is certainly doable, but it can be a pain and means that your housing depends on other people paying. If one of your roommates drops the ball, you usually have to figure how to cover their portion or risk having the lights turned off.

Less community-based:

When you live off-campus, there are usually fewer students living around you. You might even have families with small children as your neighbors. Even if you’re student-specific apartments, there is generally less of community feeling when you live off campus. You also don’t have immediate access to all of the events that go on at a college campus. It can get lonely living off campus.


The right choice is different for everyone. Have you lived on or off campus? Which do you prefer?

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