College Survival 105: Living Off Campus

August 21, 2015
Photo by Elwin Chai via Flickr

Personally, I preferred living on campus. Living on campus is a little tough, because you have Resident Advisors and Directors who set the rules and enforce them. Off campus, however, if there is an issue you usually have to deal with the police or other authorities. Living off campus gives you a lot of responsibility, especially when it comes to paying bills and cleaning up after yourself. It’s also nice because you usually have a bigger space or more freedom decorating. On campus, though, you are closer to classes usually, and you don’t have to worry about bills and things like that!


I can speak from my experience at Penn. There is a big culture of living off-campus at Penn that may or may not exist at other schools as well (some schools encourage on campus housing for all 4 years). There are a lot of options off campus—some are fancier, some are not; some are cheaper, some are not. Distance from classes and buildings is not necessarily the main difference between living off and on campus; rather, it is just that once you live off campus, you are more distant from the rest of the college community. While you may see your friends walking past and interact with strangers in a more intimate setting on campus, people living off campus may just walk to classes and go back to their room. By being in a full building of college students, people on campus are able to just go down a couple of flights and find their friends, whereas off campus students will probably only consistently see their roommates or the other few people in their building.

The main differences between living on and off campus are typically costs and transportation. At UW-Madison, most students live in off campus housing after their first or second year. Since the school is in the middle of the city, however, most of the apartments or houses that students live in are still relatively close to campus. Usually off campus housing is less expensive than on campus housing so you may be required to take a bus or walk farther to get to class (if you’re walking it might also be a good way to lose that freshman 15!). In addition to that, your off campus housing will likely be set up as an apartment, which means no more 20 person shared bathroom and your own kitchen! Keep in mind, however, that while having your own kitchen and bathroom is great, you’ll also need to be able to cook (no more housing food!) and buy your own toilet paper which can be more of a hassle than it seems.

Again, this question can’t be generalized for all schools. At some schools—generally large public state schools—there is no housing that’s on campus, or if there is it’s pretty limited, with most freshman dorms being just off campus instead. At smaller schools and private universities, it’s more common to have on-campus freshman housing, and if this is the case for your school I highly recommend living on-campus as a freshman. There’s definitely negatives to living in freshman dorms (lack of privacy, noise, general uncleanliness), but everyone there is in it together, and the proximity to campus events and activities definitely helps get immersed in campus life. It’s much harder to do that living off-campus, where you just don’t find out about as much that’s going on.

Living on campus has more of that quintessential college feel because you’re around college students every where you turn. Off campus there will still be college students, but also community members and families. There’s more encouragement to be involved in campus if you live on campus because you’re always around advertisements. Also, often resident halls will have programs to get the student body involved. Convenience is probably the biggest difference. It is is much easier to go to events (and classes!) if you live closer - especially if you go to school where it is cold.

Living off campus is scary! You have to grocery shop, cook, remember to lock your doors, buy furniture, pay bills, etc. Going to campus when you don’t have class can be a drag, and deter you from going to the library or the gym. Living on campus is definitely more convenient. At my school, everyone lives off campus except for juniors, who typically only live off if they are studying abroad. Seeing my friends who are living off campus makes me glad that I live on. I don’t want to deal with “real world” things like groceries and bills when my plate is already full from my course load!

Living on campus has been great for me. I met my roommates before moving in and we’ve gotten close, with each other and our neighbors on the floor. Living on campus has the perks of proximity to classes and its an easy way to make friends. However, living off campus just gives you so much more freedom. The dorms are not necessarily small, but an apartment is probably more comfortable and has the luxuries of private bathrooms and kitchens, something most dorms do not include. However, it can be much more expensive and secluded.

The biggest difference between living on and off campus is privacy. While on campus, underclassmen rarely get any privacy. As a junior transfer, I was placed into a double and there was a communal shower room and bathroom. It was not a pleasant year, however my roommate moved so I ended up having a double all to myself! Off campus, you have the luxury to do anything you want. There is none of that anxiety of “is someone in the bathroom?” or “is someone in the shower?”. However, living on campus lets you be around all your friends and lets you create so many memories. Off campus can become very lonely and separates you from your friends.

How do you feel about living off campus? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

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