It’s that time of year again. Now that it’s post-spring break, you’re officially in the last stretch of the semester where you’re picking classes for next year and maybe even figuring out where you to want to live on campus. But for some collegiettes, the bigger question is deciding if you’re ready to make the big move off campus. However, before you make the leap, there are a few details you may want to consider. We’ll weigh the pros and cons of whether or not living off campus is a good fit for you and answer the question, “So what’s living off campus really like?”
But before we start, take this mini-quiz:
1. When I get hungry, I…
- Head straight to the nearest dining hall. Why go anywhere else when I can choose pizza, Lucky Charms or ice cream for dinner? It’s a no-brainer.
- Prefer to cook my own meals even if it takes more time and is a little more costly. I’m not even sure if that chicken in the dining hall is actually meat—better safe than sorry.
2. Last night’s party was a blast, but now your dorm room is trashed. Who’s cleaning up?
- Isn’t that what Sundays are for? I’m way too hung over to even think about leaving my bed. Tackling a stained carpet and picking up beer cans can wait.
- You’ve already got a broom in your hand and have recruited your roommates to mop the kitchen. Hey, if you don’t clean up, who else will?
3. When it comes to budgeting at college, I…
- Budget? What budget? When I need money for the bar, a new Forever 21 top or a Friday night wings order, I just charge it on my credit card. Done.
- Tend to be more frugal. I set aside an amount of money each month for things that I want (like money for ordering out), but also for things that I need (like monthly prescription refills). The rest I try to save up.
4. True or false: I have a job or some source of income.
5. Picture this: you’re living off campus. It’s snowing and you have an 8 a.m. Will you be going to class?
- Well, it’s going to take me at least 20 minutes to scrape all the ice and snow off of my car and probably just as longer to drive to the commuter parking lot because the roads are so slippery (not to mention finding a parking space). I’ll probably just sleep this one through just to be safe.
- Sure. I might have to get up extra early or take the school’s bus system, but I’ll find a way to make it to class.
6. For me, sharing bathroom space is…
- Not a big deal.
- A hassle. I hate not having privacy, wearing shower shoes and having to wait to take a shower.
Mostly A’s: You might want to hold off ‘til next year before moving off campus.
Mostly B’s: Congrats! You’re ready to move off campus.
Let’s break it down.
Pros to living off campus:
- It might be cheaper.
Depending on what your school’s housing plan is like, it might actually be cheaper to live off campus. With room and board costing as much (or more) than $10,000 at some schools, finding an off campus house or apartment can save you thousands. But make sure to crunch some numbers before you sign the check to see if this will actually save you money. Remember: you’ll need to pay for the cost of utilities like rent, cable and Internet access.
- You’ll have more privacy.
No more waiting for a chance to use the shower at 7 a.m. or a sink to brush your teeth in… and you can throw out those gross shower shoes. Yes, please.
- A new social life.
With a new house or apartment comes a new community, new neighbors and new friends. You can throw that highlighter party next weekend without having to worry about an R.A. pounding on the door and then writing you up (talk about a buzz kill). And if you’re older, in many college towns an off-campus house or apartment is way closer to your local bars, making a night out way more convenient once you’ve moved past the frat-and dorm-party scene.
- You can cook.
Having your own kitchen means kissing mass-produced mac ‘n cheese good-bye. You are now in charge of what goes into your fridge and what is going to go into your mouth. When you have the luxury of choosing your own food, you’ll likely eat healthier too and buy the fruits and veggies that you like. Plus, you won’t be tempted by the endless amount of dessert options that never seem to go away, but always keep you coming back for more.
“The only reason why I used to eat every ice cream every night after dinner was because it was right in front of me,” says UConn student Lauren Peterson, who used to live in dorm-style housing, but now lives in an apartment.
- Rental history.
Part of living on your own comes with responsibility, but who ever said that responsibility was a bad thing? Once you rent out a house or apartment, you’ll begin to develop a rental history, which will definitely be helpful when you’re on the prowl for an apartment post-graduation (that is, if you make sure your rental history is a good one—not bad).
Cons to living off campus:
- It might NOT be cheaper.
You may think you’re saving thousands by making the jump to off-campus housing, but you need to do some careful configuring first. After you do the math to make sure you’d really be saving money (as opposed to losing it), you’ll need to take into consideration other costs such as rent, utilities, Internet and TV (yes, it costs money in the real world), food and electronic appliances, transportation, cleaning costs, furniture and other living expenses.
- You have to cook.
Cooking for yourself may be healthier, but it’s not always convenient. Not only can weekly grocery shopping take a toll on your wallet, but also when you head home after a long day of classes, the last thing you may want to think about is cooking dinner. It’s easy when you’re on campus and are just a swipe card away from a hot meal, but you might be regretting that you gave up pre-prepared food once you don’t have it.
Another important factor to consider is how you will be getting to your classes (and other activities) that are on campus. Do you have a car? Will you need one? How much is gas? Will you need to purchase a parking permit? Will you need to depend on public transportation? Is it reliable? Will you need a metro card? All of these questions need to be answered ahead of time before you make your move.
Equally important to note: living off campus takes planning ahead. “When your friends want you to come to an event on campus at 9 p.m. and you have class all day and then work/an internship you don’t have time to go back home,” says HC intern and Emerson College student Michelle Golden. Also, in a city where Michelle has a 30-minute commute on the T, “by the time I get home I’m really exhausted, I’m always sweating by the time I get home—and even getting to the T in the morning—because I have to walk with all my stuff (plus big jackets). I can’t just roll out of bed and go to class like I used to. I miss that!”
- No cleaning service.
There are no custodians to clean up the bathrooms during the week and with a bigger pad, you’ll have more space to tidy up as well. Also, when you throw those big weekend parties, you’ll have worry about jungle juice spilling on your couch, unidentifiable stains on your carpet and beer-flooded floors—all messes that you’ll have to clean yourself. Keep in mind that permanent damage (like holes punched in walls) caused by other people too will ultimately be your responsibility when the landlord inspects your apartment—not theirs.
“Living off campus is like a preview to what living in an apartment once you’re done with college will be like,” says Michelle. “If you don’t clean up your pots and pans and expect to be able to make dinner the next night without having to scrape off old pasta, then you better clean your dishes right after you make dinner. If your apartment smells, it’s probably because you didn’t take the trash out. The dishes won’t clean magically and the trash won’t just disappear.”
- Lack of security
Living on your own also means that you have to be extra careful about locking doors and protecting personal belongings. For Michelle, her off-campus apartment in Cambridge got broken into over winter break and the robbers stole expensive items like her iPod adapter and a panini maker. “You kind of have to watch out for that kind of stuff as well,” she says. “[Living] At a school you are usually protected. [While living on campus] we used to get the random e-mails about someone’s wallet that got stolen or their apartments were robbed when they left their door open. In an apartment, if someone comes in, it is definitely an invasion of personal space and you don’t have campus security sending out mass emails or have their ‘protection’ either way.”
“Sometimes I wish I could have lived in a dorm for four years, but I’m sure that if I continued to live in a dorm like I did freshman year I would have wanted to live in an apartment,” says Michelle. But at the end of the day, “Every collegiette should know that with moving into an apartment, there definitely comes responsibility. You have to want to be independent.”
So collegiettes, do you prefer on-campus housing or do you like having your own space? Is moving off-campus a hassle or totally worth it? Tell us in the Comments section below!
Lauren Peterson, University of Connecticut student
Michelle Golden, Emerson College student, HC health editor