When it comes to college, it seems like you are bombarded with a series of never ending questions. What school are you going to? What are you going to major in? Do you want to stay close to home or venture off to a new location? How much money are you willing to spend on your education? These are just a few of the endless choices that college students are faced with as they brave the transition from being a “child” in high-school to being an “adult” in college. One of the biggest questions you may have asked yourself is, do I want to live on-campus or off-campus? Some of you may have known since birth that you wanted the full “college experience” of communal bathrooms and decorated doors that come with living in the dorms. However, if you are anything like me you may be considering another option. What is it really like to live off-campus as a college freshman? Will it ruin your college experience? Will it be the best decision of your life? I am going to share with you my own experience with living off-campus and all the things I wish someone would have told me beforehand.
#1). Social Life and Friendships Will Be Different for You
One of my first memories of college is still to this day one that makes me nervous sweat. It was a couple of days before class actually started and all the freshmen in the honors program were rounded up for a big presentation in the school’s theater. I was so excited to officially be starting at the University of Tampa, and as I bounded up to the lobby of the theater I was immediately greeted with a sea of people. Freshman, just like me, all packed in like sardines waiting to be chauffeured to their seats. The first things I noticed about this scene were not the fact that all of these people were the same age as me, had just said an emotional goodbye to their families as I had and were just as overwhelmed as I was but rather the fact that none of them were alone. Every single person in the room was standing next to someone, if not with an entire group. Buzzing and chattering, it seemed like everyone had already meshed perfectly into the college atmosphere and were well-stocked with friends. I felt like I was in the twilight zone as I stood there alone, and at the time I was certain everyone thought I was a complete loser who had no friends.
I came into that event with the expectation that there would be plenty of my peers who felt just as out of place as I did, nervously waiting by themselves and looking to make friends with whoever they could. As the sheer horror of it all took over, I realized that what I was experiencing was because of the fact that I lived off-campus, alone. I didn’t have roommates to walk around campus with or hall mates to just sit next to even if we weren’t really close. The benefit of living on-campus is that you have some sort of social circle by default. I am not saying that everyone who lives in the dorms has an immediate ring of best friends, but they do have some sort of “social branch” to latch onto at most times. Even if it's Bobby from two doors down who is a little odd sometimes, there is still some bit of community when you live on-campus.
For a while, I struggled with this. I felt alone and like I had no friends. People were posting their midnight hangouts with their suitemates and last minute Starbucks runs, and I truly felt I had made a mistake by living off-campus. However, as time went on I began to understand that I was not doomed to ostracism simply because I lived in an apartment. It took a little bit of extra effort, but slowly I began to build up my own group of friends. Now, I meet my friends on-campus all the time. I text them to see if they want to grab dinner after class or go walk around the mall on Saturday. It took a lot of extra effort, and you will encounter people who aren’t willing to go the extra mile to schedule time for your friendship, but I was able to create just as meaningful of friendships as anyone else. It may be “easier” at first for those who live on-campus, but at the end of the day being willing to branch out and be vulnerable is the only way you will make true friends in college, no matter where you live. Living off-campus is not a death sentence to your social life, it is just something that will make your experience with friendships in college different but even more important. Now I can reflect on that time last year in the theatre and realize that deep down, most people felt as scared and lonely as I did. You can be surrounded by people and feel just as alone as someone who lives by themselves does. You choose whether or not you want to put yourself out there and make friends, and that is a choice every student has to make regardless of where they live.
#2). You Will Feel A Different Connection to Your College
Living off-campus, you realize that not everyone’s life revolves around being a student or going to the next campus event. College is like a bubble and when you live, sleep, socialize, study and eat there it becomes your whole life in some ways. I am not saying this is a good or bad thing necessarily, but when you have a separate living situation you begin to see that there is something out there besides school. As an off-campus student, I do not share the bond of living in the dorm building or the funny moments spent laughing with your friends in the dining hall. It can be easy for me to fall into feelings of “otherness” because of this but the truth is that you can be just as involved and devoted to your university as anyone else. Join a club, volunteer with a school-sponsored organization, spend late nights in the library and form your own identity as a college student. You may feel different being an off-campus student, but different does not mean less. On-campus or off, college is what you make of it and when you graduate all that will be left are the memories. Some people may never get involved on campus beyond simply living there, while others may live 10 minutes away but be much more involved in the college environment. Living off-campus does not make you less a part of your community, but rather it can serve as a motivator to truly embrace your time in college and be active in constructing your memories of this time in your life. You may have to work a little harder to feel connected to your college, but ultimately by being vigilant in not “missing” anything it may actually result in you being more involved than you would have been if you had lived off-campus.
#3). You Will Have a Space That is Yours and Yours Alone
With everything I just shared with you, this is what truly makes living off-campus the best option for me. I am an introvert and living off-campus is necessary for my complete well being. Many people think being an introvert means being shy, when in reality it just means that you draw your energy from being alone. I am active on-campus all day. I usually have two classes a day in which I am talking and engaged the whole time, then I may meet with my friend for coffee for a couple of hours and chat with some other aquaintances while walking across campus to my next destination. After a full day of this, I need time to be in my own space to recharge. Living off-campus gives you a sense of space and comfort that you may otherwise have a hard time finding when living on-campus. Sharing bathrooms, dorms, common areas, etc. can become draining for someone who thrives off of a little quiet time. With that being said, you can have an absolutely amazing experience as an introvert on-campus just as you can as an extrovert off-campus. There are varying shades of personality types, just like anything else, but if you are someone who really needs an “off switch” from school/social mode then living off-campus may be a good option for you. You have your own space to do as you please and function as you want. You don’t (typically) have to move at the end of each school year into a new dorm or follow rules that those on-campus do. For example, I am absolutely obsessed with Bath & Body Works candles. Nothing fills me with more joy than being able to come home after a long day, pick out a candle from my hoard and just relax as it smells up my apartment. This is obviously a very trivial thing, but for me it is a simple joy that I really value. If I lived on-campus where candles are not allowed, this would no longer be a part of my routine. As silly as it seems, that is something I really love about being off-campus. I can cook at any time in my own kitchen, host gatherings to my liking and I don’t have to worry about an R.A. coming to inspect my room. For someone like me who loves their alone time and needs to have a space to feel safe in, living off-campus has allowed me to be the best version of myself. At the end of the day, candles will not make your college experience any better but make sure you consider what actually makes you happy and enriches your life before making the decision on where to live.
College is messy, beautiful, stressful, freeing, exciting and overwhelming no matter where you live. You are going to make friends and memories. You are going to cry alone sometimes and miss your family no matter where you choose to live. You are going to feel like the queen of college somedays and feel a lot of loneliness the next. Living off-campus does not mean you can’t have an amazing college experience but it does mean your version may look a little different than someone who lives on-campus. You have to sit with yourself and really evaluate what matters most to you, and try not to let outside influences and your own fear stop you from making the best decision for you. You want to live on-campus and be able to go door to door and meet a ton of new friends? Great! You want to live off-campus and have a cool apartment to decorate where you can burn a million cupcakes in the oven as you learn to bake for the first time? Great! Rest assured, you will not be a complete weirdo if you live off-campus. You have the power to make the most of any experience in life, and college is no different. Do what is best for you when deciding where to live and prepare for some of the best (and most challenging) years of your life as you embark on your college journey, on- or off-campus.