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Living off campus or on campus: Which should you choose?

Columbia College website

Kristin Weaver, staff writer

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Deciding where to live as a college student can be a nerve-wracking challenge, and while it can be tempting to live more independently off-campus, there are things to consider before you pack your bags.

Living on campus:

Living on campus can be a fantastic way to get involved in student activities, make friends and stay focused on your education while at college. Many choose to live all four (or more) years of college on campus because they feel they are more involved in a community by doing so. According to the website mycollegeopinions.org, “Living in campus housing puts you within arm’s reach (often quite literally) of numerous fellow undergrads.” It gives you no choice but to make friends with similar interests but can also expose you to diverse groups of people who can help you grow as an individual.

Dorm life is often easier on a person who has never lived alone before. It can be scary transitioning from high school and living at home with relatives into the big “adult” world of college. Dorm living often comes with a meal plan, a fixed, one-time housing payment instead of monthly rent payments and a way to get to classes (either by foot or by shuttle at larger colleges) you would not necessarily have if you lived off campus.

However, there are some factors to consider before deciding that dorm life is the best life. Dorms can feel cramped, and while the idea of having fellow students around at all times can be a benefit, it may sometimes make it difficult to have quiet time.

There are also more rules when you live on campus. That meal plan that makes your life so much more convenient means you can often eat only at certain times in the dining hall. Columbia College students are fortunate, because The Terrace Cafe serves food from 8:30 a.m to 8:00 p.m., meaning if your classes overlap dining hall hours, you don’t have to miss meals.

There are also rules about what you can and cannot bring into a dorm room and rules that tell you when you can and cannot have guests. Before you decide to live on campus, be sure to familiarize yourself with these rules and be sure that they are something you can personally abide by.

Living off campus:

If you want a more independent lifestyle, living off-campus may be the better choice for you. You have more say in where you live, how you want to decorate and whom you live with. You will more-than-likely have your own kitchen, meaning you are in control of what you eat. According to the Big Ideas Blog by SUNY, “You won’t have to worry about going to your local dining hall or waiting to use the oven in an on campus kitchen. You can bring out your inner-Martha Stewart and cook yourself something delicious.”

Living off campus can afford you many more opportunities for alone time. Even if you live with roommates, finding time for yourself away from people you know is much easier when living off campus. It is often easier to have privacy in off-campus living, as no one is monitoring if you’re following the “rules.”

You make your own rules, because you’re an adult.

However, these same things that can be looked at as bonuses can also be considered challenges. More than likely, you will not have food lying around at all times, so if you’re in a pinch, you can’t just walk down to the dining hall and swipe your card for a meal.

Living off campus is also more difficult if you do not have access to a car. Or, even if you do have a car, living off campus makes it easier (and more tempting) to skip class. Ask yourself if you’re the type of person who needs to live on campus so the quality of your schoolwork doesn’t suffer.

It is also important to note that, as much as quiet time can be nice and is often needed, living off campus can be more lonely than living on campus. It may make it harder for you to get out and make friends. When living off campus, it can also be tempting to avoid campus as much as possible when not in class, meaning you’ll miss out on social events that could be fun if you gave them a try.

Final things to consider:

  • Price: Do research in your area and find out if off-campus living will be cheaper than living in a dorm. In Columbia, apartments and rental homes range anywhere from $500 per month to over $2000 per month, according to homes advertised on Zillow.com. Also, keep the payment schedule in mind. If you feel paying rent monthly is not something you can do, the single payment option of a dorm may be better for you.
  • Independence: Living off-campus comes with fewer rules than living on-campus, but will this lack of structure hurt your academic career? Be honest with yourself in assessing if being submersed in your education by living on campus is a better fit for you.
  • Transportation: If you do not have reliable transportation, living on-campus may make it easier for you to avoid missing classes. Even if a friend offers you rides, living off-campus without reliable transportation can be isolating. Really think about if this option is something that will be more harmful than helpful, if you do not have reliable transportation.

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Living off campus or on campus: Which should you choose?