So you’re thinking it might be time to cut the cord with dorm life. Maybe you’re tired of living the fun but occasionally draining undergrad housing culture 24/7. Maybe your dorm room is no longer meeting your needs in terms of flexibility and amenities. Maybe you’re just the kind of person who doesn't like to stay in one place for too long!
No matter what your reason, moving off campus is a big decision, and it’s one I had to face last year. I made the choice to move off campus for my junior of year of college, and I’ve never been happier. I did it because I wanted to live in a larger space, but there have been so many additional benefits.
That being said, moving off campus has also made many things in my life more difficult. I think it’s smart that many schools make you live on campus your freshman year, because I’m not sure that I could have handled off-campus life initially. You have to be ready for it.
Off-Campus Living 101
There’s a reason that dorm life is so quintessentially college. When most people think of their times at university and college, I suspect they picture (insert name) Hall, with all the good, bad and crazy that came along with it. But there is good, bad and crazy off-campus too, which makes this decision so hard.
Below, I’ve addressed some of those different elements.
There’s a loss of simplicity
It is much easier to live on campus. College dorms are tailored specifically to the weird quasi-adult phase that we all currently exist in, where we can live on our own and take care of ourselves but can’t really cook and get confused by credit cards.
Apartments are meant for adult human beings who are willing to handle everything themselves. With most dorms, you pay upfront and pretty much everything is covered. You basically don’t have to worry about it once you get there.
When you move into an off-campus apartment, you have to be on top of things. Rent will usually be due monthly, and missing a month is not something you want to do. Your apartment usually won’t come with amenities like cable and wifi, so that’s another task and another monthly bill, and you might also be responsible for sending separate checks to electric, gas or heating companies, depending on the terms of your lease. It probably sounds overwhelming, and it can be when you're starting out. With a little organization and websites like Splitwise, you and your roomies can make it work. But you do have to be ready for new responsibilities.
It’s harder to leave or move
One of the best things about on-campus is living is it’s designed to be pretty low-commitment. At many schools, you get to choose a new house every year, it’s relatively easy to switch rooms or buildings if a living situation isn’t working out, and you’re generally able to leave when you need to.
Off-campus housing situations vary, ranging from short-term sublets to long-terms leases, but in many cases, you’ll be locked into a lease. For me, that’s a year. You’re responsible for paying rent for that year, regardless of your plans to study abroad or go home for the summer. This means you’re either going to lose money or you’re going to need to coordinate a sublet. Some apartments allow subletting and some don’t, so it’s important to look at your lease. Many renters sublet without telling their landlords, but you should know that there can be consequences if you decide to take that approach.
Again, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from taking the plunge. I’m on a lease, and I also studied abroad last semester and am spending this summer away from Boston. It’s very common and very doable. If not, no college student would ever live off-campus! But it can be tricky, and if you’re only planning on being in the apartment for a short part of the year, it might be worth exploring subletting or on-campus options.
The amenities are unbeatable
Sure, your dorm room might have an awesome microwave, but what if you could have an eat-in kitchen? Many schools these days offer apartment-style living to students, but if you’re still in a traditional dorm, off-campus living can offer you a lot.
With an apartment, you’re going to get all the amenities an adult would get, and you get to pick and choose what’s important to you in the apartment search. A kitchen can revitalize your lifestyle, and, if your school doesn’t require meal plans, it can save you a lot of money and help you eat healthier.
Privacy and freedom
Dorms are, in many ways, a great transitional place for young adults. You have so much more freedom and privacy than you did at home. However, there’s still a support system in place. RAs help out, oversee your choices, and make sure you don’t implode! It’s a good thing, especially when you’re adjusting to life away from home, but as you get older, the structures and restrictions of dorm life might cause you to chafe.
For instance, you have to sign in every single person who comes into a Northeastern University dorm. It’s a pretty time-consuming process that involves a photo ID and a lot of waiting, and it gets annoying, especially when your parents are trying to move a few care packages upstairs and they have to sign in every time they reenter the building.
In my off-campus apartment, I get my own key and I make my own rules. I’m able to burn candles and hang Christmas lights, and no one comes through and does room checks. I’ve always had a positive relationship with my RAs, but like many people who move off-campus, I appreciate the privacy and the freedom.
Money, money, money
Another factor is price, and that’s going to be either a pro or a con for moving off-campus, depending on the individual school.
Northeastern University charges a hefty price for its on-campus housing, and with the widespread availability of cheap apartments in the college town that is Boston, I am saving money by living off-campus. On the flip side, my brother goes to school in a rather ritzy Boston suburb where real estate is expensive and student apartments just aren’t a thing.
Ask friends or classmates who have moved off-campus to see how it works out financially in your area. And always remember that there maybe be utility expenses in addition to the advertised rent.
Tips for Transitioning to Off-Campus Living
There’s no one answer to this question of where to live. Some people live in dorms for their whole college career and love it, and some people move off campus as soon as they can. A year later, I am still loving my choice to rent an off-campus apartment, but it’s important to be informed before you make such a big leap.
If you do decide you’re ready for an apartment, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Popular websites like Trulia and Zillow can be good starting spots, but make sure to check out area-specific Facebook housing pages. This is particularly good if you’re hunting for a sublet, but can also be a great starting place for finding apartments or potential roommates.
- Keep an eye out for off-campus information sessions which your school or student organizations maybe be hosting. They can give you the area-specific information you’ll need.
- A realtor is expensive, but going through one does simplify things. That’s what I did when finding my first apartment. As I’m sure you’ve learned from this article, the process is a little cumbersome, and having a guide was worth the money since none of my roommates or I knew what we were doing. Plus, in our area, as in many places, a one-month’s rent fee is pretty standard when you get an apartment, so if you don’t pay it to a realtor, you’re going to be paying it anyway. Ask around to learn what’s standard in your area and what other students have done. If you can save money and skip the realtor, go forth and do it, but know that they can make your life easier as you begin navigating apartment life.
It's a lot to take in, but no matter what you choose, you can make the place you live meet your needs. All you need is to be creative and flexible.
Do you live on or off campus?
Where do you live when you're at school? What's been your experience with apartment-hunting? Let us know!