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Chapter 1: Choosing Where to Live During College

choosing where to live

Moving out of your parents’ house and making the transition to independent life on your own is something that you may have been looking forward to for months or even years. However, this transition can also be intimidating or even stressful at times.

This chapter will give you an insight into different types of housing available to college students, so you can make an informed decision and know what to expect.

Moving in the Dorm

Many college students opt to live in a dorm for at least the first year or two of their college life. There are many advantages associated with the dorm experience that can improve your life as a young adult and as a new college student.


  • A Strong Sense of Community. When you live in a dorm, all of your neighbors will be college students as well. Many will be freshman who are also away from home for the first time. You will have no trouble forming new friendships, starting right there in your college dorm.
  • Access to Faculty and Support Staff. Because your dorm is located on campus, you will be just a short walk away from your professors and teaching assistants. Even your resident adviser, financial aid representative, and others will be nearby. This is convenient, and it can help you to make full use of the support services offered on campus.
  • A Short Commute. Because your dorm is located on campus, you can easily walk or ride a bike to your classes, the cafeteria, the library and other locations as desired. You will not have to hop in your car or on the bus to commute back and forth to the campus each time you need to attend class or meet with your study group.
  • An Improved Lifestyle. You may have access to great amenities inside your dorm, such as a game room, a convenience store, a media room and more.
  • Limited Financial Concerns. Most college students who live in a dorm pay a single fee that covers their dorm rent, their utilities and other related housing fees. You may also pay another fee that covers all of your meals that you enjoy on campus. This makes it very easy to manage your finances.

As wonderful as dorm life can be, there are some downsides that may deter you from choosing to live on campus.


  • Less Space. Dorms are well-known for their cramped quarters, but the amount of space available to you can vary. Some rooms are smaller than a large walk-in closet and may be shared by two students. Other dorms may give you a private room, but you may share the bathroom and other areas with several other students.
  • Less Privacy. Individuals who enjoy privacy as well as peace and quiet in their residence may find it uncomfortable to live in a dorm.
  • Strict Rules. Dorms are managed by the campus, and they often have very strict rules. These include firm quiet hours, room checks, curfews and more. These rules can make your life as an independent young adult seem less independent.
  • Potential Roommate Troubles. Some college students are able to choose their own roommates, but more often than not, you meet your roommate on the day you move in. You have no say in how clean, loud or even hygienic this person is. You also may have a personality conflict with the individual.
  • The Cost. While your finances may be easy to manage when you live in a dorm, dorms are not cheap. You are paying for the amenities, the convenience of the location and more.
  • Lack of Home-Like Comforts. Lack of a proper kitchen area, communal bathroom situation, and laundry day struggles, are all the usual part of dorm life.

What to Bring/What Not to Bring

If you are planning to move into a dorm, you can make your life much easier by packing appropriately. Some items can improve your quality of life or may even be essential; other should be left at home.

If you know contact information for your roommate, discuss which large or communal items each person will bring, before moving in. For example, you both do not need to bring a microwave or a television.

  • Computer or laptop
  • Power strips and extension cords
  • Chargers
  • A desk or floor lamp
  • School supplies
  • Hangers
  • Bedding and towels
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Laundry supplies
  • A set of dishes, including a plate, a bowl, a cup and utensils
  • Necessities kits, including a sewing kit, a tool kit and a first aid kit
  • Weapons or hazardous items, such as guns, ammo and explosives
  • Flammable items, such as candles and incense
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Drugs
  • Pets
  • Large or expensive items, including appliances and electronics
  • Off-season clothes or clothes that require special cleaning efforts
  • Any duplicates of potentially sharable items that your roommate is bringing

Your first semester in college will be a learning experience. By December, you will have a much better idea about what you need to bring for the remainder of your college years.

Opting for Off-Campus Living

While living on campus can be ideal for many freshmen, the downsides associated with dorm life may steer some students to choose off-campus housing. If you are still deciding which option is right for you, consider these pros and cons associated with off-campus housing.


  • Choice of Roommates. When you live in an off-campus house or apartment, you can select your own roommates, or you can choose to live alone.
  • Adequate Space. You may find that your off-campus rental has much more space than a typical dorm room has.
  • Amenities. You can choose from a wide range of housing options, which lets you select the right floorplan as well as amenities in and out of the unit. This includes the size of the kitchen, the appliance and an in-unit laundry room.
  • Freedom. You will be able to come and go as you please when you live in your own place off-campus. This may work well for late nights out with friends, a job with nighttime work hours and more. You can also choose to have a pet if you stay in a pet-friendly rental, and you can have family and friends over as much as you prefer.
  • Year-Round Housing. When you live in a dorm, you may have to move out during the summer. This is inconvenient, stressful and costly. With an off-campus rental, you can sign a year-long lease, and you can continue to renew it so that you potentially never have to move throughout your college years.


  • Commute. Some off-campus housing options are located within walking distance of the campus. Others, however, require you to drive or take the bus.
  • Cost. In most apartments and rental homes, you pay your rent each month. You also are responsible for everything from utilities and Internet service to groceries and more. You must budget well to avoid running into financial issues.
  • A Limited Sense of Community. It is easy to feel out of touch with other students when you live off-campus. You may not develop close friendships as easily as those who live in a dorm.
  • Landlord Issues. Some people may run into landlord troubles, and this could result in the need to move at an inconvenient time, such as right before midterms.
  • Outfitting Your Rental. Most rentals are not furnished. This means that you must bring everything when you move in. This includes bedroom and living room furniture, linens, kitchen items, cleaning items and more.

Finding an Off-Campus Rental

You will need to locate an off-campus rental before your semester starts. These steps can help you to make a wise rental decision:

  1. Figure out your budget. Make sure you count in all living expenses, and not just your rent.
  2. Explore the expenses that are include in each rental option. For example, some rental rates include utilities, and others do not.
  3. Look at as many listings as possible.
  4. Choose a safe neighborhood by reviewing crime statistics online.
  5. Find a rental with amenities that you need, and avoid properties with extra amenities that you do not need, as they may unnecessarily increase your rental rate.
  6. Tour the unit in person before signing the lease.
  7. Review the lease carefully, and ask questions so that you understand the terms completely.

Commuting from Home

If your parents’ house is located close to campus, you can live at home rather than live in a dorm or an off-campus apartment. Before you decide to stay put in your parents’ house, consider these pros and cons.


  • Privacy. No roommate troubles, sharing your bathroom, loud noises which prevent you from studying, and all other distractions that are the usual part of dorm life.
  • Family Support. Your family will be there to help support you through your transition into college, in terms of cleaning, meal prep, balancing your budget, providing emotional support and more.
  • Easy Lifestyle. You will not have to clean or maintain the home any more than you currently do. More than that, you will feel comfortable with familiar surroundings.


  • Commute. This may be the housing option that gives you the longest commute. Traveling to college takes time and also costs money.
  • Missing out on the ‘college experience’. You may miss out on many campus activities and on the ability to make great friends that you may otherwise make if you live on campus or very close to campus.
  • Lack of Independence and Growth. While other students may be getting the full adult experience by living entirely on their own, your development in this area may be delayed by years.

The preparations that you need to make to get ready for your first year in college will be significantly impacted by the type of living situation that you choose. Each has its pros and cons to consider in-depth. In the next chapter, we will explore strategies that will help you get used to campus life.