The Pros & Cons of Off-Campus Living

Off-Campus Living

By Ali Shapiro

Ah, dorm life. Three a.m. pizza delivery, touch football in the hallway, the inevitability of discovering vomit in the bathroom on a Sunday morning – and usually not in a toilet. The matching furniture. The extra-long mattresses. The minifridges. The whiteboards. The acute sense of smell possessed only by highly-trained drug dogs and RA’s.

Hard to believe that anyone would give these things up to live off-campus. But, senior year, I did just that. And I’m not the only one. When you get right down to it, nothing beats the freedom of living on your own turf, in your own terms. At some point during their college careers, many students choose to live off-campus for one reason or another. And although these reasons vary from school to school, there are some universal pros and cons that apply no matter which campus you’re considering living off…of.

Money Matters

Internet, food, first/last deposits, rent, utilities, transportation, furniture, cleaning supplies…the bills can add up when you’re living off-campus. Depending on your school’s room and board refund policy and your own spending habits, ditching the dorms can be a real bargain – or it can break your bank.

You could use a calculator like this one to help you estimate the difference in cost between living in the dorms and living off-campus. Or, if you’re not prone to such high degrees of precision, you could simply make note of the fact that money matters when you’re living off-campus. Instead of paying your room and board in one lump sum to your college, you’re in charge of budgeting out this money yourself. (I very quickly got into a financially unsustainable relationship with the local Natural Foods Co-op when I first started living off-campus, and found myself sneaking into the dining halls to supplement my overpriced seventeen-grain breads and soy “meat” products.)

But don’t forget that “real bargain” part, either. Since you’re buying what you want, and not the generic lump-sum plans the college provides, you might find you’re getting more for your money by living off-campus.

Breaking the Rules, Breaking the Law

It’s certainly a relief not to have to stuff a wet towel under the door, dismantle the smoke alarm (illegal! And dangerous!) and huddle by an open window in February before smoking whatever it is you smoke – and the same applies to the other labor-intensive precautions you have to take before breaking a rule in the dorms.

But on the flipside, if you somehow manage to get busted transgressing in your off-campus dwellings, you’ll quickly find yourself nostalgic for the days when your annoyed RA came a-knocking instead of the local police. In other words, those pesky things known as “rules” on-campus translate to “laws” off-campus, and if you break ‘em, you’re in a whole lot more trouble than you would have been back in the dorms.

What’s For Dinner?

When the administration at Yale began making more of an effort to keep students on-campus, they cited their belief that "your experience at Yale revolves around the residential college...those who live off campus make it harder for those who remain to get to know you and share in your talents, perspectives, social life, and more."

One student responded:  “When you're sitting in the dining hall, surrounded by exciting, interesting people, and dinner sucks, you're not thinking, 'Wow, these are terribly exciting, interesting people.' You're thinking, 'This food sucks.'’”

Liberation from school cafeterias – from limited operating hours, soggy salad bars, and restrictive meal plans – is one major factor motivating students to move off-campus. And being able to cook for yourself is a great skill to have. But Yale was right to point out that your college experience does revolve around the college community, and by skipping on-campus meals you may find yourself feeling lonely at lunchtime.

Many schools allow off-campus students to stay on the meal plan, and some offer cheaper plans that may better suit the off-campus lifestyle. If you’re worried about feeling isolated while you’re living off-campus, staying on the meal plan can ensure that you stay involved in “college life” in all its cafeterious glory.

Landlord Woes

How to deal with a troublesome landlord was perhaps the most real-world-applicable skill I learned during college (I was an English major). Unfortunately, this is a lesson that is necessarily learned “the hard way.” An op-ed from the December 3, 2007 edition of the Ohio State Univeristy newspaper, The Lantern, goes so far as to suggest that the author’s landlord “should be crowned King of Douche Land.” Despite the troubling implications of this quote for the journalistic integrity of The Lantern, the sentiment is echoed by many students dealing with their off-campus landlords.

There’s a good reason for this. Renting to college students is no picnic, primarily because college students don’t typically sign leases for more than a year, and also tend to sublet during the summer. And of course, students aren’t exactly notorious for their cleanliness or their handyman skills. All these factors add up to one big headache for a landlord – so don’t assume you’ll automatically get the warmest welcome into your new digs if you’re renting from someone who regularly deals with college students.

Speaking of cleanliness and handyman skills, things that were done for you in the dorms – vacuuming, bathroom-cleaning, garbage disposal – are your responsibility when you move off-campus. And if you DO need extra help, you can’t always count on your landlord to give it to you. (Not that your landlord should be helping you clean the bathroom. But still, you get the point.)

SOMEONE Has To Buy Toilet Paper…

 “Because of all the red tape that exists on college campuses, students that are friends and want to live together find it difficult in most situations because they were not in the same dorm community and residential halls the previous year,” one student complained. “Despite all the arguing I did with the campus administration, they just wouldn’t allow my friends and me to live in the same dorm hall together.”

Living off-campus is a great chance to circumvent all that “red tape.” Live with your friends, live with your significant other, live with a whole harem of insignificant others – it’s up to you! You’ll probably have more of your own space in an off-campus lair, which is definitely a plus. And there will probably be more common space, too, which can be fun to decorate/throw parties in/hang out in with your off-campus cohorts.

But remember that dealing with roommates in the dorms and dealing with roommates off-campus can be two very different things. You never really know someone until you know if they’ll buy toilet paper, pay rent on time, and do their dishes with some degree of regularity.

Point A to Point B

When it comes to transportation, the operative word in “off-campus” is “off.” How far off you are can have a significant effect on your daily routine. You may find yourself having to drive to class – which means paying for gas and dealing with parking, not to mention getting a car if you didn’t have one already.

And that’s just your daily routine. When it comes to your nightly routine, remember that it’s not so easy to stumble home five miles down the highway as it is to stumble home across campus. And drinking and driving, obviously, is a huge no-no.

Then again, some separation between you and the distracting melee of campus life can be nice. And if you miss the melee, you could always have the parties come to you!