By: Katie Wornek, UHEAA
College offers a chance to meet new people, expand your knowledge and perspective, become more independent, and develop important life skills. Choosing the right living arrangement can help you accomplish all of those things. In part one of this college housing blog series, we talked about living on your college campus. This week, we’ll explore the pros and cons of living off-campus.
Off-campus living falls into three main categories:
- Living at home (with parents, guardians, or extended family, for example)
- Renting an apartment or house – you pay the owner of the property (your landlord) money every month in exchange for being able to live there for a set period of time
- Purchasing a home
Now let’s dive deeper into the off-campus experience…
Benefits of Living Off-Campus
Living off-campus requires you to learn independence from day one, especially if you are renting or paying a mortgage instead of living at home. For example, students who live off-campus will:
Re-think grocery shopping! It may sound simple, but if you’ve never had to plan, prepare, and pay for your own meals every day, it can be tricky! If grocery shopping isn’t your cup of tea (pun intended), it’s worth investigating if your school offers meal plans for off-campus students.
Learn the responsibilities that come with a lease or mortgage. A lease is the contract you sign with your landlord. A lease outlines things like how much you have to pay every month and how long you will be able to live on the property (most leases last a year, and many have the option to renew at the end of the lease). Reading and understanding legal documents is a big part of adulthood, and understanding your lease is a good place to start. A mortgage or home loan, on the other hand, is an agreement that enables you to purchase a home. Being responsible for a mortgage or home loan, just like any line of credit, involves repaying both your premium and interest over a specific period of time. Unlike renting, purchasing a home has the potential to provide you with equity – if your home has increased in value since you purchased it, the difference in your home price is the equity you own. As you can see, renting and home ownership both come with some perks and many responsibilities.
Understand how to budget money and schedule payments. Living away from home and campus helps students learn to plan for repeating costs, like rent and utilities (the money you owe for running water, electricity, trash collection, and so on) as well as emergency costs. This is a great way to learn how to be consistent and responsible with your budget.
You’ll have flexibility in your living choices. Some quick tips…
- Location, location, location! Maybe you want to live halfway between work and school. Maybe being close to parks or hiking trails is important to you. When you live off campus, you have the freedom to choose your neighborhood. Choose wisely!
- If you want access to a yard, you might want to consider renting or buying a house. If you want access to covered parking or a swimming pool, you might want to look at apartment complexes or condominiums. The combinations of amenities are almost endless! Just keep in mind, the fancier the features, the more they will likely cost you.
- Living off-campus gives you more flexibility when it comes to sharing space. While colleges often require you to have one or more roommates to live on-campus, living off-campus allows you more freedom to choose if you want to live alone, with family or loved ones, or with friends you already know.
Potential Challenges of Living Off-Campus
Cost: Unless you live at home (and your parents are generous enough not to charge you!), the cost of living off campus can be high. Consider the following costs when researching where you will live:
- Availability of help. Scholarships will sometimes pay for on-campus room and board, but fewer of them offer help with off-campus living.
- Travel. The cost of commuting between home and campus can really add up, but some schools offer ways to help you afford your commute, such as discounts or waivers for public transportation fees.
- Additional costs. Renting may involve fees such as security and cleaning deposits, first and last month’s rent due when you move in, and more. And owning a home means you pay interest on your mortgage or home loan each payment.
Securing housing: Living on campus means you have to meet application deadlines or run the risk of getting put on a wait list, but you’re only competing with other students for a good place to live. As a renter or home buyer, you’re competing with every other renter or homey buyer in your city’s housing market to find the perfect spot.
Maintenance: Colleges usually have a whole staff dedicated to making sure your housing experience is great. But off-campus, you might have a harder time finding a solution to your problems. For example, the city might be slower to remove snow from your road because they are responsible for many neighborhoods. If you’re renting, your landlord may not be immediately available to fix a broken air conditioner. Or, if you own your home, you’ll be responsible for calling a plumber when a pipe bursts in your bathroom.
Whether you decide to live on-campus or off-campus, it is important to do your research to make sure you are making the decision that best fits your budget and lifestyle and will help you succeed in school. Hopefully this information makes that research a little bit easier for you. And while you shouldn’t make these decisions lightly, you should be excited about your college journey!