Where do College Students Live?

If your child is moving to college you will need to think about where they are going to live. You want them to be happy but also safe. Choosing the correct place is key.

College students can choose from a selection of different accommodation choices

  • On Campus – Dorms
  • On Campus – Apartments
  • On Campus – Sorority House
  • Private Housing – Off Campus
  • Family

Our daughter moved to college two years ago. It was important to me that her accommodation was perfect (well as perfect as I could manage!) It’s never going to be the same as home but with careful planning, you can make it work.

On Campus – Dorms

Most freshmen find moving from home to on-campus dorms the easiest way to transition to college. Most colleges have dorms or halls of residence. Lots of freshmen (and parents) like the idea of dorms as it puts the student in the center of things. It is a great way of getting to know people and certainly, you won’t be lonely.
From a cost point of view, dorms are all-inclusive, with no additional electric or Wi-Fi bills to consider. And most offer a dining plan. Many colleges insist that freshmen do actually live on campus or within a certain distance of the school. It’s a good idea to some extent, as they find the dropout rate reduces with those living on campus as they are fully immersed in college life and get more from the experience.

If you are interested, I have also written the following articles about dorm living;

Do you get to see you dorm before you move in?

Living in Dorms – 5 tips to survival

There are a couple of negatives depending on the person.
Most dorms are twin rooms, with shared bathroom facilities down the hall. Most won’t mind this but if you like alone time it may not be for you.
Due to multiple people sharing a building most colleges have hard and fast rules about fire safety. This means no candles or burners, and may also include no coffee pots.
Many dorms also have a lights out / quiet time rule during the week which may extend to no visitors. These are different for each college so check out the terms and conditions in full before you choose this option.

On Campus – Apartments

We live in an ever-changing world and some people may not like the idea of sharing with others. The option is to get an apartment on campus. Most people assume that living in dorms is the most economic but an apartment actually works out less expensive. Dorms have room and board included, which means you are paying for cleaning, food, and utilities.
Apartment living differs as you are only paying for what you need.

You will have more privacy in an apartment and also your own bathroom. No flip-flops in the shower!
You can also choose who you wish to live with. This is probably the main reason to choose an apartment.
You don’t really have this choice in a dorm (you can request who you might like to share with, but this is up to the discretion of the Residential Life Office). However, it’s unlikely that all your high school friends are attending the same college so you may find that apartment living is better suited to your sophomore year when you have clicked with a few people.

Flip Flops

Apartments – Off Campus

As many colleges insist on freshmen living on campus either in dorms, or an apartment, you need to be certain that if you are looking at off-campus living that it is accepted by the Residential Life Office / Admissions Office.
Many will allow off-campus if it is within a certain distance of the school. They want freshmen and all students to actually go to class and this is why they have this rule in place.

If you are allowed, there are pros and con’s to this type of living also.
You may end up living in a house with other people. It’s crucial that you have your own rental agreement.
If it is a joint lease and someone decides to leave, you still need to pay the same amount of rent and so suddenly two people are paying for three people. The landlord won’t care if someone has moved out, he will still want the same amount of money. But with individual rental agreements, it’s up to him to cover the loss.
On the upside, there may be better facilities than on campus. Pool, gym, near to stores. You possibly will have your own room, so more space, more privacy, no one to decide when your visitors are leaving and you only have to share your treats if you want to!

Living on campus, be it in dorms or apartments is still quite a cosseted existence. Off-campus is good prep for the real world. You’ll have to organize your own meals, pay bills, do laundry, and cleaning. You need to decide if you are ready for this much responsibility.

Sorority / Fraternity House

The option is available to choose the Greek Life. Many Sorority / Fraternity Houses are within the campus boundary. Freshmen are offered the opportunity to live in a sorority/fraternity house if there is room available. All second-year affiliates are required to live in the house.

In relation to this, my post should I join a sorority may be something you are interested in reading.

Living in a Greek house is generally cheaper than dorms. This does depend on which house you belong to. Your accommodation will usually be more comfortable than a dorm (a more homely setting) and although you will have to share a bathroom, it will be nicer. The food will also be prepared for you but a lot of the time not on the weekend, so you will need to factor in that extra cost.
Living in a sorority/fraternity house will offer a great bond with your roommates. You more than likely (if you’ve done your house research properly) will have like-minded views and there will always be someone there to have a chat or a cry or a laugh with.

The downside of Greek Life is that you are committing to a certain level of volunteering and club involvement. You will be expected to give of your time and as you progress through college, you will also have the responsibility of younger sisters/brothers. Greek Life is a fantastic way to journey through college but it’s not for everyone.

Sorority House


My last alternative for you to consider is family. So this falls under a couple of umbrellas. You may be attending a school in your hometown and so moving out of home would be ridiculous right? Well yes and no. Of course, financially, living at home for four years is a huge saving (approx $10k / year).
You still have all the comforts of home, your room, home-cooked meals, and fresh laundry. Bliss. But…. going to college is not just about class and further education, it’s also about becoming an independent adult. Deciding not to fully embrace college life can sometimes leave students feeling like they are on the outside looking in. Friendships and bonds are made in dorm rooms and queueing in the cafeteria collecting your pre-paid meal plan.
If you are not part of that it is sometimes hard to fully fit in.

Living at home can also have independence issues where you feel at 18/19 years old you are an adult and should be allowed to do as you like and come and go as you please. But for parents, it’s difficult to let go and also difficult to allow their house to be treated like rented accommodation.
Our daughter had to move to college as we didn’t have one close enough for her to stay at home. She was quite specific in her major. Although I really miss her I know that her living on campus is the best choice for us. She has her freedom and is surrounded by like-minded people.
The final option is also under the family umbrella. This could be relatives / good friends that live out of state and have offered to board your child while they attend school.

I think this always sounds like a good idea but think very wisely about this decision. Financially it’s probably much cheaper but emotionally it’s not generally a viable decision.
Is your child going to fit into this family dynamic? Will they be seen as a free babysitter?
Are you going to pay, and if so how do you decide on an appropriate fee? Is your child going to be able to come and go as they please?
We had considered at one stage, our daughter boarding with my parents in the city. It sounded great. She would have her own room, own bathroom no less! But the more I thought about it I knew she wouldn’t have the college experience that I wanted her to have. I wanted her to make new friends, generate a new social life and become an adult. I knew if she moved in with my parents, this wouldn’t happen.

Not that my parents are very elderly or conservative but I came to the conclusion it wasn’t worth falling out over.
So we bit the financial bullet and paid for campus accommodation. She’s having the time of her life. She loves living there, loves her course, and only comes home occasionally (which is a good thing, even if I haven’t quite got my head around that part!)

Tara Cunningham

Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort. I hope that you find our thoughts and ideas useful and interesting.

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