Living On Campus vs. Off Campus: Which is Better for Me?

Guidance as you make a big decision about where to live during your college experience.

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should I live on campus or off campus?

Deciding where to live during college is more than just choosing a place to sleep. 

Imagine rolling out of bed and being just steps away from your first class, or having your own cozy off-campus apartment where you can cook your favorite meals in peace. 

Let’s dive into the perks and quirks of living on campus vs. off campus, so you can find the right fit for you. 

Living on campus

Many colleges and universities in the US require students to live on campus at least during their first year. But after that, the choice is typically yours.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of living on campus:

Pros of living in on-campus housing

  • Convenience: You’re within walking distance of classes, dining halls, and campus resources, saving time and transportation costs.
  • Community: Living on campus fosters a sense of community, making it easier to make friends and participate in campus activities.
  • Amenities: On-campus housing often includes amenities like internet access, laundry facilities, and security.

Cons of living in on-campus housing

  • Cost: On-campus housing can be more expensive than off-campus options. Some estimates show that students could pay on average $600 to $6,000 more per school year to live on campus.
  • Privacy: Dorm rooms can be small and shared with roommates, offering less privacy for you and your belongings.
  • Restrictions: There are often more rules and regulations in on-campus housing.

Living off campus

Even if your campus allows off-campus living, there are a lot of factors to consider, including:

Pros of living in off-campus housing

  • Independence: More freedom to choose your living environment and roommates, plus the ability to cook your own meals and create a living space that suits your lifestyle.
  • Cost-effective: Potentially lower costs, especially when sharing expenses with roommates. But depending on where you live, there might still be a struggle to find affordable housing options off campus.
  • Space: Typically more living space than dorm rooms.

Cons of living in off-campus housing

  • More responsibility: Like paying rent, utilities, grocery shopping and cooking, and managing household chores.
  • Commuting: Might require additional time and transportation costs for getting to and from campus, which could also make you feel more disconnected from campus events and resources.
  • Potential hidden costs: Like utilities, furniture, and maintenance—which can add up fast.

How do I decide if living on campus or off campus is right for me?

Cost is a major factor for college students deciding whether to live on campus or off campus

Deciding between living on campus vs. off campus depends on your personal preferences, financial situation, and lifestyle needs. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Cost of living

Money matters, right? On-campus living often includes room, board, utilities, internet, and sometimes meal plans. Living off campus can sometimes be cheaper, but it’s important to budget for rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation. 

According to LendingTree, there is a near equal split among 100 major American college towns of whether it’s cheaper to live on or off campus, including six college towns where it actually costs the same to live on campus as off campus:

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Lubbock, Texas
  • Norfolk, Virginia
  • Tacoma, Washington
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan

Convenience

Convenience can make or break your college routine. On campus, you’re just steps away from classes, dining halls, and campus events, which can save time and stress. 

Off-campus living could mean commuting, so think about public transportation options or parking availability. If you like the idea of walking or biking to campus, look for places close by.

Social life

Your social scene can thrive in both settings, but in different ways. 

On campus, you’re surrounded by potential friends and activities, which is great for making connections. Off campus, you might live in cool neighborhoods near bars, restaurants, or parks where you and your friends like to hang out. Plus, you can always join clubs or organizations to stay connected with campus life.

Roommates

Roommate dynamics can really impact your happiness at home. 

On campus, roommates are often assigned, which can be hit or miss, but many colleges use surveys to match compatible students, or let you choose your own roommates after your first year. 

Off campus, you get to pick your own roommates. Living with friends can be awesome, but make sure your lifestyles align to avoid conflict. It’s always good to discuss things like cleaning habits and study schedules upfront.

Amenities and responsibilities

What’s included, and what do you have to handle yourself? 

On-campus housing often comes with perks like study areas, gyms, and security, and maintenance issues are usually taken care of by the university. 

Off-campus housing might offer more space and personal kitchens, but you’ll be in charge of things like buying furniture, grocery shopping, cooking, dealing with landlords, and learning how to set up utilities.

Safety and security

Feeling safe in your home—as well as getting to and from your home—is crucial. 

On-campus housing typically has campus police, secure entry systems, and well-lit areas. Off campus, you’ll need to do a bit more research. Check out local crime rates and visit the neighborhood at different times of the day. Make sure your apartment has good locks and consider installing security systems if needed—as long as you get the go-ahead from your landlord first.

Flexibility and independence

On-campus housing is more structured with rules and regulations, which can be good if you like having guidelines. 

Off-campus housing offers more freedom to live by your own rules and schedule. You can cook your meals, have guests over whenever you want, and generally enjoy more independence (and maybe a little extra noise).

What are some tips for finding the best off-campus housing?

If you move off campus, it's important to consider how it will impact convenience and your social life

If you opt for off-campus housing, here’s some general guidance to make the search a smoother process:

  • Determine your budget—including things like rent, security deposits, utilities, groceries, furniture, and transportation costs. 
  • Start apartment hunting early, on places like Zillow and Craigslist, even several months before you plan to move. This gives you time to make a list of what you need, want, and definitely want to avoid.
  • Tour potential neighborhoods and apartments to get a feel for the living space and community for cleanliness, safety, and proximity to campus and amenities.
  • Speak with current off-campus students about their experiences, who can provide insights into the pros and cons of different housing options.
  • Read the lease agreement carefully before signing on the dotted line to fully understand the terms of your lease—including duration, rent price, security deposit, maintenance responsibilities, and policies on roommates and pets.

Once you’ve found a place, finding good roommates is key (if you haven’t already). Check out campus housing boards, social media groups, and apps designed for finding roommates. It might seem like a no-brainer to live with your besties, but be aware that it could also be a friendship ender. 

It’s also important to make a checklist of essentials you’ll need for your new digs—think about furniture, kitchen supplies, and cleaning products. 

5 reasons off-campus college students should get renters insurance

living off campus can mean more independence, but it also means more responsibilities, like protecting your stuff

Moving off campus brings newfound independence and freedom, but it also comes with risks and responsibilities. 

Here are five major reasons why getting renters insurance is a smart move for off-campus college students:

1. Renters insurance protects your stuff

Renters insurance covers your personal property (aka your stuff) in case of theft, vandalism, fire, and lots of other unexpected events called “perils”. 

If you have valuable items like laptops, smartphones, and textbooks, it can be costly to replace them. But with renters insurance, you can get reimbursed for these items if get are damaged or stolen.

2. Renters insurance protects you against liability

Renters insurance also includes personal liability coverage. This means if someone gets injured in your off-campus housing, or if you accidentally cause damage to someone else’s property, your renters insurance can help cover legal fees and damages. 

For example, if a visitor slips and falls in your apartment at your epic housewarming party, liability coverage can help protect you from financial repercussions.

3. Renters insurance helps pay for temporary living expenses 

Loss of Use coverage can help cover temporary living expenses when your home is made uninhabitable by covered perils like fire or windstorms. It covers additional living expenses such as hotel stays, dining out, and relocation costs.

This means your renters insurance policy can help pay for temporary housing and other related costs while your apartment is being repaired. This can be a lifesaver in emergencies, ensuring you have a place to stay without financial strain.

4. Renters insurance is affordable

As of 2024, the average cost of renters insurance in the U.S. is around $18/month.

Meanwhile, the average cost of Lemonade renters insurance across the U.S. is around $14/month with prices starting as low as $5/month, as of March 2024. 

For the peace of mind it provides, this small investment is worth it, especially when you consider the potential cost of replacing your belongings or dealing with a liability claim.

5. Many landlords require tenants to have renters insurance

This requirement is becoming more common in lease agreements because it helps protect both the tenant and the landlord from potential losses. Checking this box not only complies with your lease but also ensures you are covered in various scenarios.

Before we go…

Choosing whether you’ll live on campus vs. off campus is a big decision, but protecting your stuff with Lemonade renters insurance is a no brainer for off-campus living. 

Keep in mind: If you opt to live on campus, renters insurance typically doesn’t cover dorm rooms. But your parents’ homeowners insurance might extend to cover your belongings if you’re a full-time student under 24 years old. Have your parents check with their insurer to confirm.

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Please note: Lemonade articles and other editorial content are meant for educational purposes only, and should not be relied upon instead of professional legal, insurance or financial advice. The content of these educational articles does not alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. While we regularly review previously published content to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date, there may be instances in which legal conditions or policy details have changed since publication. Any hypothetical examples used in Lemonade editorial content are purely expositional. Hypothetical examples do not alter or bind Lemonade to any application of your insurance policy to the particular facts and circumstances of any actual claim.