Dorm vs. Apartment: Which Should You Choose?

Making the decision whether to live on campus or to finally get your first apartment, is a tough one! I battled with my dorm vs. apartment decision for months. But eventually, it was really clear to me that I needed to get my own place. People like to tell me I’m 20 going on 35, so if you aren’t there yet, that is OK too.

dorm roomFor my sophomore year of college, my two best friends and I decided to live in an on-campus apartment together. The apartment isn’t the worst, but it has one huge problem for me….there is only one, quite small, bedroom. Within a month this became a problem. I love my best friends, but when we are all on different sleep schedules, things get tense. I go to bed hours before them, so they wake me up when they come in for bed. I get up at 6:15 every morning, and accidentally wake them up sometimes as I tip-toe to the door. We also have the loudest, rudest, downstairs neighbors who quite frankly seem to enjoy never giving us a quiet minute. In a normal apartment building, this issue could be resolved, but since it is a dorm, and these guys are friends with the RA, the noise isn’t going to stop until the day everyone moves out. I am fed up. I need my own space, I need my own rules, and I need respectful neighbors.

So, here are the deciding factors that led me to search for an off-campus apartment:


Everyone can agree that living on campus costs a small fortune (unless your scholarships apply to housing). For Room & Board, and a required meal plan at my school, I will pay over $13,000 my sophomore year. I am getting less than 9 months worth of housing and food, for $13,000 and I don’t even get my own bedroom or an oven in my kitchen (Why do they even give us a kitchen if there is no oven or stove?). Nothing about my dorm is high end or new, and I don’t expect it to be because it is college housing, but then I look at what I am spending. I could get a great apartment in the area for that price, and still save! The apartment that I will be moving into in May is a brand-new 2br/2 bath and I will pay roughly $800 for my half (including utilities) per month. To live here for nine months will cost me a little over $7,000. I’ll have to buy my own groceries, but I still will be saving money. In my situation, it just makes sense to live off campus.

In contrast, some of my friends at school simply cannot afford monthly rent. It may cost more in the long run to live in a dorm, but they won’t owe rent every single month. Some school loans can be used for off campus living expenses, but not all can. Do your research on which loans or federal aid you receive, to see if you can use that money towards off-campus housing. If you are unsure whether you/ your parents will be able to make rent every month, it may be best to stay on campus.

If you are looking to save a lot of money and don’t mind living with many roommates, it is often cheapest to rent a whole house and share it with four or five friends. I preferred to live with fewer people, so I opted for an apartment, but I certainly would be paying less if I rented a house with friends.


I don’t know about you, but I DESPISE campus dining hall food. I guess it depends on what school you go to, but I find the food to rarely be appetizing. Also, they can tell us there are healthy options all they want, but none of them are appealing. I have been working really hard to eat a healthy diet, and the dining halls have nothing for me. I basically eat the same things every day because each place only has one healthy option, and it is usually salad. The school forces me to have a meal plan, so I try to eat campus food as much as I can, so not to waste money, but honestly I buy most of my groceries and cook myself. Why am I paying for food twice? It is such a waste.

So next year, instead of living on campus, forced to have a meal plan, I will be living in a brand new apartment with high end appliances. I can cook whatever I want, and feel good knowing that I am saving money and eating healthier. Maybe you like the campus food options or hate cooking, and so your meal plan isn’t a waste. If this is true, then maybe campus living is right for you. But if you have had enough of eating at dining halls and paying way too much to do so, then an apartment might be a good option.


I turn 21 soon, and I know that I will be spending a lot of time out in New Haven. I already do. My campus is one town over, but I’m in New Haven almost every day, for volunteering, hiking, or meeting friends. I really love the city, and would much rather be living there than on campus. I’m also going into a field that prefers hiring applicants who live in the same city, so this was definitely a big factor for me in choosing where to live. Luckily, I found an apartment that was perfect for me, and still only 5 minutes from my school, so I get to live in my favorite city, while having a short commute (I wouldn’t even call it much of a commute).

Here are some things you should consider:

  • Do you mind commuting to campus? How far?
    • If you don’t have reliable transportation, you better just stay in that dorm.
  • Is there a different area that you prefer to campus?
  • Will you be safe where you want to live?
  • How far will you be from work or your internship?
  • Do you like the neighborhood?


I am definitely not a huge partier who breaks all the rules, but I still hate living under campus housing laws. I’m an adult, I know how to handle myself. It’s tough volunteering at the animal shelter and rescuing animals off the street, but not being able to bring one home. Sometimes you just want to light a damn candle, what’s so wrong with that? Yeah, yeah, I know, they are a fire hazard and not safe for dorms, I get it. But if I have my own apartment I can light a candle now and then, and I can rescue that cat from the shelter that nobody else wants to adopt.

Those are trivial reasons to move off campus, I know. But the little things add up. I am currently writing this from my parent’s house because I am on school break right now. It is supposed to snow tomorrow and my parents are worried about my 3 hour drive. They asked if I could go back today instead, so that I don’t have to drive in the snow. But I can’t go today! Why? Because over breaks and holidays, my school closes the dorms. My key card will not let me back into the building until 11am tomorrow. With my own apartment off campus, I can come and go as I please. I have two jobs, and it’s quite the process to have to explain to bosses that I am forced to take off certain days because I have to go home since the dorms are closed. My bosses aren’t always happy, but what can anyone do about it?

Bottom line: decide what is going to make you happiest

When I added up all of the pros and cons, it became clear that moving off-campus was the best option for me. I’ll be close to school and work, in my favorite city, able to come and go as I please, and most importantly, I can finally adopt one of the cats that I rescue off the streets! (Okay, I know that’s not the MOST important thing, but it means a lot to me.)

After I made the decision, I signed a lease on an apartment a few minutes away from school. Now, I cannot wait to go on bike rides right from my door instead of having to drive first, or go with my roommate to the outdoor farmer’s market on the weekends, or cook up healthy meals in our full kitchen. Also, I’ll be surrounded by mature adult neighbors, instead of childish college students. This is all appealing to me.

If you like being on campus then stay! There are many perks, like being able to walk out the door five minutes before class, or being in close proximity to a lot of friends. My two best friends that I live with now, both prefer being on campus. One wouldn’t have a car to commute, and the other likes to roll out of bed a few minutes before class. I won’t be living with them next year but sometimes not living with your friends is better. We built a lot of tension into our relationships this year by all being stuffed into one room, so it is for the best that we go our separate ways. I think being apart more will be good for all of us.

If you feel pressured by your friends to move off-campus with them, or stay on when you want to move, consider what you want for yourself. At the end of the day, you’ll have a roof over your head either way. Maybe you don’t end up in your ideal living situation, but those are the moments when you start to realize what your preferences are. Take what you learn about yourself from the bad situations, and use that knowledge to find the perfect place for you in the future!

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Author My First Apartment

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I'm just your average college student, living out her first real apartment experience in New Haven, CT! When I'm not busy in school, slaving away at work, or crying over Anthropologie prices, I can be found outside enjoying the day! My hobbies include volunteering, biking, hiking, kayaking, and drawing.

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