Dorm vs. Off-Campus Apartment: The Ultimate Student Guide

Before each year of your college education starts, you’re faced with a choice that will completely shape your experience: Do you live in a dorm or rent an off-campus apartment? It’s a decision that millions of students nationwide make every year, yet it’s a question that usually results in intense consideration. Below, find the ultimate guide to the four key factors you should consider when weighing a dorm versus an off-campus apartment.


No matter where you choose to live, you’ll have to pay for your space somehow. This factor may make off-campus apartments more appealing since they tend to cost less. If you look a little closer, though, the ultimate cost of an off-campus apartment may not be that much lower. 

Dorms come furnished, whereas you’ll likely have to buy all your furnishings for your off-campus apartment, not to mention kitchen equipment, window air conditioning units, household supplies, bathroom items, and other miscellaneous goods. Some dorms even include communal kitchen areas or private mini-fridges and microwaves. Additionally, you’re not required to pay utilities on-campus, which isn’t true off-campus (though having roommates will decrease your utility costs).

Access to campus

Living in a dorm is far more convenient for getting to your classes and other on-campus activities. A ten-minute walk from your dorm to your lecture hall is a significant step up from a lengthy car or public transit ride from far away. If you’re somebody with late classes, extensive lab work, or significant extracurricular involvement, you might benefit from living in a dorm near all your activities.

Not all off-campus apartments are distant from campus. Furthermore, in many college towns, landlords of apartments close to campus often seek to rent specifically to students. If you find an off-campus apartment that’s within a 20-minute walk to campus, not only will you likely pay less, but you’ll live at a distance that takes even less time to travel if you bike or skate. If you have a car off-campus, you can theoretically get to campus even faster, but since parking can be restrictive on many college campuses and ticketing authorities can be persistent, you might do well to avoid relying on cars.


When you live in a dorm, you’ll likely have a meal plan that grants you access to an on-campus dining hall. There, you can choose from a massive variety of buffet-style meal options and find almost any food options you’re seeking, all without the work involved in making them. If you’re averse to cooking and expect to have an especially busy school year, then meal plans might be your saving grace.

If you live off-campus, chances are you’ll save a lot of money on food, because meal plans can be quite expensive. After the initial cost of stocking your kitchen with cookware, your food will only cost as much as whatever groceries you buy to make it. You’ll also have far more control over what goes into your food, as in many dorms, your food preparation options are limited to your dorm room’s microwave.

Social life

College is in large part about meeting new people, and dorms make doing so easier, especially when you’re brand new to campus. Many dorm buildings contain a large number of students on each floor, and many dorm buildings also have several floors, so you’re all but forced into situations where you’ll interact with other people and begin making new friends. 

If you value your peace and quiet (and privacy) or consider yourself relatively asocial, then dorms may not be right for you. If you’re a social person who also values peace and quiet, you can move off-campus and consider forging your social life through clubs and other extracurricular activities. Additionally, if you’ve been in school for a while and have already forged a strong friend group, you should be able to move off-campus with little risk to your social life. 

Freedom from school rules

Speaking of moving off-campus with little risk to your social life, when you live in an off-campus apartment, you’re not subject to the same rules that dorms may have. Quiet hours, dorm restrictions on gender divisions in housing, and frequent interaction with a resident assistant become a concern of the past the moment you step off-campus. That’s not to say that moving off-campus gives you permission to be an unruly neighbor to those living around you, but it may well be that slice of freedom you’re seeking.

Are you a dorm or off-campus person, and why? Sound off in the comments!

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