Should You Live on Campus Your First Year of College?

Which is better: living on or off campus? Explore the pros and cons of campus life to help you decide where to settle down in your first year of college.
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  • Most four-year colleges require students to live on campus their first year.
  • Students who live on campus are often more academically successful and feel a stronger sense of belonging.
  • How much it costs to live on campus depends on your school and area's cost of living.

There's a lot to think about when deciding whether or not to live on campus during your first year of college.

Most students and their families worry about the cost. Aside from tuition, housing is one of the largest expenses you'll take on in college, regardless of whether you live on campus, off campus, or at home. So naturally, housing is a huge decision to make!

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Other factors to consider include ease of access to campus resources, opportunities to get involved on campus, and sharing your living space with someone.

You'll also need to think about how you work and study best. Will living on campus help you focus on your work, or will it lead to distractions?

Knowing how your living situation can affect your college experience is crucial before you decide whether living on campus during your first year of undergrad is best for you.

Do You Have to Live on Campus Your First Year?

Whether you live on campus as a first-year student is a decision often left up to your school. These days, if you attend a four-year college or university as a full-time student, chances are you'll be required to live on campus your first year.

The following chart shows some examples of colleges that don't require you to live on campus your first year and those that do.

Colleges That Require You to Live on Campus Your First Year Colleges That DON'T Require You to Live on Campus Your First Year
Columbia University Auburn University
Dartmouth College New York University
Harvard University Purdue University
The Pennsylvania State University Texas A&M University
The Ohio State University University of Arizona
University of Connecticut University of California, Davis
University of Massachusetts Amherst University of Florida
University of Notre Dame University of Michigan
Vanderbilt University University of Texas at Austin
Washington State University University of Washington
Wesleyan University University of Wisconsin-Madison

About 87% of college students live off campus. As a result, requiring students to live on campus their first year can make colleges a significant amount of money.

Research also highlights the benefits of living on campus during your first year, such as higher academic success rates, a stronger sense of belonging, and increased use of campus resources.

That's not to say you can't take advantage of these benefits while living off campus, however. For many students, living on campus helps keep them more focused on their coursework and more involved in the campus community.

How Much Does It Cost to Live on Campus?

As with many other factors about attending college, cost is a major determining factor when deciding whether or not to live on campus. So, how much does it cost to live on campus?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of room and board for four-year institutions during the 2020-21 academic year was $12,057. By contrast, the average yearly cost of living off campus was $10,521.

While this data indicates only a small difference in average housing costs, it's important to recognize how the cost of living and local housing markets can impact how much you pay. Depending on where you live, you may find it's cheaper to live on campus.

In addition to rent, you should consider other factors and expenses associated with living in a dorm or apartment, such as the following:

Pros and Cons of Living on Campus Your First Year

There are several pros and cons to consider when deciding whether you should live on campus your first year of undergrad, including how comfortable you are living with strangers and how close you want to be to campus resources.

Pro: Greater Sense of Belonging

Students living on campus during their first year start college alongside their peers, which can make the transition to college much smoother. Living on campus can also allow you to make friends more easily, find resources, and participate in extracurricular activities.

Students who live on campus often report feeling more strongly connected to the campus community than those who don't. College becomes your home and the place you spend all your time, rather than simply being a place you visit when you have class.

Con: Potential Distractions

In most cases, living among your peers and being close to all the action is a huge benefit. But for some students, this can also mean spending too much time partying and socializing and not enough time studying.

If you live on campus, it's critical that you practice effective time management so that you don't neglect your studies as you develop your social life.

Pro: Close Proximity to Campus Resources

Living on campus means you'll be close to everything you need — classes, dining halls, faculty offices, and campus resources are all available right where you're living.

Not only is it convenient to be close by, but you're much more likely to use these services when you need them. It's much easier to get to class when you can walk there!

Con: Lack of Privacy

You've probably heard that most dorm rooms aren't luxury accommodations — many are small and cramped. And you often share a dorm with at least one roommate (and roommates can pose challenges!).

Many residence halls also make use of shared living spaces, such as communal kitchens and bathrooms.

Most first-year students will be assigned at least one roommate and may not get to choose where they live on campus. Living with someone you've never met before in such close quarters can be hard, especially if you strongly value your privacy or would prefer to have complete control over your living space.

Pro: Higher Academic Success Rates

Research shows that students who live on campus tend to perform better academically than those who do not. For example, data from both the University of Oregon and West Texas A&M University revealed that students living on campus often have higher grades and earn their degrees at higher rates.

Many on-campus students do better academically partly due to a greater sense of belonging and closer proximity to campus resources, like the writing center. Students who feel they're part of the campus community tend to put more effort into their studies and are more likely to take advantage of campus programs and assistance.

Con: Rules, Rules, Rules!

Living on campus means you must abide by the rules set by your university and residence hall. Residence hall staff and resident advisors, or RAs, monitor and enforce these rules.

Rules for living in on-campus housing often include limitations on who can be in your room (especially if you don't live in a co-ed dorm) and what you can't do in your room.

Most colleges strictly forbid the use of alcohol or drugs in residence halls. You may face serious consequences if you violate this rule.

Other rules may limit what appliances you can use in your dorm or enforce quiet hours.

So Should You Live on Campus Your First Year?

You have the option to live on campus your first year of college — but should you do it?

In general, the potential benefits of living on campus, such as higher academic success, a greater sense of belonging, and easier access to university resources, far outweigh some of the minor and temporary inconveniences of roommates, rules, and distractions.

If you want the traditional college experience, living on campus is one of the best ways to get it.

That said, sometimes on-campus housing is far more expensive than living off campus. Spend time weighing the pros and cons of living on and off campus for your particular school. Make sure to consider factors like cost of living and how many roommates you're comfortable having.

If you decide to live on campus, you can start the process by reading the housing pages on your school's website or calling the residence life office.

You could also ask for a tour of the residence halls and speak to students living on campus to learn what the community is like. Most students will likely tell you that living on campus is or was a valuable part of their college experience.

Frequently Asked Questions About Living on Campus

Can you live on campus at a community college?

Yes, you can live on campus at some community colleges. Most community colleges, however, are designed to provide a cost-effective, convenient, and flexible education, so campus housing isn't common.

Check with potential schools about housing options if you're looking for a community college with on-campus living arrangements.

Can part-time students live on campus?

Part-time students are not generally able to live on campus. Most colleges require you to maintain a full-time course load to live in on-campus housing, since housing options are limited and designed for students living and working there full time.

Can adult learners and older students live on campus?

Yes, adult learners, older students, and other nontraditional students can live on campus, but many choose not to because they have other responsibilities, like full-time jobs and childcare. What's more, because of the age difference between older learners and traditional college students, colleges usually exempt adult learners from first-year on-campus living requirements.

Nevertheless, older students may still live in university-owned off-campus housing to glean some of the benefits of on-campus living, such as proximity to classes and campus resources, cost efficiency, and a stronger sense of belonging.

Do transfer students have to live on campus?

Depending on when you transfer, you may be required to meet the first-year on-campus living requirement. However, most transfer students are not first-year students and are therefore not required to live on campus.

Some colleges may allow transfer students to live on campus but discourage them from doing so due to limited housing options.

Do grad students live on campus?

Most graduate students live in their own housing or in university-owned off-campus housing. Some universities do not offer any on-campus housing options for grad students, while others may offer limited on-campus or nearby off-campus options.

Many schools offer off-campus graduate student apartments and family housing, which may be ideal for grad students looking to develop a sense of community with their peers and have easy access to campus resources like the library.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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