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November 15, 2023

Finding the Right Housing Experience in College

How do you decide where to live during your college career? For many students, their housing or residence life choice requires juggling a variety of priorities. This article is a resource to help students navigate these decisions and think about the different perspectives on where to live during college.

One of the first determining factors in your housing is the type of school you’ve chosen to attend. Students at Berry College are required to live on campus unless they reside in the area with their family and qualify as commuters. For Berry students, the decision isn’t whether to live on campus or not, but rather about choosing among the unique campus housing options available. Other colleges, however, let students decide, and some schools do not even offer on-campus housing.

So, what is the culture of the school you’re considering? What percentage of the student body lives on campus? Why has the campus been structured this way? For example, Berry College began its required housing policy to help students feel connected and to build a culture of belonging. College administrators know research suggests students are actually more successful when they live on campus.

If you have choices, the higher education professionals at Berry College encourage you to ask yourself what type of college experience you are looking for, and then weigh the pros and cons of off-campus vs. on-campus housing.

Off-Campus Housing

Is it a bargain?
For some students, there are major perks to living off campus. Commuters can save money on food and housing that might otherwise be a heavier financial burden. But be cautious if you are not a commuter and you are not working with a private rental agency connected to your institution. Apartment complexes and rental homes may have fun amenities like larger kitchens, pools or pet perks, but may come with higher expenses or unexpected fees. For example, things like trash, water, power, television and internet are included when living on campus, but they’re not always covered by rent. Tally up everything before making your choice.

A college student who lived both on and off campus at a large, four-year public college observes, “In the town where I was attending school, the demand to live in unique houses within walking distance of campus drove rental prices up very high. I definitely spent more money living off campus in my final two years of college than I did in my first two years. Students just need to do their research.”

More freedom?
Some college students argue that they prefer more freedom than what on-campus housing offers. Maybe you are looking for more options with your furnishings or you don't want restricted quiet hours. If this is the case, double check the rules of the residence where you are signing a lease to make sure they suit what you’re looking for. There are bigger consequences when someone calls the police for a noise disturbance than when someone wakes a resident advisor (RA).

Colleges are often more lenient when unexpected issues arise. For a student who needs to take a medical leave of absence, a college is more likely to be understanding and accommodating while a rental company is likely to enforce the original agreement and cost. Remember: with more freedom comes more responsibility. Take this principle into consideration as you think through your greatest priorities.

Maybe you don’t want to share a bathroom or a room. Maybe you don’t want to be in the center of the college action. Maybe you’re a non-traditional student looking for a little more space. Whatever your reasoning, privacy might be a high priority for you. However, if other elements of living on campus interest you, investigate the different types of housing your institution offers. For example, dormitory-style residence halls may be what you imagine when you think of college housing; however, at Berry College, there are four different styles of living accommodations ranging from traditional residence halls with community bathrooms to townhouses and free-standing cottages.

From a safety perspective, there’s a trade-off when you want more privacy. On the one hand, if a student who rents is missing or can’t be reached by parents, a landlord may not get deeply involved. On the other hand, if someone is concerned about a student living on campus, RAs can check on them. At a higher level, residence life staff can determine when ID cards are scanned to enter a building or certain residential hallways and common areas. Privacy is nice, but many students appreciate the support and safety of living in a community.

On-campus Housing

Conveniently located
Probably the greatest pro for living on campus is the convenience to all things college. Your food, library, classes, mentors, activities and more are likely within walking distance. Students who live on campus typically deal with fewer transportation issues and get to class on time. Late-night study group at the library? No problem if you live near the library! Students who live off campus are less likely to stay on campus after their block of classes, so they may become less engaged socially and academically.

Support when you need it
Social and academic support are not the only types of support available on college campuses. Most institutions offer medical and mental health services as well as wellness centers for physical activity. School property tends to be well-lit at night and has higher security available than traditional rental housing. Parents and their college students — young adults leaving home for the first time — find a sense of safety in knowing there are support structures in place and close by if needed. For example, maintenance staff on college campuses will act quickly in response to leaks or property damage while a landlord may be less reliable and may not be held to the same high standards in a contract. In more serious cases, colleges are required by accrediting bodies to monitor and provide safety information and crime rates. They also have systems in place to warn students and respond to danger or bad weather.

Sense of community
Finally, colleges like Berry have on-campus housing requirements because they believe students build a strong sense of community and belonging while living on campus. You will always find someone to eat with, study with or hang out with. Living on campus allows for more opportunities to connect with people beyond class that you might not meet otherwise. Living with your peers increases your exposure to different cultures, perspectives and experiences, too.

Associate Dean of Students Lindsay Norman notes, “When students live on campus, college learning becomes a framework, a whole life experience. You are not just taking classes at your school, but your school is also where you eat, sleep, work and play, and you learn to take ownership of campus. Learning and maturing don't stop when you leave the classroom.”

For example, she adds, Berry’s residence life staff rarely deals with littering because students take pride in the beauty of their campus. They are aware of who is cleaning up.

“There can be some discomfort living in a community,” continues Norman. “Many students have never shared a room before they come to campus. But it’s our job to help students grow and learn to live together, and it is a privilege to share life with them – the difficulties but also the celebrations – during their college experience.”

Make Your Choice

Looking at the perks of both on- and off-campus living, what do you think? Let’s summarize how to make your final choice:

  1. Start with your schedule. Will you need to live in your residence year-round or will you leave during holidays and summer? Which options allow you to pay only for what you need?
  2. Research based on the information above and build a cost comparison between your on-campus/off-campus choices.
  3. Consider personal level of responsibility vs. desired level of support.
  4. Think through personal wants and needs vs. value-added experiences of living in community.
  5. Be open to change during your time in college. If you try one option and need something different the following year, you haven’t made a decision that has to last all of college. You can move!

Residence life and housing experiences are an exciting part of attending college. Have more questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your college admissions counselor.

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