What's the Difference in On-Campus and Off-Campus Housing?

Last updated: May 23, 2018

Next to choosing a major or concentration, picking housing is your weightiest decision. It affects physical and mental well-being, the wallet, and whether academic goals will be met. The answer to the housing question depends on the person, the college, and the community. That’s why knowing a college, the host community’s housing options, and the difference in on-campus and off-campus housing must be a factor in choosing schools.

To get the right answer to the housing question, you must find out the difference in on-campus and off-campus housing. Your choice impacts many aspects of your college experience, including your transition to college life, education costs, privacy concerns, convenience issues, and access to amenities.

Campus Housing Considered Best Choice for New Students

Living on campus is a requirement at many colleges for first-year students, and it’s even mandated beyond the first year at some. The thinking, supported by research, is that some students are more likely to adapt and succeed when plugged directly into the support systems the campus provides.

On-campus upsides for newbies include:

  • Many freshmen are away from home for the first time, which makes the structure of residence hall life a necessary safety net.
  • Peer pressure and the oversight of resident advisers, staff, and faculty will help keep students focused on academic goals and avoid trouble.
  • The proximity of school resources, staff, and students who can offer academic support increases the likelihood of success.

Some say an on-campus housing requirement unfairly imposes prohibitive costs. The requirement, however, isn’t always ironclad. Typical exceptions to the first-year rule are age, family circumstances, medical hardship, and military service.

Off-Campus Housing Can Be Less Expensive

For the 2017-18 school year, the estimated cost of tuition and fees and room and board at a public, four-year college was $20,770 for in-state students. That’s $9,970 for tuition and fees and $10,800 for room and board, according to The College Board.

Because over half of your annual college cost likely will be housing, and the conventional wisdom that off-campus housing is less expensive, don’t decide before comparison shopping. And remember that:

  • Many colleges fail to keep off-campus housing cost estimates up to date, and they often provide unrealistic numbers.
  • Consumer tools that give housing cost estimates often give incorrect or misleading information.

If you want good data, apply those college-level research skills to locating and pricing off-campus housing. And when you crunch the off-campus numbers, don’t forget to include utilities, cable TV and internet, groceries, and commuting costs.

USF students playing dodgeball.

Weigh Privacy Concerns When Choosing

The thought of a communal bathroom in a traditional residence hall is one that some people can’t stomach. Alternatives at most schools, including apartment- and suite-style quarters, are costlier but provide the increased privacy you may demand. It’s important to do some soul-searching to choose the best housing option for you based on your needs, preferences, and interests.

Dorm life can be rewarding in many ways, from friendships and support systems to being close to the college resources you need. But proximity also can be a problem. Residence hall horror stories are common enough to be an internet genre, one that includes shattered privacy and the resulting uncivil wars. It’s also worth noting that few college students can afford an off-campus rental without one or many roommates. You could be stuck sharing a bathroom even with an off-campus apartment.

You can see all the housing options available at USF on the Housing & Residential Education website. This includes a detailed list of features and amenities.

Convenience Is On-Campus Housing’s Strength

There are a number of arguments for renting an apartment, including proximity to a part-time job. But when it comes to convenience, there are more reasons to stay on campus.

  • On-campus living puts you in the heart of a community designed solely to meet your needs.
  • On-campus housing is within walking distance of the services and activities you need to reach your academic goals.
  • On-campus housing puts you in a sea of students you can study with, as well as people who are paid to help you excel academically.
  • On-campus amenities include laundry rooms, dining halls, recreation centers, workout rooms, sports facilities, entertainment venues, and swimming pools. That’s the short list. At some schools, the list of campus amenities sounds more like a resort than a center for higher education.

Another common argument for campus housing is that a student spending less time meeting basic needs has more time to soar academically.

These Factors Deserve Some Thought, Too

The pros and cons in the housing argument are countless. In no particular order, here are a few more factors that could sway your final decision:

  • Your own kitchen: You can cook what you want when you want in an apartment or house, but the groceries have to be there, along with the kitchenware.
  • Dining halls: They take care of the cooking and cleaning, but it’s not a 24/7 buffet, and choices often fall short.
  • Furniture: Campus housing has its own furniture, whereas not all apartments are furnished.
  • Leases: You sign on the dotted line for campus housing, but getting out of the contract early usually is less costly and complex than ditching a house or apartment.
  • The dorm experience: This is something many people cherish, and it’s now or never.
  • Cleaning service: Dining hall dishes aren’t your problem, and common areas are kept livable by staff.
  • Rules and regulations: Within limits, your social life and visitors are your business in off-campus housing.
  • Pick your roommates: With off-campus living, you get more control over who shares your space.
  • Private space: Your off-campus sleeping space will usually be roomier and more comfortable.
  • Safety in numbers: A campus is a relatively closed community where students find safety in numbers – inside and outside.

Questions about the on-campus housing options USF has to offer? Contact Housing & Residential Education online or call 813-974-0001.