Living On Campus VS Off Campus: Student Perspective

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Choosing on campus housing or off-campus housing is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make during your time at college and it can affect your life in ways you may not expect. The type of housing you choose will influence your social life, your daily routine, your financial outlook, and where you get your meals. Here is an overview of on-campus and off-campus housing and a guide to picking the best option for you. 

Which Is The Best Option For You?

On-Campus Housing: 

  • This is the safest option if you’re unsure of what to do.
  • You’ll typically be as close as you can get to your classes and other resources.
  • Dining is typically included. You can go to the store and bring back food instead if your dorm has kitchen, but many large public schools will just have a microwave which may or may not be enough.
  • Having a typical college social life is most accessible from on-campus housing. A lot of people like to grab food at dining halls, hang out at each other’s dorms, or go to the library to get work done. Additionally, people tend to make friends in their residence hall during their first semester. 

Off-Campus Housing: 

  • When people think about off-campus living, they typically think of commutingbut that’s not always true. Some colleges have sponsored off-campus housing that is right on the side of campus which allows people to walk to class. This off-campus housing along the side of campus isn’t for everybody though, as it tends to be the most expensive option, but it is very structured and geared towards students.
  • It is good for people that aren’t interested in the traditional college life and want to work or commute from a place closer to home.
  • Off-campus housing can often be cheaper, especially when it’s not schoolsponsored housing. It can be as low as a couple hundred dollars a month compared to over a thousand on average for on-campus housing.
  • Living off-campus can give a sense of independence and maturity for people that are older or are tired of traditional school life.
  • People in special circumstances, such as being in a relationship or having a child, may choose this as it gives them flexibility.

What You'll Need

  • Many of these items can be further specified by looking at your dorm requirements online, which you can usually find with a Google search. It may seem daunting at first, but you’ll figure it out fast. It’s easiest to pack light and then go to a store near campus over the weekend to get anything you missed. Chances are, you’ll end up forgetting something or needing something elseIf you don’t know if you need something like a mattress pad or cleaning supplies, it’s best to just wait and pick it up later.
  • While the items you need to bring for each type of housing are slightly different, the essentials are still the same. At the end of the day, the goal is to achieve a balance between personal items and functional items. You don’t want your dorm or apartment to be covered with stuffed animals and fairy lights but you also don’t want it to feel sterile. Do yourself a favor and, in addition to the essentials, bring a couple of things that make you feel at homewhether that’s posters on the wall, lights, pictures, or comfortable bedding.
  • Another note: for some of the more expensive items on the list it helps to split the cost with a roommate or buy different items. For example, one person could buy the printer, another could buy the area rugand another could buy the vacuum. 

The Essentials

School Supplies: 

  • Backpack 
  • Pencils, pens, erasers 
  • Notebooks, folders, binders 
  • Loose leaf paper 
  • Flash drive or external hard drive  
  • Sticky notes 
  • Calendar/planner 
  • Scissors 
  • Stapler/staples 
  • Tape 
  • Printer ink and standard printer paper

Laundry, clothing, and cleaning: 

  • Clothing (think ahead for the winter if you won’t be going home before then. You might need some much heavier clothing like jackets and sweatshirts) 
  • A towel or two  
  • Business casual clothes and business formal clothes 
  • Shoes and dress shoes 
  • Vacuum 
  • Laundry detergent (pods are easiest) and dryer sheets 
  • Wipes/paper towels 
  • Bathroom cleaning supplies if you have your own bathroom


  • Window A/C unit or fans depending on your dorm policy and your climate 
  • Set of bedding: pillows, sheets, blankets, a comforter, and an optional mattress pad 
  • Alarm clock 
  • Trash can (desk size) 
  • Laundry bag/hamper  
  • Any extra storage bins/bags you might need 
  • Picture hangers 
  • Clothing hangers 
  • Over the door coat hanger(s) 


  • Hygiene products you use on a daily basis  
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste 
  • Shampoo/conditioner 
  • Body wash 
  • Deodorant 
  • Comb/brush 
  • Nail clippers 
  • Shaving supplies 
  • First aid kit 
  • Pain killers 
  • Cough drops, cold medicine, fever reducers 


  • Printer (many of the buildings on campuses have printers you can pay to use, especially the library. It’s up to you whether you want to use them or have one in your room. It also depends on your major and whether you think you’ll be writing a lot of papers) 
  • Calculator  
  • Electronics you use on a daily basis 
  • Charging cords for electronics 
  • HDMI cord 
  • Power strip(s) with surge protector  
  • Extension cords (may be restricted) 
  • Earbuds/headphones 
  • TV/entertainment consoles 


  • Personal items (wallet, keys, phone) 
  • Umbrella 
  • Sports items or equipment 
  • Water bottle 

On-Campus / Off-Campus Specific Items

On-Campus Specific Items

  • Snacks and drinks in case you don’t feel like going to the dining hall 
  • Desk light (some schools have restrictions on the type of lamp or light bulb so be sure to check your dorm guidelines)
  • Area rug (your dorm guidelines will mention it if they don’t have nice flooring. A lot of the time dorms have tacky flooring and concrete walls and an area rug can go a long way towards making it feel neat, clean, and like home)
  • Mini fridge
  • Microwave
  • Shower caddy
  • Shower shoes
  • Coffee maker/microwave (may be restricted)

Off-Campus Specific Items

  • Trash bags
  • Toilet paper
  • Dish soap
  • Utensils and dishes, kitchen appliances not already listed
  • Food for the week

Unseen Expenses for Off-Campus Housing

  • Parking: both on-campus and at your off-campus housing. This can cost a couple hundred dollars per year for on-campus parking and up to a thousand per year for condo parking or apartment parking.
  • Any fines related to parking or driving.
  • Utilities and repairs: can be costly on top of your rent/mortgage.
  • HOA or condo fees: miscellaneous fees that housing groups charge to keep the environment maintained and to add amenities like pools, recreation rooms, or gyms.
  • Gas (for commuting): The cost of a tank of gas a week for a moderate commute, one every two weeks for short commutes.
  • Damages and accidents: leaving the water running, breaking something, and other events that would incur a charge.

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