What to look for in housing is a little bit like picking out a good dish from a menu you’ve never tried: there are a lot of options that can, at first, be difficult to decipher. However, once you know that you love spicy things and don’t like the taste of carrots, everything gets TONS easier. For housing, one of the biggest “flavors” to think about is whether you want to live on- or off-campus.
Most US colleges and universities offer on-campus housing for first-year students. This means living in a dorm, usually with a roommate, on a hall with other brand-new college students JUST LIKE YOU. Living in a freshman dorm is a unique experience, and one that many people absolutely love. The friends you make in your first year will likely be your friends forever—you might even marry one of them.
After freshman year, things change a little bit, depending on where you go to college. Some colleges provide four-year on-campus housing if you want it. In some colleges, this will mean living in small rooms with a roommate (or two), for three more years. At other institutions, you might have your own room along with a big common area with couches and a television, and a full kitchen. Every college is different, so when you’re curious about where you might end up living, ask someone.
If you’re not near the school, just call the admissions department and ask about the best dorms, the worst dorms, the places farthest away from classes, and the ones right in the center of campus. If you’re lucky enough to go visit, ask any student walking around—they’ll be glad to talk to you, and you’ll be glad you asked. If you choose to, or have to live off-campus, keep reading…
If you want wood floors, or a pet, or a nice kitchen, or if your school doesn’t offer four years of on-campus housing—and most don’t—you’ll need to look elsewhere to keep a roof over your head. Generally, off-campus housing offers the opportunity to live in a house or apartment with a group of good friends. This means more independence, the opportunity to experience a more “adult” life, and lots of fun.
Another big perk of living off-campus is that it can be cheaper (and nicer) than living in a dorm, and the quality and proximity of your home to campus will usually dictate the price of rent. If the walls are made of cardboard and the rooms are tiny, you’ll pay less than if you’re living in a palace. A palace next to campus will be more expensive than one that’s a few blocks away.
Mostly, like when picking off a menu, the most important things are to compromise and to appreciate what you ordered. You might not love carrots, but maybe you can just push them to the side. Your bedroom might be absolutely perfect, except on two nights a semester when the house across the street throws a big party. Well, either invest in a good pair of earplugs, find a different place to rest, or join them!