The $10,000 Question: Is Living in a Dorm Worth It?

college dorm

When I started school, I was so excited to move into my college dorm. I knew it would be cramped, but I still had this idea of a quirky but fun living space.

When I got there, my room was a 100 square feet, shared with a roommate. The bathroom was shared with the rest of the hall — 30 other people — with four showers divided by mostly sheer curtains.

It wasn’t the inspirational, exciting vibe I was imagining. Considering that dorm living added thousands to my education costs, living in a tight, old space was an expensive luxury.

Despite the costs, living in the college dorm is a big part of the college experience. Dorm life can help you meet new people and engage in activities more easily. Whether or not it’s worth the cost to you is dependent on a number of factors.

1. Cost of a college dorm

My experience with university housing is typical. The average cost of room and board is $10,440 for a public school and $11,890 at private colleges.

Over the course of four years, living in a college dorm can add over $40,000 to your total cost of attendance. The additional cost can mean having to take out more in student loans to fill the gap.

When you add interest charges to the additional loan amount, dorm life can become even more expensive. Interest fees can add hundreds or even thousands to your balance over the length of your repayment term.

2. Financial aid conditions

While opting for the college dorm can be pricey, it has some trade-offs. When it comes to student loans and 529 savings plans, you may have limits on your housing choices. Some plans and loans have stipulations that require you to live on campus.

I found myself in that situation. While I could find an inexpensive apartment off-campus that was within walking distance, my scholarship and loans wouldn’t cover it. The documents specifically stated that I could only use my funds for on-campus housing, so I was stuck.

If you want to live off-campus, you may have to pay for your rent and living expenses out of your own pocket. Trying to find the additional money through a part-time job or private loans can add a significant burden, so sometimes campus living is the easier choice.

3. Average rental off-campus

Depending on where you go to school, dorms can be a downright bargain. For example, New York University has college dorms starting at just $7,922 for the academic year. By comparison, a tiny studio off-campus in the same area runs about $2,000 a month — nearly $18,000 for a nine-month lease.

Also consider that if you live off-campus in a traditional apartment, you often are responsible for a 12-month lease rather than a lease that only covers the school year. Even in a cheaper apartment, paying for an additional three months can make the off-campus options more expensive than a college dorm.

In an apartment, you are also responsible for utilities like electric, water, internet, and more. With a dorm, schools normally roll those costs into your fees.

Before making a decision, compare the cost of rentals off-campus with the cost of dorm living and lease terms. Depending on the school you’re attending and the city where you live, college dorms may be the better alternative.

4. Social opportunities

Another factor to consider when deciding whether or not to live in the college dorm is the social life. Dorm living can provide unique opportunities to meet new people and expand your social group.

Commuting to school or living at home doesn’t mean you won’t get to participate, but it does mean you’ll have to work harder to be part of the college community.

5. Living at home

If your chosen school is near your family and staying with them is an option, consider that route carefully. Skipping the dorm or off-campus housing can save you thousands every year. That can reduce the amount of debt you need to take out, decreasing your burden after graduation.

While living at home may not give you the same freedom as dorm living while you’re in school, it can pay off once you have your degree. With fewer loans to repay, you can afford to move into your own home faster. Sacrificing now can help you have a more secure future later.

Deciding whether or not to live on-campus

While room and board can add to your college costs, it can be a worthwhile experience. In some situations, it may even be the cheaper option. Use these factors to consider your options and make an informed decision.

For more information about reducing college costs, see why you should skip the college meal plan.

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