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What are the advantages and disadvantages to a college student living in student housing rather than at home?

This assumes that their chosen institute of higher education is close enough to home for this to even be an option, of course. It is also theoretical for me at this point — my daughter proclaimed she would "never ever want to move away," and while I fully expect that sentiment to change as she grows up, it did get me thinking about the pros and cons.

  • Just to be clear, you're specifically asking to compare "living at home" versus "living in the dorm but going to a college very close to home"? And are you asking for advantages/disadvantages for the student, or do you include the parents' (discrete) interests here as well? – Joe Apr 29 '15 at 16:51
  • @Joe Yes. I assume the "choice" wouldn't really come up for a college further than a ~30 minute drive. And I guess I'd be interested in the parents', children's, and even family's benefits for each option if anyone feels like digging that deeply :) – Acire Apr 29 '15 at 16:53
  • It's a bit hard to answer, it all depends on the home/dorm environment (ex: if people fight at home vs great community in dorm). You might want to ask her why she said "never ever want to move away" – the_lotus Apr 29 '15 at 16:57
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    @the_lotus It's definitely a very hypothetical question, but I had hoped there were some objective things that could be considered (socialization, cost, learning responsibility, etc.). She got upset at the idea of moving far away to go to college, and I did assure her that she was always welcome to stay with us if she wanted to -- but at 10, her love of family takes a different form than it is likely to at 18 :) – Acire Apr 29 '15 at 17:05
  • Some dorms kick you out during breaks, like Christmas, Spring Break, Summer, etc. So you'll have to deal with that. Many dorms also share a common bathroom for the floor... don't need to say anything more there. Dorms are typically much more expensive than renting apartments or houses around the campus. However, many scholarships can pay directly to dorms associated with the college so as to avoid your kid having the chance to mess that up somehow. – Kai Qing Apr 29 '15 at 22:16
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I suspect this varies significantly by the person and family. Some advantages to one person will be disadvantages to another.

In particular, the differences:

  • Living at home, unless you live on campus already, means a bit of a commute for the child. This means a bit less time for socializing, and less ability to join the kinds of socializing that spontaneously arise. IE, if it's a ten or fifteen minute drive, she's less likely to want to go to the party than if it's just down the street - and she's less likely to walk by it at random.
  • It also means she'll less frequently run into other students and professors walking through the quads/etc. For those so inclined, a major feature of college life is running into others at random and having intellectual discussions about things ineteresting to you.
  • Living at home means less responsibility related to housekeeping and living arrangements. You don't have to worry about rent, you don't have to worry about cleaning, you don't have to worry about food. (Some of those aren't concerns anyway in dorms, but often dorm life leads to apartments the third or fourth year.) This is good and bad - you don't learn to have this responsibility, but it also doesn't distract from schoolwork.
  • Living at home means less opportunity for sexual activity, which again is a plus or a minus depending on the person. Even if you're the coolest mom in the world, it's still uncomfortable to have sexual partners at home.
  • Continuing in the vein of 'some good some bad', living at home will also mean she likely will stay more attached to her high school friends and develop fewer new friendships. For someone like me (not very good at making friends), it was hard at first - but also very good for me - to be forced to do so at college. Living at home makes it easier to rely on the crutch of old friendships, but also helps stay closer to those friends, and simplifies social dynamics for someone for whom that might be additional stress.

Ultimately, to me it tends to come down mostly to two things: safety net versus more responsibilities, and socialization. Many larger colleges and universities require on-campus living for the first year nowadays; some of that is ensuring they get money for their food program, but also some of it is ensuring students have a chance to learn how to live on their own for a while, and develop social bonds for that first year that help them in college.

Living on campus but near home is seen by a lot of people as a good compromise - you can still go home on the weekend most weekends, but you have the during-the-week socialization benefits of living on campus. Of course, for some being kicked out of the nest and forced to figure things out is a necessary thing for their personal development (and so going to a further away college is a good idea), but for others it can add stress that's unnecessary when added to a difficult transition to collegiate academics.

  • As a current college student (obviously) not living on campus, I can say that the commute is a big deal. Plenty of students in town don't live on or right next to campus (there's not enough room), but I'm sure we all face similar challenges. For instance, arranging meeting for study groups, or participating in clubs and organizations because more burdensome the further away you live. – user11394 May 1 '15 at 9:13
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Well, one of the advantages would be that it's sort of a way to ease into living away from home. You're responsible for yourself, but you're not alone and there are people who are somewhat keeping an eye on things. There are also lots of great shared experiences to be had with others living in the dorm.

Of course, some of those shared experiences may not be positive and in some dorms there can be a lot of peer pressure to do things one may not be comfortable with. That sort of thing will confront us throughout our lives, but it can be pretty tough to deal with when it's where you live.

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I may have some insights as a college student, although I've admittedly never lived in dormitories or campus housing. I've only been a purely nontraditional student.

Disadvantages

Cost

I attend a state university, and the resident rates for room and board for next year are going to be about $8000 for the next school year. This includes only the fall and spring terms. Summer costs extra.

Additionally, many colleges and universities require first-year and/or on-campus students to purchase some type of college meal plan. My university has plans with an average price of $8.86 a meal.

So, having your student live in the dormitories is going to expand your costs.

Availability

As mentioned in a comment, many dorms are closed for breaks and holidays, so the student needs to arrange to live somewhere else for that time.

Another type of availability is your student's availability to you, which will understandably be considerably less.

Sharing Space

Many universities now have surveys that students take that help match them with room mates. Supposedly, it increases your chances of getting a room mate that is compatible with your lifestyle. Nevertheless, your student will have to adjust to living with one or more people.

This could be argued to be an advantage, though, as they will have to develop some life skills due to sharing the space.

There are also communal bathrooms, which can be less tidy than personal bathrooms. And, the nature of shared spaces, and community areas, means that the noise pollution may be higher.

A friend my wife, who goes to a different university, had a bad dorm layout last school year: You had to go through her room to get to the rest of the dorm. She had create a makeshift privacy curtain for bed time, but the curtain didn't help that the door was often noisily opened late at night when she was trying to sleep.

You also just have less space to yourself. Your student won't likely be able to bring all of their belongings with them, so they'll have to make careful choices. A very common situation in my experience is that parents end up having to buy new furniture, bedding, and dorm accessories that specifically take advantage of the smaller spaces. So, add that to the costs, as well.

School Rules

If you're living on campus, it means you're not only subject to school policies and restrictions while at class, but while you're at home. Some policies can be restrictive or frustrating.

For instance, my university does not allow you to have your own WiFi router, because the worry of signal interference. So, this means that all of your Internet traffic goes through university-monitored devices and networking.

Adjusting to Independence

College itself is a big change. Classes are taught differently, there are different expectations, there are more organizations to be part of, more people. Put all that change together with the removal of the safety net of the family home, and there could be some anxiety and homesickness to be concerned about.

Students also have to become more responsible for their day-to-day needs. They need to remember to buy their toiletries, do their laundry (they need to know how!), get and prepare food, follow their schedule, set up appointments, and on and on. This can be quite a burden on new students, and a source of stress and frustration.

These things can be mitigated by preparing your child for independence well before college time.

Advantages

Freedom

Your student won't be tied to home and the habits that developed there. They'll be free to pursue their interests and activities without being under your scrutiny. So, they may try things they wouldn't normally, because they don't have to worry about your feelings on the matter.

They'll also be much closer to their classes, campus activities, study groups, organizations, and social events. A lot of what your student can do at college, that really makes the experience fulfilling, is done outside the classrooms. My university advises all new students to join clubs, because students in clubs are statistically more successful in their college career.

You will also have some freedom. Any regular chores or duties that you may have been doing because of your student will largely go away. Smaller meals can be cooked, less dishes will get dirty, laundry can get done less often. Household outings to the movies or restaurants also mean a lower cost, presuming you don't feel the need to include the student.

Included Services

When you live in a dorm, you often pay for everything up front. So, you don't have to worry about monthly bills or setting up utilities.

Cleaning services are usually in charge of cleaning various parts of the dorm, so the burden doesn't completely fall on the student.

The meal plans that are usually required generally provide for a good variety of prepared foods. Your student won't be eating just ramen noodles, or peanut butter from the jar. They'll have to figure out some of their meals on their own, but they'll likely take full advantage of all the cafeteria offerings.

Networking

Your student won't get to know the pulse of the school better than by living there. Not only will they get a better sense of the campus culture and workings, but they'll likely meet more of their peers and make more connections. Some of these connections may help them in their schooling, and some may actually help them in their future career.

Depending on their major and career choice, these networking opportunities may be pivotal in landing them the best starting position. I would not underestimate the value of these word-of-mouth and face-to-face interactions.

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The disadvantages of the dorm are probably pretty obvious, especially as regards cost....

An advantage of the dorm is that each time a person tackles a challenge such as moving to a new place, finding their way around, arranging their nest to their satisfaction, getting comfy, etc., the person will have more confidence about future challenges of this type.

It's often good for a young person to step gradually up the ladder of independence, in manageable steps.

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