By Kavita Singh
The monetary commitment to live on-campus can be daunting, even considering most financial aid packages. However, the troubles from living off-campus far outweigh that financial gain. Especially in the long-run, the isolation from a close-knit campus community may be too great of a sacrifice for that short-term financial gain.
According to the Southwestern Office of Residence Life, 83% of students (not just first-years) choose to live on-campus. This is overwhelmingly evidence that students have chosen to make a long-term investment to remain in the campus community.
Residence life plays a major role in the overall university experience, and everything from borrowing a calculator to having late-night philosophical discussions down the hall becomes a little more available when living close to your peers.
For students who haven’t lived away from home before, it also provides an opportunity to transition to adulthood, taking steps along the way to learn about laundry detergent, roommate relationships, and the life stories of others.
Academics have raved for decades about the cultural, historic, and economic implications of spatial proximity, and the college experience can be seen as a kind of miniature testing grounds to explore.
Resident Assistants on-campus facilitate this experience, reaching out by hosting events and offering guidance and support to residents. Obviously, how much a student takes advantage of the services offered is their own decision, but these amenities can’t be found outside the university. The residential experience and the services that come with it are a truly unique aspect of the college experience.
Living among your peers in a “virtual bubble” may seem like an unrealistic view of the world, but that space is an interesting place to view the world from and learn from. Building that community, especially at a university like Southwestern, requires just the right conditions to strike a balance between awkwardly close and forlornly distant. The residence life experience only enhances this benefit by helping those in-between times become moments for building great relationships with one another.
While relationships with peers can be built off-campus, doing so on-campus is considerably easier. Working on projects together, meeting up, cooking together, and generally hanging out are activities facilitated by common spaces on-campus.
On-campus housing offers a unique opportunity to become part of a campus community, something especially true of small liberal arts colleges that structure themselves around the residential life experience.
After their first two years, students have to make a decision that will affect their lives for some time: whether to live on-campus or off-campus. Options at the university include residence halls, fraternity house living, or various apartments. Off-campus, however, is literally a world of opportunity. Renting is clearly the way to go, considering the benefits of cheaper living, freedom to live how one wants, and gaining real-world experience.
According to the Student Life website, housing costs anywhere between McCombs Residential Center’s and Martin Ruter Hall’s $4,320 per year to the Lord Center’s $12,010 per year. This does not include the meal plan, which ranges from $2,040 to $5,834 annually. The cheapest meal plan, including only five meals, is further restricted to those who live in housing with a kitchen. Considering these costs, the cheapest option for any student to live and eat on-campus would be $4,514 per semester.
Renting, by comparison, has many more benefits for the same amount of money. For example, an average student pays approximately $400 monthly for a sizable two-bedroom apartment with a roommate and $100 monthly for groceries. This brings the price of living from August-December, a semester of school, to $2,500. That’s $2,000 saved by living off-campus. The costs of driving for a semester is about $500. Even counting in gas expense, a vast amount of money is still saved.
Besides maintaining a bigger wallet, living away from the school allows a student to live how he or she wishes. On-campus, pets aren’t allowed. Renting opens up possibilities for dogs, cats, snakes, etc.
Besides all of these benefits, the experience a student gets from renting their own home away from campus is priceless. Paying bills and keeping a home clean are responsibilities of the real world outside of school, and it’s important that students know what to expect and how to take care of themselves when they leave college.
For example, residence halls employ housekeepers to empty students’ trash cans and clean their bathrooms on a regular basis. This is a ridiculous luxury; one should be responsible for their own living space and get used to cleaning. Once a student graduates and has to find a place to live, there isn’t going to be a maid to pick up after their messes. If they expect their parents to do it for them, they didn’t learn much in school about maturity.
Renting is part of growing up and being on your own; it is part of life nowadays. Having to pay bills and keep a job to keep your home teaches financial responsibility and definitely teaches students how to prioritize.
Renting may seem like a scary prospect, but it’s a great way for students to build their credit as well. The experience will pay off after graduation, when they will be thrown into the world, and knowing how to navigate it can mean the difference between living with parents or thriving on their own. In light of all these things, it’s an obvious choice. It’s hard to imagine how living on-campus under the eyes of RA’s would ever be worth the higher costs.