High school graduation! Hello world, good-bye curfew, good-bye chores, good-bye rules! College adulthood is on the horizon, and that means doing what you want: not scheduling any classes that start before noon, partying all weekend, staying up all night, and endless good times. Is that what going away to college means? That’s what the hype would have students believe. But amidst the fun that has graduates trembling with anticipation while their parents tremble with apprehension, there’s an important question to answer: where is the fresh-from-home college freshman going to live? Off campus or on campus?
In 2012, Wake Forest University graduate Kasha Patel’s list of 10 reasons to live in a dorm was published in USA Today. She listed the advantages to living on campus and her advice is worth noting for high school students and parents who are making that all-important decision of how to make the most of the college experience while building a solid academic foundation. 1)
Cleaning service included. The cleaning staff takes out the trash, refills the soap dispenser, replaces the toilet paper rolls, disinfects the bathrooms, and vacuums the common areas. Why be in too great a hurry to do housecleaning when it can be done for you? 2)
Proximity means that your dorm is within walking distance of class, prepared food is available in the cafeteria; the library is nearby for studying; on-campus parties are close by and there’s no worrying about parking tickets. 3)
Dormitories mean that it’s easier to meet new people, whether it’s for an impromptu game of volleyball or a midnight fast-food run. 4)
Dormitories are set up with safety as a priority; there are typically security phones on campus, and surveillance is provided with video cameras and campus security. There may also be night shuttles to dorms or escorts upon request. Dormitory access also requires special key-card access in addition to the door key. The Resident Assistant monitors the dormitory as well. 5)
Resident Assistants are required to offer monthly activities that include free things. They also provide stress-relief packages for finals week. 6)
No monthly bills need to be paid because your once-a-semester payment includes your utilities, Wi-Fi, and cable. 7)
Furniture is provided, and although you’ll bring your own belongings when you move in, you don’t have to move dining room furniture, a couch, television, etc. 8)
Ultimate entertainment centers are part of dorm life, whether it’s a game room with a ping-pong and pool table, a large television set in the common rooms, or access to outdoor basketball and volleyball courts. 9)
Customizing your dorm means that you can find the style of dormitory that suits your personality. If you don’t want a roommate, you can find a single-occupancy room. If you don’t want to share a bathroom, see what suites are available. Cooking aficionados can find a dorm with kitchen facilities. 10)
The once-in-a-lifetime experience of dorm life makes college complete. Your college years become part of the legend that is you and that includes the roommate woes, the shared bathroom awkwardness, and various other episodes that are going to become a permanent part of your personal “remember when” oral scrapbook. That list is worth exploring in some depth. The purpose of going to a university isn’t to become a champion at ultimate Frisbee; it’s to get a degree that will lead to satisfying, gainful employment and a successful future. But the four years spent in college should be years of growth both intellectually and socially, and the evidence indicates that on-campus residence may be the best way to achieve those goals.
The high school student who arrives at college from home may consider himself to be an independent adult, but may never have done his own laundry, prepared a meal, or even paid a bill. On-campus living means there’s no rent, security deposit, or utilities to pay. Meals are available in the dining hall, so even if money is tight, the student—and anxious parents—can be assured that there is a roof over her head and meals to eat. On-campus living provide the student with a transitional path to adulthood; yes, he’ll be doing his own laundry, but he won’t be worrying about making the rent payment every month. The high-school-senior-turned-college-freshman quickly learns that, while college life is indeed much less restrictive than living under the parental roof, the purpose of attending a university or college is to receive an education. Many a student who eased through her high school years suddenly learns that she’s not the only smart kid in class. Achieving a university degree requires good study habits and self-discipline. Living on campus can make the difference in a student’s ability to reach his potential.
Students who live on campus have easy access to the network of educational support; the library is within walking distance, as are the student union and classes. If a student has a break between classes, it’s easy to spend that time studying, either at the library or in one’s dormitory. It’s been reported that, for freshman at least, the grade point averages and graduation rates are higher for those who lived on campus. The presence of Resident Assistants or RAs can help a student who may be dealing with loneliness, struggling to fit in, or having a hard time adjusting to the academic expectations of professors. According to 2010 statistics for the University of Northern Iowa, students who live on campus achieved higher grades than those living off campus; this was true not only for their freshman year, but also for the other college years. Students living on campus were nearly twice as likely to make the Dean’s List. Those statistics also showed that students who lived on campus for two years were 25% more likely to graduate than the students who only lived on campus for their freshman year.
As U.S. News and World Report wrote in its story on 2014-2015 college students who lived in university housing, “College dorms often serve as the backdrop for pizza and movie nights, study marathons and budding friendships, making them great places to meet new people when students are far from home.” Students who have left their high school friends are eager to make new ones. Living on campus, where students from cosmopolitan cities and rural villages are also in residence, opens up a student’s opportunities to connect with people of similar interests. It also teaches a student to be receptive to people from different countries and cultures. The old cliques that dominated high school are gone, and a student who was shy in high school may discover a new confidence because it’s a time of new beginnings, new faces, and new opportunities. Friendships formed in college are a foundation of the student’s new life on the brink of adulthood, and those bonds can last a lifetime. It’s much easier to build a social calendar if you’re an on-campus resident. Walking or taking the bus saves time and effort for participating in activities, and colleges abound with things to do. Having fun is an important aspect of university life and colleges make sure that there is a lot to do to keep a student engaged. According to a 2003 study, there’s a strong connection between involvement in campus activities and staying in college rather than dropping out. As a student becomes a part of the social life going on around him, he develops roots that give a sense of commitment to college.
Although the cost of tuition, room and board causes parents to redesign their household budgets so that they can afford to send their offspring to college, living on campus is more economical than living on campus. For example, Texas State University’s on-campus living, with a meal plan, costs from $600-$1200 per month. Rent for a single room in an apartment costs around $500, without factoring in utilities or meals. Not having to commute to class because your dorm is within walking distance saves money that would have to be spent on gas. It’s a lot easier to wake up, get dressed and walk to class than it is to deal with traffic, parking, and distance. There’s another economic factor that makes on-campus living the better choice. While the legend of the college student who exists on ramen noodles and tea might seem picturesque, it’s not a menu designed to promote health. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 51.8 percent of the college students who live off campus but not with relatives live in poverty. It’s typical for college students to experience tighter budgets, but some students are actually poor. For university students living in Centre County, Pennsylvania, the location for The Pennsylvania State University, the poverty rate is 20.2 percent, but when off-campus students are not included, the rate drops to 9.8 percent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost in 2012-2013 for a first-time, full-time student was $12,890 for a public, in-state, four year institution; $24,430 at a private nonprofit four-year institution, and $21,740 for a private for-profit four year institution. According to U.S. News and World Report, college students will spend approximately $10,000 on room and board per year. As Kasha Patel pointed out in her list of reasons why students should live on campus, that money includes cleaning, utilities, entertainment, meals, and living quarters. It also includes parental peace of mind.
University personnel know that their population is often reckless, volatile, and eager to experience life. Young people are not always the best judges at determining when what seems to be an adventure is actually a risk. That’s why colleges are concerned about student safety, not only in terms of crime, but also with regard to a student’s health, both physical and mental. Statistics indicate that 20% of college males and 35% of college females reported feeling overwhelmed during their freshmen year of college. Many campuses offer 24-hour psychiatric services; mental health counseling and crisis hotlines; security officers; shuttles and escort service for students who are on campus at night; surveillance systems; and email and text messages that alert a campus-wide system in the event of threats. While these services are available to students who live on- or off-campus, it’s easier for a student who lives on campus to access them when needed. High school seniors upon graduation day are feeling many emotions. They’ve successfully concluded their mandatory period of education. For those who are entering college, the day may be bittersweet: relief at ending what many perceive as their childhood is mixed with the knowledge that they are leaving behind friends, routines, and a way of life which, however confining it might have been, had familiarity in its favor. The thought of going away to college is both enticing and frightening and living away from home, many for the first time, can cause even the most confident student to feel anxious about the future. The best solution is to evaluate all the factors that will affect the college years, and match them against the student’s personality. Many parents and students will agree that on-campus living eases the stress of adjusting to the college lifestyle.