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Dorm room or off-campus apartment?

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

Where will your college freshman live?

When your young adult is ready to move out, how far will you let her go? Help your teen evaluate the pros and cons of dorm versus off-campus living.

Now that your child has chosen a college, it's time to select living arrangments. Unless your child is commuting to a school within driving distance, he or she will have to secure living arrangments either on or off campus.

Friendships

Dorm: All of the students living in the dorm are in the same situation, and that creates a positive social experience. As roommates and neighbors, they have each other when home seems so far away.
Apartment: Apartment living can be the ideal arrangement for friends who are attending the same school. Living with a high school friend might make the transition to college less frightening.

I do regret not doing at least my freshman year on campus. I met a lot of people and had a lot more experiences that I couldn’t get with off-campus housing. ~Danielle

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Privacy

Dorm: Dorms aren’t private. Your child will likely share a bedroom with at least one other student. He’ll also share a bathroom with many other students, and he’ll share common areas (such as a lounge or study area) with still more.
Apartment: If it's affordable, consider an apartment that offers a separate bedroom for each renter. The only way to truly guarantee privacy in an apartment, however, is to rent one without roommates.

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Convenience

Dorm: Dorms are typically right on campus, so your child won’t have to deal with traffic and parking — and there’s no excuse to miss or be late for class!

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Apartment: Apartment living might be just the ticket, however, for a student who also has an active off-campus life. Students who work in addition to attending school, for example, may find that a centrally-located apartment offers more convenience than one on campus.

Food

Dorm: Your kid gets three squares a day without having to spend valuable study time to grocery shop, cook and wash dishes... but it’s cafeteria food. ‘Nuff said.
Apartment: On the plus side, your child can eat whatever he wants. (Is that good or bad?)

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Mom tip: When Abby’s son moved into an apartment with three of his good friends, the roomies decided that they would split the food costs four ways. “The arrangement lasted about a week,” said Abby. “One of the roommates ate everyone else’s food plus his own.”

Safety

Dorm: Most dorms, on the other hand, enforce curfews and are tied in to campus security. That offers a little peace of mind, right Mom?
Apartment: Off-campus apartments are not as safe as on-campus residences. Buildings are not secured at night, and there's no guarantee that close neighbors are also students.

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Money

Dorms: You pay one price up front, and your child doesn’t have to worry about coming up with money for gas, food and utilities. And the price you pay is tied in to the school year — you don’t have to worry about signing a 12-month lease and finding someone to sublet your child’s room when school’s not in session.
Apartment: Some parents believe that their kids can afford an apartment for less than what it might cost to stay in a dorm. For example, your child might not need (or want) a full meal ticket. Don't forget to add in the associated costs: car, car insurance, gas, parking, food, utilities and renter's insurance.

My son stayed in a four-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment about a mile from campus. He was comfortable with it, which made his transition to college life easier. And his apartment didn’t cost much more than a dorm. ~Jeanette

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Find more advice for parenting a college student

How parents and students can survive the first year of college
How to cope when your child goes away to college
Care packages for college students

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