Dorms Vs. Apartments

Is a dormitory right for you, or is an on-campus apartment more appealing?

Your roommate refuses to stop clipping his toenails on your science lab papers. The RA won't tell the neighboring students to turn down their Weird Al CDs. The cafeteria is serving pickled cow's hoof for dinner again.

It's time to consider moving out of the dorm and into an on-campus apartment, isn't it? That depends on your preferences and needs - and, of course, your school's guidelines.

Many universities require that students live in a dormitory for a certain amount of time. This includes freshmen, new students, and sometimes even sophomores. Your university's housing office should have the information you need to determine if you're eligible for an apartment.

If you can do it, the next step is to figure out how serious you are about this. There are inherent advantages and disadvantages to both types of housing, so think about that before you make a decision.

For the most part, dorms are better for new students still adjusting to college life. There are mature, dependable students as well as hall directors (non-student adults) on hand twenty-four hours a day for help and guidance. Many residence halls plan activities several times a week, so that there is always something interesting to do when you need a study break. If your room comes with a meal plan, you know that you'll always have hot meals available, no matter how skinny your wallet looks.

THE BOTTOM LINE: dorms are great for new students because it's easier to make friends, find answers to your questions, and settle in to the college environment. It's also ideal for the parents' peace of mind because they know that you're in a safe environment.

Then there are apartments, which are more suited for people who like space and privacy. You can get one all by yourself or hand-pick a roommate or two to share the bills. There is often more privacy, because there are no RAs living next door. The meal plan is sometimes still an option, so you can still have hot meals without cooking yourself - but then again, you also have a full kitchen at your disposal, so you can take full advantage of it.

Sometimes apartments are covered by financial aid, so you don't have to scrounge up rent money every month. Depending on your school and the complex you choose, you might have to pay for things such as Internet access, a land line, cable television, and electricity. Check the housing office or their Web site for a breakdown of apartment features and the tenant's responsibilities.

Most dorms are furnished; many apartments are BYOES (bring your own electrical spool - the number-one coffee-table choice of college students all over America). Remember to factor in the cost of furnishings and appliances before you make a major decision.

THE BOTTOM LINE: apartments are ideal for upperclassmen; students who've been around and learned the routines. There are a few added responsibilities on your end, but that's all part of growing up and becoming a mature adult.

You also have to look at the overall cost of each option. Sadly, you can't just look at the monthly rent charged to you by the university: there are other factors.

-Electricity. Most dorms pay this for you, along with the cable, Internet access, and a basic telephone line. Many apartment-dwellers pay all of the above bills in addition to the monthly rent.

-Meal plan. If you live in a dorm, you probably have the option of purchasing the plan. Some students don't have a choice: they have to buy it because it's part of the contract. In many cases, it's not cheaper than cooking for yourself: do a month-by-month breakdown to figure out which will cost less. Don't forget to include splurge meals (sometimes you have to go someplace nice to celebrate the end of mid-terms).

-Transportation. This is especially relevant if you decide to go off-campus for housing. If nothing else, you have to factor in the time required to get to classes and work from your room/apartment.

Then there's the big expense of furnishings, appliances, cookware, and other "home stuff" if you decide to move into your first apartment while you're still in school. Sure, you'll have to buy all that stuff anyway after you graduate, but can you afford it now? Some of the things you'll need to buy or borrow from parents include:


-eating utensils and dishes

-furniture (because many apartments require you to provide your own)

-appliances (microwave, blender, toaster, etc)

-curtains and other decorations for your walls/windows

-any other "creature comforts" you might want or need

These costs can add up, so make the decision as early as you can. This will give you plenty of time to save up money, shop for what you'll need, and find better bargains than if you wait until the last possible minute.

If you still aren't sure what's right for you, talk to a guidance counselor at your school, or ask the housing office for more information. You can also talk to your parents, especially if they went to college: odds are they'll be able to offer insight that you won't find anywhere else.

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