The College Living Dilemma

To dorm or to commute? That is the question.

After completing the first several weeks of my sophomore year, I’ve been stuck on multiple occasions deciding whether or not I truly enjoy living on campus. Unlike my previous year, returning students were now free to select any available living option, as opposed to having a mandatory roommate. This year, I ended up living in a single. The room itself is very fine; I was just looking forward to living with my friends in a suite, so my current situation is far from ideal. Granted that home is actually just an hour away, commuting regularly on the train seems like a valid option. So for those of you who are on a similar boat, considering the pros and cons of both options is important before the housing cycle starts anew:

1. Find comfort in privacy.

It’s totally understandable if you want to avoid the scrutiny of your parents, who may be keen on keeping tabs on every aspect of your life. By living on campus, you’ll certainly have more freedom in pursuing the activities you enjoy. This is very true in living in a single dorm, where there’s no stress in popping in and out whenever you please. As someone who lives close to home, I’ve realized that having a single can act as a second home as well. For example, I now no longer feel anxious about visiting my parents and friends whenever I please, since entering and leaving the room unexpectedly can surely agitate some roommates. I would say that the level of privacy a student can attain by having the freedom to spend time on anything with anyone is one of the main perks of living on-campus.

2. Make sure you can access college resources.

Realistically speaking, it’s so much easier to take advantage of campus resources when they’re actually close by. For instance, I felt much more motivated to go to peer group sessions for science classes during my freshman year, because the classes were held right next to my residential building. And considering that these sessions were held in the evening, I certainly felt more inclined to attend since the two-minute trip was virtually nothing. The same principle goes for clubs; many on-campus extracurricular activities take place in the evening after classes are over, so commuting late at night after those clubs end can be undesirable to say the least.

3. Consider how you best socialize.

On campus, the socializing opportunities are plentiful, as are the opportunities to make long-lasting friends. Of course, this depends on how easily one can open up to people in any setting. Personally, I’m very shy and it’s nearly impossible for me to just go up to someone out of the blue and strike up a very long conversation. So, having the option of grabbing a late-night snack with someone from class, or even having study sessions in a friend’s dorm offered amazing, intimate ways of getting to find my own niche.

4. Commuting won’t always translate into study time.

With the sociable aspects come the logical benefits of living on campus. For me, commuting would not only be a two-hour trip to school and back, but I would also have to factor in the time it’d take to get ready for the commute. So that could easily turn into three hours of one’s day, which is honestly prime time for studying. And if you’re like me, taking advantage of that commute time will be very hard (I always end up falling asleep on the bus!) And honestly, living on campus would just allow you to assume more of that adulthood responsibility, especially when it comes to the basics of meal-prepping and cleaning regularly. Adulting is very hard, but on-campus living will drill in those life skills for sure!

5. Spending quality time with family.

Commuting still has its perks. During my freshman year, I refused to believe that commuting every single day would be worth it. However, the little things do make a world of a difference. During my first week of sophomore year, I was commuting more often so that I’d be nearby to help my younger sibling, who was then adjusting to high school. For the most part, I’d be home by early evening. Sure, I’d be tired and reluctant to do any homework until a good hour had passed, but even that brief time with my family really lifted my spirit. Even those brief opportunities to have dinner together as a family felt comforting and absolutely worth it.

6. Commuting may make you feel more productive.

Moreover, living off-campus for some time made me feel efficient in different ways. By avoiding my dorm altogether, I felt a lot more active as I traversed from classroom to classroom, library to café in pursuit of completing work. This, in a way, felt a lot more fulfilling; I was no longer lazing about in my room like a complete loner but making the best use of my time, whether it be meeting with friends briefly or doing homework with a change in scenery.

7. Look at your financial aid!

Perhaps of greatest significance would be the impact on one’s financial aid. This part tends to be tricky, however, since each college has its own means of allotting aid to one’s package. Typically, if you opt to live at home, colleges will just reduce your billing statement once dorms are out of the equation. However, for students receiving any form of financial aid, even as low-income students, the awarded package could simply shift aid over. That is to say, if you were allotted a certain amount for the housing expenditure, but then decide to commute instead, the money allocated to housing would just transfer over to other tuition fees. In this case, the amount you owe your college might not change much regardless of whether or not you decide to dorm. In other cases, if you decide to commute, the college might actually award some type of scholarship, where that money can be used for transportation costs, such as bus/train fees. The possibilities are endless, so definitely make the time to meet with a financial aid officer to go over your specific package.

Those are just some of the things to consider when making your big decision. Bear in mind that a lot of the commuting hassle from high school (if you lived far away) will also be relevant, such as unreliable transportation, last-minute canceled classes, and even the weather. Regardless, some of the items discussed above tend to be long-term benefits, so please spend this school year discovering where your general priorities lie! And even if you think your choice ultimately wasn’t the best, there’s always the next semester to try something different!