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Commuting, dorm living, and off-campus housing: Which one’s right for you in college?

Published April 15, 2024| minute read
Hawa Tunkara

Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    A large part of how you experience college will come down to your living situation: will you be commuting, living in the dorms, or living off campus? After all, your living arrangement will influence the class schedule that works best for you, your ability to participate in campus clubs and organizations, the amount of time you spend on campus, your social life, and so much more.

    Given this choice’s importance, continue reading as we dive into some potential pros and cons of commuting, dorm living, and living off campus.

    Option one: Commuting to college

    Students who commute to college may live with their parents or family members or may have settled into a home themselves and plan to stay in it while commuting to college. The distance students travel when they commute to college will vary, as some students may be living relatively close to campus, while others may be living a sizeable distance away and will have to take public transportation or drive to get to school. For students considering commuting, there are certainly quite a few pros and cons that come with this choice.

    Pros and cons of commuting to college


    • May provide cost savings: Commuting may be a cost-effective choice for students who won’t need to pay additional housing costs if they choose to commute. Students making this choice may also be able to save on other expenses that come with living on campus. For instance, by commuting, students may be able to avoid purchasing a meal plan.
    • Living at home may be more comfortable: Living in a dorm isn’t known for being the most comfortable living situation. Some students may find living at home more comfortable.
    • Community-building opportunity: There may be an opportunity to find or even build a community of students who are also commuting. Some schools offer spaces dedicated to commuter students, and so there may be the opportunity to establish bonds with people having a similar college experience.
    • May involve less disruption: Some students who live in the dorms or off campus may find themselves moving every academic year. For some students, living at home and commuting may be less disruptive.


    • Fear of missing out: For some, living some amount of distance from college, and not being a part of the on-campus mix may be FOMO-inducing. This may be particularly true for commuters who feel a barrier when it comes to participating in club and other organization’s meetings, attending speaker events, and other gatherings. Socially, commuters may feel disconnected, too.
    • Lack of independence: For many, starting college marks the beginning of their adult life, and living independently. Students who remain at home and commute might not start to establish independence in the same way as students living on campus.
    • The time and expense of commuting: One of the biggest potential downsides of commuting is the time and expense involved, particularly for those commuting long distances.

    Option two: Living in a dorm

    Living in the dorms in college is one of the more immersive college experiences a student can have. It’ll often involve being within walking distance of classes, the dining halls, the gym, and more. That said, there may be some cons that come with living in the dorms in college to think about, too.

    Pros and cons of living in the dorms in college


    • Opportunity to build relationships with fellow students: For some, going off to college is the first time they’ll live with people who aren’t immediate family members. This may help students learn the ropes of living with different people and building a community.
    • Close access to campus services: For students living in the dorms, the college campus is their oyster. College campuses often have many benefits, and living in the dorms will mean students are near services like teachers' assistant (TA) office hours, club meetings, on-campus performances, the dining halls, the campus gym, and more.
    • Growing sense of independence: For some, the college dorm experience is the first time they’ll live outside their family home. For some students, that may mean a new sense of freedom and added responsibilities.
    • More structure and support than living off campus: Dorm living provides students with a sense of independence, but many colleges offer some structure and support to those living in the dorms that can be a nice cushion for students living on their own for the first time. One big one for students is residential advisors (RAs) who live in dorms with students and are there to provide support.
    • A uniquely college experience: Dorm living for many is synonymous with the college experience. There aren’t many times in a person’s life in which they’ll experience something quite like this.


    • Some may find living with a roommate (or multiple roommates) challenging: For some students, living with a roommate or multiple roommates may be challenging.
    • Room and board prices may not be the most economical option: Paying for room and board might not be the most economical choice a student can make. In some instances, when students decide to live on campus and in a dorm, they need to buy a meal plan, which also might not always be the most economical choice when it comes to purchasing food.
    • It may be challenging to study: For some students, living in a dorm, surrounded by friends, peers, and a lot of activity, may not be the easiest environment in which to study.
    • It may not be the most comfortable living situation: While dorm living situations vary across colleges, the standard dorm room typically consists of two roommates sharing a small room and sharing a bathroom with many students. This may not feel like the most comfortable living situation for some students.
    • May come with rules and restrictions: Students living in dorms may need to adhere to a set of rules. For instance, at some schools, there are curfews, and others limit the number of guests a student can have at a single time, and so on.

    Option three: Living off campus

    Living off campus, in many ways, is the most independent option a student can choose when attending college. Students who live off campus have a lot of freedom when picking their living situation. For instance, they’ll decide whether they want to live in an apartment alone or in a house with many roommates. Living off campus does come with some potential downsides, though, to think about.

    Pros and cons of living off campus


    • Proximity to college without the rules that come with living in a dorm: By living off campus, students may be able to bypass some of the campus residential rules like the number of visitors they can have at any given time, the types of personal items they can keep in their space, and more. Because many students choose to live quite close to campus when they live off campus, in many ways, students will get the best of both worlds with this living option.
    • Autonomy in picking a living situation: By living off campus, students will get to fully decide the type of living situation that will work best for them. Do they want roommates for instance? Do they want outdoor space? Do they want their own bathroom?
    • Potentially a cost saving opportunity: Sometimes, it’s more affordable to live off campus than on campus in the dorms, depending on the cost of living in the location of a student’s college.


    • Responsibility that comes with living independently: Students living off campus will need to take full responsibility, including on items like paying rent, electricity, internet, and more. They’ll also in many cases not eat in their college’s dining halls and will need to grocery shop and meal prep on their own.
    • May be more expensive than living off campus: While living off campus in some situations can be more cost-effective than living on campus, it can also be more costly. The first reason for this is that depending on where the student lives, the cost of living may be high – for instance, in high-cost cities. The second reason is that students will have a lot more choices when living independently, and some of those choices can be costly. For instance, choosing to live in a one-bedroom apartment alone may be more expensive than living in the dorms.
    • Less access to campus resources: Students living off campus may have less access to campus resources than those living on campus, even if they’re living nearby.

    Final thoughts

    Where you live during your college years will impact your college experience and have financial implications. When deciding what the best option is for you, there are many things to consider, and no one size fits all “right decision.” Take your time with the decision to pick the option that feels right for you and your circumstances.