With one semester down, you might be debating over whether to call it a day in the dorms or stick it out for the rest of the school year. Here are the highs and lows of each to help you determine if you want to stick with it or go solo (or semi-solo, with a roommate) in an off-campus apartment.
In a dorm, you're likely on a meal plan, so you can go to a designated dining room or choose from the school’s restaurants. Meals made in your dorm room are limited to the microwave, as hot plates and Panini presses and the like aren't allowed in most, so for any variety, you must go off campus.
In an apartment, you’ll have to pay for every meal, pots, pans, and gadgets – and learn to cook, at that. But, you can choose what you want each day and have whatever kitchen gadgets and equipment you can afford.
Your roommate in the dorm is your roommate until you move out, and either you chose him or her, or you were set up through the Residential Life department. If things are going well between you, great – but if not, you can’t go anywhere else in the space you’re living in. There aren't a lot of dorm rooms with dividing lines.
If you didn’t get to choose your roommate for your dorm, you will almost certainly hand-pick your roommate for your first apartment. Whether you select a longtime friend or someone you met from your classes, you stand a better chance of getting along with them if the choice to live with them is yours (though conflicts may arise from knowing each other TOO well).
Having a roommate in a dorm won’t help pad your wallet, but it will for living in an apartment. Of course, in an apartment, you’ll have to deal with rent and utility bills, which you wouldn’t if you were living in the dorm. But in larger cities, you can choose what utility company you want to go with (depending on what part of town you live in) and how much your rent is by renting a smaller place. You and your roommates will need to decide who is responsible for paying the bills each month, if the person living in the master bedroom pays more for more space, and the like. While it's nice not to have to pay for everything yourself, that's a lot of tension to put on any friendship. And, of course, you’ll need to purchase furniture for your apartment, which can become costly.
Nothing beats the location of the dorms, which are typically located on campus. You won’t have to have a car (or may not be allowed to have one, depending on the university rules) and can easily walk to class, the dining hall and friends’ dorms without fear of parking tickets. However, if you need to go off campus, you may have to bum a ride or risk losing your parking spot.
Apartments closer to campus are usually more expensive than ones farther out, and depending on their location, you might need a car or public transportation to get from your home to school. If your roommate is in your major, you can carpool with him or her to class.
Cleaning is minimal in a dorm room: You make up your bed, wash your few dishes in the sink and wipe down the counters, while someone else occasionally pops in your room to vacuum. Bathrooms are usually communal and cleaned by a floor manager or the university’s housekeeping. You don’t even have to buy extensive cleaning supplies – just purchase a bottle of all-purpose cleaner and a kitchen washcloth.
Unless your parents included cleaning service in your weekly spending money, you’re going to have to clean your apartment yourself. This means purchasing all cleaning supplies, including a vacuum, mop, broom, and dustpan, dividing up communal spaces with your roommate and tackling personal spaces, such as your bedroom and bathroom, yourself. Keep cleaning responsibilities in mind when choosing a roommate, as this is typically a major source of conflict.
An apartment clearly wins for this feature, as you’ll have an actual closet to put clothes in, a bigger dresser instead of a few drawers and more storage areas than just under your bed. You’ll also be able to have a bigger bed (versus twin-sized beds in the dorm) and your own bathroom.
There's no one answer for every case. Use these to guide your future, and wherever you end up living, enjoy it.
Photo credit: Shutterstock / Suzanne Tucker