On- or off-campus? Here's why your housing choice matters
For international or study abroad students, securing accommodation can be a daunting task. Source: Shutterstock

Student life is so diverse that many different facets blend to create a unique, personal experience.

Between varied programme catalogues, lively societies and options to study abroad, universities offer  a colourful tapestry of exciting opportunities. But many students fail to realise that seemingly basic experiences, such as their choice of accommodation, can have just as great an impact on their overall success and perspective as the course content itself.

The norms of student housing will differ depending on where in the world you choose to study. While many European schools don’t offer university accommodation, it’s a very common practice in places like the UK and North America.

At some universities, living on-campus in a dorm is standard. At other schools, students may be responsible for securing their own independent off-campus housing, which isn’t actually associated with the school. Alternatively, if you already live close to your chosen institution, you may continue to live at home and commute to classroom sessions.

For international or study abroad students, however, securing accommodation can be a daunting, often confusing task. If on-campus housing is an option for international students, it eases the transition to living and studying abroad, providing a platform from which friendships can be formed, while administration devoted to the cause eases stress attached to securing a house from a different country.

There are many perks to living on-campus; typically, students reside nearby, being a short walk away from university buildings and their classes. You’ll never appreciate proximity more than the first day you wake up late for a 9am lecture!

But living in a college dorm is a learning experience that transcends classroom borders, posing lifelong social and networking benefits, plus myriad memories to match.

Dorm rooms house multiple students, so you’ll experience living with a roommate (or four…), perhaps for the first time. Your roommate may have been randomly selected, presenting the invaluable, unforgettable experience of living with a stranger.

But remember – if you opt for on-campus living, you may end up sharing more than just a bedroom…

Most dorms have communal bathrooms, lounge areas and kitchens. For many, especially freshman or first year students, learning to share these common spaces is a learning curve in itself.

Dorms are usually social settings. Many students become friends with neighbours, do their homework in study lounges and cook communal dinners. While some are bound to be more social than others, there’s typically one factor that makes the biggest impression on students, especially freshman: co-ed dorms. That’s both men and women, living side-by-side.

Some are co-ed by room, meaning each room on a floor will be alternating; male, female, male, female. Other dorms may be co-ed by floor, meaning women live on the first floor, and men on the second.

For many students, living in a mixed dorm could be the first time they’ve lived in such close confines with the opposite sex. But there are always other options – almost every university will have single sex bathrooms – a perk many students are keen to exploit.

Not every dorm will be co-ed. Depending on the university, students may be able to choose between co-ed, single sex or substance-free dorms.

There’s also the option of living in private suite accommodation, with its own bathroom, and if you’re lucky, even your own kitchen. Universities with housing tend to offer several options so you can apply for the accommodation that suits you best.

The biggest pro for choosing campus accommodation is the social aspect. In the United States, living on-campus is incredibly popular, and sometimes even mandatory for first year students.

You can almost guarantee that if asked, almost every US freshman would say the bulk of their social interactions and friendships were formed between their dorm room walls. By living on-campus, you are surrounded by other people whether you want to be or not, teaching you valuable interpersonal skills that will carry through to your future career.

As with anything, there is of course a downside to living on-campus. To put it lightly, campus dorms aren’t always pleasant. You may be forced to share a small, square room with another person for a year, which can be trying on your patience. On top of this, university housing costs are, unfortunately, non-negotiable, unless you can get a scholarship to cover living costs.

For those who don’t want to live on-campus, many big schools exist in a ‘college’ town, meaning the bulk of people living in the area are actually students and faculty. In situations like this, there are generally apartment buildings and housing complexes that aren’t associated with the university, but are predominantly there for the student market. In this case, residents can still experience living alongside peers, but (hopefully) in a nicer and (if you’re lucky) larger living space.

These student apartments and homes are ideal for those who don’t want to live on-campus, but still only want to commit to a one-year lease. Many of these complexes align the start date of the lease with the academic year, making them ideal for your needs.

For international students, sorting student accommodation can be scary when you’re at the mercy of scanning the web. More and more universities, including those in Europe, are offering solutions to student housing, whether it be formal campus housing or an off-campus apartment complex specifically reserved for students.

The choice you make when deciding where to live will ultimately impact your overall student experience. If you’re looking for something close to campus where you can meet new people and don’t mind bunking up, opt for a university dorm!

If you’re willing to sacrifice location for a nicer apartment with a bit more freedom, get out there and find your own, independent housing. Both are great options that affect university life in completely different ways. Think hard, and please choose wisely.

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