Apart from tuition, living expenses — especially housing — constitute the biggest line item in your college expenditure ledger. As is the case with most housing-related issues, location plays a large role. Is it cheaper to commute or live on campus?
Usually, living at your family home and commuting to school will provide the cheapest of options in a strictly monetary sense. However, if you measure affordability by other metrics, you will find that concluding what “cheaper” is will become subjective.
In this article, we will present the factors that you should consider when exploring what is best for your situation. We will also analyze the pros and cons of each alternative, so keep on reading.
Factors to Consider in On-Campus Living vs. Commuting
College life involves more than just academic pursuits. For many people, it is their first taste of independent living. With independence come choices and responsibilities. This is why relying on a simple pros and cons list for choosing whether to live on campus or to commute is not wholly reliable.
It is important to weigh and consider the factors that directly influence the real and perceived value of either option. These are the following factors that you should consider before making a decision:
How Do You Define Cheaper?
This may sound like a silly premise, but it is a valid one when considering your on-campus vs. off-campus options.
If you are searching for the option that is the lowest in terms of monetary cost, then you need to use cost as your sole metric when analyzing the options. In practical terms, this would preclude you from considering the other factors in this article. It also makes it easier in the sense that cost alone will yield the answer.
However, if you apply nuance to the concept of being “cheaper,” more options and considerations come into play. It then becomes an issue of seeking affordability. It becomes more of avalue propositionas opposed to a simple search for the lowest monetary cost.
What Are Your Off-Campus Options?
When weighing on-campus living vs. commuting, you need to first identify your realistic off-campus options. For example, which among the apartments and other housing options that are off-campus are within your budget? Is living at home with your parents a possibility? This will provide you with abaseline for comparison and decision-making.
While it may be tempting to fantasize about the fancy luxury apartment complex located on the opposite side of town, if an off-campus option is simply not realistic for budgetary reasons, keep them off your list for consideration. This list should be practical as opposed to aspirational.
It is important to take into account the following items when evaluating your off-campus options.
Distance to Your School
When living off-campus, the distance from where you live to your school will be one of the biggest factors determining how much time you need to allocate for driving or taking alternate forms of transportation.
The distance also directly impacts the actual cost of the added commute. This can be in the form of additional fuel, public transportation fees, parking costs, etc.
What Commuting Options Are Available?
How you commute to school will determine your commute costs. If you have to rely on driving your car to school, you must factor in fuel costs and budget in expenses for automotive maintenance and repair.
If you plan on carpooling — to share the costs and to be more mindful of the environmental impact — you need to consider how sustainable the carpool option is. Will your roommates or other classmates living nearby have similar class schedules? Whose car will you use?
Often, the carpooling option falls flat because the time you need to be on campus fails to properly coincide with the schedule of others to share a ride. If your university offers acommuter program, this may be a viable way to find reliable transportation to your school when living off-campus beyond the private carpool option.
Ideally, the method to lower your commuting cost when living off-campus would be to live near enough to your school that you could ride a bike or walk. Of course, depending on what region of the country you live in, harsh winter conditions can make this option unviable. This would require you to factor in alternate transportation costs during harsh weather.
For alternative commuting inspiration check out our article here.
Would You Live at Your Family Home?
If your family home is close enough to your university, the option of living with your family while attending college will offer you the best way to lower your living costs.
However, this option comes with the trade-off of not being able to partake in the fruits of independent living. Usually, the commute involved would be longer than required when living in off-campus housing adjacent to your school.
While on a strictly monetary level, living at your family home and commuting to school would be the most affordable option, you need to evaluate if missing out on the full college experience is worth it to you.
Additionally, your presence in your family home doesn’t mean that the food that you consume and the utilities that you use come free of cost. Whether your parents pay for all of the grocery and utility bills, or if you contribute to that expense, your presence there incurs a cost. Don’t fall into the mistake of assigning a zero cost to the option of living at home when making yourcomparative analysis.
Are You Willing to Have Roommates?
College life is commonly associated with having an active social presence. Sharing your living space, be it on campus or off, is practically taken as a given. If you want to curtail your housing expenses as much as possible, having one or multiple roommates is an effective way of doing so.
However, if you value your privacy or are introverted by nature, you need to assess what value your privacy has for you. If the idea of sharing a living space is too extreme for you, then you will need to assume the full burden of rent and utilities on your own.
Are You a Full-Time Student?
Usually, the option of on-campus living is reserved for full-time students. This means that if you are not taking a sufficient number of credits in a semester, you would not be eligible for on-campus housing. This would make commuting your only option.
Even if you do meet the definition of a full-time student, sometimes you need to ask yourself if your life’s schedule will allow you to derive all of the benefits of on-campus living. If you are taking a full slate of courses and also working a part-time or full-time job, the value of dorm life might be lost on you.
In those cases — especially if commuting implies a lower cost for you — removing on-campus living from consideration can be a wise idea. Remember, the cost of on-campus living is rationalized by the social and cultural benefits that it bestows. If you cannot avail yourself of those elements, why pay a premium for something that will not benefit you?
Properly Evaluate Your On-Campus Options
Your on-campus options will vary greatly depending on the school that you attend. According to theCollege Board, in terms of cost, in 2019, the average fees for room and board at a public university was $ 10,440. At a private university, this was $11,890.
If you are the recipient of a grant or scholarship, these may cover part or all of your on-campus living expenses. Rarely, however, do these grants and scholarships cover living expenses that are off-campus.
It would help if you also evaluated what you are getting for what you are spending on-campus.
- What is the policy over holiday periods?Some dorms close over holiday periods. If you have no place to go, you will need to factor in the lodging cost during those periods.
- If a meal plan is included, how valuable is it to you?On-campus meal plans, on the surface, can seem like a great way to mitigate additional expenses for food. However, if you find that you occasionally use it, you should adjust your perception of what it saves you compared to buying food or groceries yourself.
- What otherancillary costsdo you incur on-campus?Living on-campus usually results in you having to incur additional charges that you may have not originally contemplated. These include parking space fees, fraternity or sorority dues, health fees for on-campus health care, technology fees, penalties for dorm violations, etc.
It is imperative to properly calculate the true value you are obtaining for what you are spending on on-campus living to compare it to off-campus commuting properly.
Do You Trust Your Maturity?
When you first enter college, you are by legal definition an adult. However, not all 18 and 19-year olds achieve the same level of maturity when it comes to the necessary level of responsibility to care for their own home.
Sometimes the presence of fellow students in a dorm situation makes arriving at such responsibility easier. If this is so, opting for an on-campus living solution — even if it were costlier than commuting — could result in savings in the long-run by avoiding the expenses that come from mismanaged households, such as damaged appliances, late bills, and property damage.
Likewise, if living at home with your parents gives you the structure you need to focus more academically, the transportation cost could be offset by what you save in avoiding failing a course.
The “College Lifestyle”
For some, attending college implies wanting to live the complete “college lifestyle.” This means the dorm life, on-campus activities, etc. To live that experience, living on-campus is necessary. Any additional cost for living on-campus would be seen as an affordable premium to those who seek this.
According toSaving for College, some universities are requiring freshmen students who are studying full-time to live on-campus. This is due to the supposed benefits that students derive from it — such as being more focused on academics and adapting faster to college culture.
If the college lifestyle and college culture are that important to you, then even if commuting to school were monetarily cheaper, the fact that it detracts from the full college experience would make it a moot option. You would be best served to seek the most affordable on-campus option as your “cheapest” option.
Pros and Cons of Living on Campus vs. Commuting
While critical analysis based on an evaluation of the factors listed above will provide you with a more accurate answer for your situation regarding which is cheaper between on-campus living and commuting, there is also value in looking at the general pros and cons of each option.
Each pro and con can be weighed differently depending on how important they are to you.
Pros of Living on Campus
- Proximity to your classes.By being on campus, you are a short walking distance to your classes. This eliminates the need for any commute. This, in turn, allows you more time to study, socialize, and sleep.
- It’s as “all-inclusive” as you are going to get.Room and board will cover your on-campus housing inclusive of utilities and will also offer you a three-meal per day meal plan. It offers you the benefit of being close to your classes, giving you a taste of independent living without worrying about administering your household.
- Great way to socialize with fellow students. Living on-campus allows you to socialize and network with other students and professors much easier than commuting.
- It can serve as the first step toward more independent living.Dorm life provides you with enough independence without piling on all of the responsibilities of household management. It can be a great bridge from quasi-independence to full autonomy later on.
Cons of Living on Campus
- Decreased privacy.Living on-campus will require sharing your living space. This includes sharing amenities such as bathrooms and showers.
- Limited choices.Living on campus doesn’t provide you with autonomy in choices. There are rules that you must adhere to when living in a dorm or other on-campus housing. Likewise, with meal plans, you are limited to the menus and selections that are offered.
- Distractions. With a large number of people living in a concentrated space, finding quiet and solitude for proper studying and rest may be difficult. Distractions and temptations to put off critical academic work may be greater on-campus.
- Ancillary prices tend to be higher near a campus. In general, businesses on and near college campuses are going to be considered “hip” places. This allows businesses to charge a premium for their services. That means that socializing on or near your campus can be costlier than elsewhere.
Pros of Commuting to College
- Potential savings.If you live at your family home, commuting to school removes the room and board expenses associated with attending college.
- Greater privacy. Even when having roommates, the amount of privacy obtained from your off-campus apartment compared to a dorm is tremendous.
- A truer sense of independence and responsibility. If part of the college experience you seek includes discovering independent living and learning to budget for personal expenses, living off-campus in your apartment can provide this.
- Creates an improved life balance. For some, the commute time can be therapeutic and allows them to draw clear distinctions between their academic life, their personal life, and —for those who work —their work life.
Cons of Commuting to College
- Grants and scholarships rarely cover off-campus living or associated commuting expenses. If you are the beneficiary of such assistance and covers on-campus living expenses, not taking it to live off-campus is like leaving money on the table. With70 percent of undergraduate studentsreceiving some type of aid, this is significant.
- Consumes more of your “home time.” Living off-campus not only requires you to commute to school but also to take time to care for and administer a home. Bills need to be paid, routine maintenance carried out, etc.
- Requires a commuting plan and contingencies.Commuting to school will require a vehicle, a bike, or easy access to public transportation. It also requires having alternate transportation plans in place to cover eventualities when you must be in class, and your normal transportation method is not available.
- Takes away time from other activities. By having to accommodate the travel time required in commuting, the student is left with less time to study, socialize, or seek employment.
Whether living on campus or commuting to college is cheaper depends on the factors described above. It also requires each student to critically evaluate those factors and arrive at a conclusion as to what they would define as affordable to them.
Usually, living at your family home and commuting to school will provide the cheapest of options in a strictly monetary sense. However, if you measure affordability by other metrics, you will find that concluding what “cheaper” is will become subjective. This is because each person will value different aspects of college life differently.
- Investopedia: Living on or off-Campus
- The Daily Californian: Why I’m Commuting Instead of Living on Campus
- Saving Advice: Living on Campus vs. Commuting: Which is Cheaper?
- Saving for College: The Expenses of the Student Commuter vs. Living on Campus
- NBC News: Commuting to Campus Can Save Money, but at a Price
- The Balance: Choosing Between on and Off-Campus Living Options
- College Raptor: Is it Better to Live On-Campus or Off-Campus?
- College Board: Trends in College Pricing
- Business Dictionary: Comparative Analysis
- Wikipedia: Value Proposition
- Tutorials Point: Decision Making Process
Is it cheaper to commute or live on campus? ›
The clearest pro for commuting to college is the money saved. On-campus dorms in the U.S. cost an average of $10,440 for the year — a hefty price if you are also paying high tuition fees. If you are staying with family, you will likely pay much less (if anything at all).Is it better to commute to college or live on campus? ›
The benefits of commuting to college are numerous, and it can help you save money in the long run. While commuting isn't for everyone, it can be a good way to focus on your studies with fewer distractions, and it could help you graduate on time.Is it cheaper to live on campus or in an apartment? ›
Is it cheaper to live on or off campus? If you rely on public transit and cook most of your meals at home, living in an off-campus, one-bedroom apartment might run you roughly $1,500-$1,800 per month — more than the monthly cost of on-campus room and board. But with roommates, off-campus living could save you money.How much money do you save by commuting to college? ›
NBC News Freshman Year Experience contributor Darian Stevenson, who's in her first year at Southern Illinois University, chose to commute to save money. Stevenson estimates she saves $10,000 a year by commuting from home, and is paying for school entirely with scholarships and FAFSA.What are disadvantages of a commuter? ›
- Commuting can affect your free time. Commuting can occupy a significant portion of an employee's day, so it may affect the amount of free time they have on weekdays. ...
- It may be necessary to pay for your transportation. ...
- Commuting may affect when you wake up. ...
- You may experience traffic.
Do you receive more financial aid if you live off-campus? The short answer is no. For many students, financial aid is an important consideration when going to college, and even more so when deciding to live off-campus.Is 1 hour commute to college worth it? ›
Is an hour commute to a university worth it? Yes. Try not commuting everyday. The best schedule is M,W,F, doing long days of classes making it worth the commute effort/time/expense.How long is too long to commute to college? ›
To maximize your chances of success in college, you should try to keep your commuting distance to less than 10 miles, or 30 minutes (whichever comes first), each way. Students who commute are at a natural “disadvantage” when it comes to academic success. Commuting presents an added difficulty for college students.What are the disadvantages of living on campus? ›
- Noise: Dorming means living with the rowdiest people on earth; teenagers. ...
- No privacy: Living in student dorms will mean having a multitude in your room, your bathroom, your kitchen, and even your toilet. ...
- Room checks and laundry struggles: Dorming has a way of reminding you that you're not independent.
Apartments are Usually Cheaper than Dorms
These fees cover the costs for utilities, laundry, and other services. Some colleges require students who live on campus to purchase a meal plan, while others include meal plans in the room and board costs.
Is it cheaper to live on campus or with parents? ›
The most obvious advantage of living at home during college is that it's a lot more affordable than living on campus due to the high costs of housing and meal plan costs.Why living on campus is better? ›
A campus environment can nurture students' evolving worldviews and their extracurricular interests. Living on campus can give you more opportunities to socialize with your peers. You'll also have greater access to a variety of campus activities and clubs, adding to your sense of community.What is the true cost of commuting? ›
According to Clever Real Estate, commuters in the US spend approximately $8,466 on their commute every year — about 19 percent of their annual income. The same report showed that commuters spend an average of $867 on fuel per year and an additional $410 on vehicle maintenance.How do commuters survive college? ›
- 10 Tips for Commuters in College. Britney Amzler. ...
- Always Leave Early. Leave a little earlier than you have to. ...
- Don't Be Afraid To Talk to People. It's easy to feel disconnected as a commuter. ...
- Join Clubs or Get Involved. ...
- Make Friends with Residents. ...
- Keep Extra Supplies in Your Car. ...
- Take Advantage of Breaks. ...
- Use Campus Resources.
From missing out on opportunities, whether they be social events late at night or other on-campus activities, commuting can lead to a sense of exclusion from the campus community. There's also less time for homework depending on what time you have to leave the house or what time you return.Is commuting depressing? ›
Long-term effects of dealing with a stressful commute can be significant, including depression, ongoing anxiety, and a dread of the commute cycle. "Research proves that ongoing stress is detrimental to overall physical and psychological health," says Manly.Can I claim my commute to work on my taxes? ›
Is this allowed? Unfortunately, commuting costs are not tax deductible. Commuting expenses incurred between your home and your main place of work, no matter how far are not an allowable deduction. Costs of driving a car from home to work and back again are personal commuting expenses.Is commuting unhealthy? ›
Research has linked long commutes to a host of negative health impacts, from increased stress and poorer cardiovascular health to greater pollution exposure.Does FAFSA change if you live off campus? ›
Given that the estimated cost of living off-campus is less than the cost of university housing, students may see a reduction in their financial aid.Is 26 too old to live in college dorm? ›
No age limit, but some schools require juniors or seniors to move to private apartments. This is not because of an age limit, it's usually because the college doesn't have enough dorm rooms to accommodate them.
How can students afford to live on campus? ›
Federal student aid can cover room and board costs if you live on-campus. You can also use federal aid to cover tuition, fees, transportation, and other eligible education expenses. You'll need to be enrolled at an eligible school and meet other basic requirements to qualify for federal aid options.How long is too long a commute? ›
The average U.S. commute to work of 26.1 minutes each way looks like a quick trip around the block compared to the travel times posted by extreme commuters. The U.S. Census Bureau defines extreme commuters as workers who travel 90 minutes or more each way to work.Is a 45 minute commute too much? ›
Despite how you might feel about rush hour traffic or packed tram carriages, you enjoy what an international study has determined as the commuter “inflection point” of roughly 45 minutes. Commutes of longer than that eventually become unbearable, the research suggests.Is a 20 minute commute worth it? ›
Just how bad is a commute on job satisfaction? A study by the University of West England found that adding 20 minutes to your daily commute has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19 percent pay cut. In fact, every extra minute commuting lowered satisfaction with their job and leisure time.How bad is a 1 hour commute? ›
You will have to pay for gas and maintenance twice as much as you should. And nothing is worse than enduring a tough day at work and then having to drive an hour back home. You will also get less sleep because you will have to wake up extra early every day. Even if it's a well-paying job, you will be miserable.Is a long commute worth the money? ›
The Harvard Business Review conducted a study to examine this effect. When given the choice between 2 jobs, one making $67,000 with a commute of 50 minutes and one making $64,000 with a commute of 20 minutes, people overwhelmingly chose the job with the longer commute.Do most college students commute? ›
Commuter students are defined as those who do not live in institution-owned housing on campuses. They make up more than 85 percent of today's college students.Is it better to live on or off campus first year? ›
Living off-campus can be cheaper than university housing. You'll probably have more independence, freedom, privacy, and space. Private apartments are usually quieter and have fewer distractions, and therefore, are better for studying. Having a rental history will make it easier to get a place after you graduate.Is it worth it to live on campus? ›
Living on-campus is ideal for students who want to immerse themselves into the campus culture so much better and have easy access to school activities, organizations and parties. But it may not be the best option for those who are on a tight budget or value their privacy or being around their loved ones always.Why not to live in dorms? ›
Dorm life is often noisy and active. Neighbors, friends and visitors come and go throughout the day. The social aspect means you shouldn't feel lonely, but it also cuts into your studies. You won't have much luck studying if friends stop by every few minutes.
Is it better to get a dorm or an apartment in college? ›
It really depends on the individual needs of college students when it comes to deciding which type of housing is best for them. Some might prefer dorms because of the social aspect and affordability, while others may prioritize privacy and want more independence, making an apartment or off-campus housing a better fit.Why is on campus housing so expensive? ›
While there are obvious costs like annual upkeep and heating, the biggest single reason why dorms are getting more expensive is that they are much nicer than they were 20 years ago.Does it cost more to live in a dorm? ›
How much does a dorm cost, on average? The average dorm room costs $8,556 to $12,870 per year at 4-year institutions. At 2-year institutions, the cost range is wider at $7,111 to $11,804 per year. At public, 4-year institutions, students pay an average of $11,557 for room and board.Is 25 too old to live on campus? ›
Many colleges allow adult students to live in dormitories or residence halls with “traditional” students but typically students over the age of 25 usually decline this option.
Schools then offer a financial aid package covering the difference between attendance costs and expected family contribution. Students who live at home enjoy lower attendance costs than those who live on campus or independently. As a result, these students may receive lower financial aid awards.Is it better to say you live off campus or with parent on fafsa? ›
A: You would select “off-campus.” Students should not select “With Parent” as their housing plan if they plan to live with a foster parent, relative caregiver, or legal guardian. Instead, select “Off-Campus.” This is crucial for getting all the money that is available to you to pay for your living expenses.Why do colleges force you to live on campus? ›
Do Most Schools Require You to Live On-Campus? Most smaller research universities and liberal arts colleges require students, at least freshmen, to live on campus. The logic behind this, according to many colleges, is that it helps students become fully enmeshed in the campus culture and community.Should I stay at home or live on campus? ›
Living on campus can be expensive choice. If you already have a room at home and are afforded decent amounts of independence and privacy there, you might consider saving some money by commuting to your classes rather than living on campus. The money that you save by living at home extends beyond housing costs as well.Do students who live on campus do better? ›
Improve your academic outcomes
Research has shown that students who live in dorms achieve better academic outcomes during their degree, even if they live on campus for just one year. This has been attributed to being closer to classes, faculty and facilities like the library, enabling you to be more engaged.
Commuting from home to work should be less than 50 miles and within 30 minutes, and the surrounding area of your workplace should be within 50 miles of your home. It is ideal for commuters to take at least 5 minutes to commute to work, and the one-way commute should take more than 16 minutes.
Is commute cheaper than personal? ›
Commuter insurance usually costs about $11 more a year than pleasure driving coverage. The average annual cost of commuter insurance is $1432 to $1445. If you are using your car for commuting, you can pay anything between $995 and $1978 per year. The price, however, will depend on the distance you cover too.Is it cheaper to commute or pleasure? ›
There's technically no difference between pleasure and commute car insurance; you'll need a basic auto insurance policy regardless of which purpose you primarily use your car. However, car usage can be one of several factors that determine your rate, along with others like your driving history, type of car, and age.Should I commute or live on campus? ›
If you live within an hour of campus and want to save money, commuting may be an option for you. Keep in mind, there is often an added cost of gas, public transportation, and parking fees that may rival the cost of living on campus, depending on how far you live from your school.What problems can Commuters face? ›
- Traffic problem.
- Finding related shops on the way.
- Finding the best path.
- Unwanted cops.
- Signals & their status.
- Unwanted road blockers.
- The accident of cyclist (In Indian roads it could be common to face such problems)
- Commuting can affect your free time. Commuting can occupy a significant portion of an employee's day, so it may affect the amount of free time they have on weekdays. ...
- It may be necessary to pay for your transportation. ...
- Commuting may affect when you wake up. ...
- You may experience traffic.
The rental cost of living off-campus is cheaper than the price of a room or bed in the school, although additional running costs on utility, furniture, and fixtures might eventually scale up the cost of living outside the campus and bring it to par and sometimes more than the cost of college dorms.How do commuters enjoy college? ›
- Take Advantage of Commuter Amenities. ...
- Join Clubs and Organizations. ...
- Make Plans for the Evenings and Weekends. ...
- Create a Realistic Schedule. ...
- Connect with Fellow Commuter Students. ...
- Living Off-Campus.
For public 4 year colleges, when tuition and the cost of attendance are compared between an online degree and an in-person degree, the online degree is $36,595 cheaper over 4 years. Private institutions on average charge $60,593 for an online degree vs $129,800 for an in-person degree.Is commute or personal cheaper? ›
Is car insurance cheaper for commuters or pleasure use drivers? A commuter policy is slightly more expensive than a pleasure use policy on average. But what you pay for car insurance coverage will depend on you, your insurance provider, and your vehicle.Do colleges save money with online classes? ›
Save on Tuition Costs
Online colleges often charge lower tuition than brick and mortar universities. They do not have to pay for building maintenance, grounds upkeep, food service, classroom accessories and other necessities that affect the cost of credits.
Why distance education is cheaper? ›
Online education alleviates housing costs by letting students take advantage of their current living situation, thereby saving thousands of dollars each semester. Textbooks are another expensive reality of traditional college education that online education alleviates.Does online college take less time? ›
Online degree programs take the same amount of time as in-class programs for most students. This means an associate degree will take approximately two years to complete, while a bachelor's degree will take about four.How do people afford to live in dorms? ›
- Appeal Your Financial Aid Award. A lot of students don't know that you can appeal your financial aid award. ...
- Private Student Loans. ...
- Campus-Owned Apartments. ...
- 529 Plans. ...
- Commit and Apply for Room and Board Early.
- Research Your Dorm. ...
- Check Out the Dorm Room Rules. ...
- Don't Buy Too Much. ...
- Create a College Dorm Checklist. ...
- Take Inventory of What You Have. ...
- Use Coupons. ...
- Shop at Discount Stores. ...
- Check Out Bed Bath & Beyond's College Savings Pass.
Living on-campus is ideal for students who want to immerse themselves into the campus culture so much better and have easy access to school activities, organizations and parties. But it may not be the best option for those who are on a tight budget or value their privacy or being around their loved ones always.How much is too long of a commute? ›
The average U.S. commute to work of 26.1 minutes each way looks like a quick trip around the block compared to the travel times posted by extreme commuters. The U.S. Census Bureau defines extreme commuters as workers who travel 90 minutes or more each way to work.