As a Grad Student New to Town, Should You Live on or Off-Campus?

By Danielle Wirsansky on August 17, 2019

You finally finished your undergraduate studies or you finished a while ago and now you are off on your next big adventure—more school! Graduate school is a big deal and kudos to you for finishing the arduous task of getting accepted. Now begins the slog to actually get through graduate school.

Most students beginning grad school are new to town, as most students do not usually continue their graduate studies at the same university that they completed their undergraduate studies at (unless you were in a fast track program or had a different, special situation).

So here you are, about to start on this new journey, probably one of the toughest endeavors you will undertake in your life. You decided to get the degree, you took all the tests, wrote all the essays, got all the recommendation letters, were accepted into a program, chose the best school for you, and now the decision remains… where should you live?

You have got to live somewhere and the first thing you have to decide about that is whether or not you should live on or off-campus. Graduate school is really tough. It is a hard enough experience alone without any other complications.

You want to choose the best, most stress-free living option for you to make your time in graduate school as easy as you possibly can for yourself. However, there are pro’s and con’s each for living on or off-campus. Read on to help you decide as a grad student new to town, should you live on or off-campus?

Living on campus is usually the first option a graduate student new to town should investigate. However, most graduate students do not end up living on campus. The majority of grad students end up living off-campus, much more than their undergraduate counterparts. But is it the best option when you are new to town? Do the pros really outweigh the cons? Only you can decide for yourself. Only you can decide the weight of each factor in your own life and make the best decision for you!

Graphic by Danielle Wirsansky

Pros

You Are Right There

The first pro about living on campus as a graduate student new to town is that you are, literally and physically, right there on the campus. You do not have to find your way around or travel to the campus.

You have a class? You are right there. You want to go and take a nap? You are right there. Need to check a book from the library? You are right there. Want to use the campus gym? You are right there. Forgot something at home? It is like you never even left (because essentially, by not leaving campus, you have not)!

You are just already there, at all times pretty much. Being right there on campus can help lead to the following points on the pro list…

Less Getting Lost

One of the most difficult parts about moving someplace new is that in you are in unfamiliar territory… literally! You have not lived there before so you do not know where everything is. Where’s the closest grocery store? What about the local pharmacy? Do you know where the public library is? Or even the post office?

And if you are from a different region, the stores and restaurants might be different. If you are from the South, you might be used to Public grocery stores and if you end up in graduate school in New England, the main grocery store might be Shaw’s. But how would you know that? You had never even heard of Shaw’s before! Or if you are from the West coast, you are very familiar with In-N-Out, but if you end up down South, you might be surrounded by What-A-Burger. What the heck is a What-A-Burger?!

It can be so easy to get lost, wasting your time because you are not sure about where to go or how to get around. If you already live on campus, you cut quite a lot of that uncertainty out of the picture. Can’t get lost if you are already where you need to be, right?

Campus usually has most of the things or places you might need, like restaurants, a gym, laundry facilities, even a medical center. You might only have to rarely leave campus, and only if you want to.

Less Driving

One of the most trifling hardships a college student has to suffer through is finding parking on campus. There is never, ever, ever enough parking to satisfy student needs. You would think as a graduate student that you might get to be above such petty complaints, but you would sadly be mistaken.

I am a Teaching Assistant! You might claim. Tough luck. Most schools do not give graduate students or university employees (unless you are the tippy top of the staff hierarchy) any kind of reserved or specialized parking.

So you can cut out the majority of your parking nightmares by simply living on campus. That cuts out so many instances of having to find a new parking spot on campus. Instead of having to do so every morning when you get there for class, you only need to re-park your car the few times a week (or maybe even a month) that you actually leave the campus.

And when you live on campus and do not have to drive back and forth from your abode to school every day, you cut down on a lot wasted time and gas and money. Campuses usually have the majority of stuff or places that you might need, so you will have to leave campus even less. This will definitely save you gas money, mileage, and other wear and tear on your car. Definitely a plus!

More Time to Study

When you cut out all that time driving to and from campus as well as all that pesky time you might waste trying to navigate and get yourself across town, what you end up with is more time to study. And what grad students can never get enough of is more time to study!

When you take out a commute, time to park, time to walk all the way across campus to your class, and then back again, you seriously save yourself time. No need to wake up an hour early so that you have time not only to drive to campus but to also actually find a parking spot and then walk across campus. When you are already there, then you are already there, man. Study smarter, not harder!

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Cons

No Separation Between School and Home

Sometimes the aspects that might make one thing really great for one reason can also make it kind of terrible. While sure, living on campus has tons of pros, it also has its cons as well. And one of those cons is losing the separation between school and home. When your home is at school, it can be hard to get away.

Graduate students work really, really hard. They have to, to get by. But in order to maintain a healthy mental and emotional state, you sometimes need to be able to disconnect from your stressors, namely school. And it can be hard to do that when you literally live at school. Some people are able to make the distinction. They will only study out of their dorm room and never in it. But not everyone is good at maintaining those separate spheres. Just be sure to take care of yourself and allow yourself the opportunity to disconnect every once in a while.

Expensive

Another con to living on campus that you will want to keep in mind will be the fact that it is often wayyy more expensive to live on campus than off. Living on campus means you are living on prime real estate, and you have to pay that prime real estate price. You do get added bonuses as discussed previously, like not having to deal with parking or directions or travel time or having to pay separate bills for things like utilities.

Only you can decide if the price tag of living on campus is worth all those amenities though. Can you afford to live on campus? Or could you be just as happy (and be less stressed financially) if you live off-campus?

Dealing with Undergraduates

Living on campus does have its perks, but another pitfall is the fact that the majority of fellow students living on campus with you (and maybe even in your dorm) will be undergraduate students. If you are not that far off in age from the average undergrad, it might not be so bad. But if there is a larger age gap, you might feel more uncomfortable having to share common living space in that manner.

There is also a degree of separation between undergraduate and graduate students. You do not have the same classes, the same goals, the same tastes. You are not in the same place in life, and there is nothing wrong with that. But it might make having to deal with undergraduate students in your private life more awkward.

Especially if you are a graduate student with teaching duties, it can be awkward to constantly be living with and surrounded by your own students. It can make it harder to be yourself or let your guard down because potential students might be everywhere you go and hard to escape. You want to be able to live your life without being watched or judged. You do not want to live your life constantly in teacher mode.

And actions that undergraduates might commit that were fine when you were an undergraduate too might now seem trite, foolish, irresponsible, or immature. It can be stressful to be around others whose behavior you now find imprudent. Decide for yourself whether the undergrads on campus are something you can deal with or not.

Campus Rules & Regulations

Another hit to the idea of living on campus is that fact that when you do, you also have to abide by campus rules and regulations.  Most on-campus dorms have rules like, no having alcohol in your room and that you are not allowed to light candles inside.

Those rules sort of make sense. The campus wants to keep their property in tip-top shape and not be liable for any accidents that a silly undergraduate could make. But when you are a graduate student, you pretty much feel like an adult and often it can be annoying to be treated like a child. What if you want to have a drink in the privacy of your own room (grad school is very stressful after all!)? What if you want to light a scented candle to help you relax (grad school is still very stressful)? You can’t.

Well, you could but you would probably get in trouble if you were caught, and you definitely do not need the stress of worrying about it or being caught to get you down when you are a grad student. You already have enough things going on to get you down without this added on top.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

All in all, only you can make the final decision for yourself about whether to live on or off-campus as a graduate student. Only you know how to weigh each of the factors and decide how much heft they have and in what way they will tip the scales. On-campus? Off-campus? Either way, there is no shame in your game.

You can only make the best decision for you and it might not be the same for everyone else. Do not worry about that. Worry about you—use that worry to fuel you to make the best, most informed decision that you can. And then go out and do the thing! Live your life! And not only that, live your best life as only you know how.

Good luck on your grad school journey!

Danielle Wirsansky graduated from FSU with a BA in Theatre, a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in History, and an MA in Modern European History with a minor in Public History. While a graduate student, she served as the Communications Officer for the History Graduate Student Association and President/Artistic Director of White Mouse Theatre Productions. She studied abroad in London, England for the Spring 2015 semester at FSU's study center for the Playwriting Program and interned for the English National Theatre of Israel in Summer of 2015. Her first musical, City of Light, opened as part of FSU's New Horizons Festival in Spring of 2016. She has also won the MRCE and URCAA Research grants from FSU. In the past, she served as the Marketing Director for the FSU Student Theatre Association, the intern for the Holocaust Education Resource Council, and the research assistant of Prof. Nathan Stoltzfus. She has previously written for Context Florida (Contributing Writer), USA Today College (Contributing Writer), Sheroes of History (Contributing Blogger), No(le)Reservations (Contributing Blogger), Female, Reloaded (Arts/Entertainment Editor) , I Want a Buzz Magazine (intern), Mandarin Newsline (youth arts update columnist), Distink Designs (Guest blogger), whatscheaper.com (associate editor), escapewizard.com (associate editor), Spark TLH (Contributor), the Tallahassee Democrat (contributor), Elan Literary Magazine (Head of Marketing), and the Improviser Newspaper (Opinions Editor). Danielle has been lucky to be writing for Uloop since 2015 and to have served as the FSU Campus Editor since 2015.

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