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Should a College Freshman Live in an Apartment or Dorm?

written by: RobinRaven•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 11/8/2010

One of the important decisions faced by incoming college freshmen is where to live. Though it's often a joint decision made by the student, their parents, and sometimes the school, it affects the student's college experience in many different ways. A dorm is best for some students, yet not for all.

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    Dorm versus Apartment

    A student and their parents are asked to start making college decisions in high school, and important ones are likely still being made as the senior year ends. Should your college freshman live in an apartment or a dorm? Only you can answer that question. There are important things that you need to first consider such as who your student is as an individual, what study habits they have developed, and how responsible they have proven to be. You also need to consider the quality of student life at the dorm and the savings you may have on the apartment. Here are some guidelines on how to figure out what will work best for your student.

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    Considering the Student as an Individual

    When it comes to whether a dorm or an apartment is best for an incoming freshman college student, their personal qualities should be considered. If a student is highly responsible, outgoing, and independent, an apartment may be the smart choice. Since it will likely save money and afford the student more freedoms than dorm life likely would, the freshman may be happier in an apartment situation. However, if a student is shy, irresponsible, in need of a group environment or leadership, and more likely to get things achieved with motivation, a dorm is probably preferable.

    Dorm life really enables freshman students to socialize and make friends easily. Although fighting can be had with roommate problems, the overall social experience of the dorm life is conducive to a social and friendly environment. A student living in a dorm will also have the benefit of an RA, a resident assistant, whose job it is to make sure that all students are content with their living situations and adjusting properly. Whereas, if a student lived with a roommate in an apartment, there would be no one to mediate and to make sure that the environment was a smooth and happy one.

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    Cost Considerations

    Another factor is considering whether the incoming college freshman will be happier in a dorm or an apartment is the price. A dorm room is typically more expensive than an apartment, although that's not true for every school. That's usually the reality of the situation, especially if the student will be having a roommate in an apartment off-campus. Compare nearby apartments to the cost of the dorm. If the savings is significant, an apartment may be a better option.

    Does the student have a car, or is public transportation readily available from the apartment to the college? If transportation will be an issue that will cost a lot of money, it may be better to go with the dorm, even if it costs more per month. The price of a car and insurance in order to commute from an apartment will not be worth the savings that come with it unless the student can afford the car and truly wants it.

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    Academic Concerns

    When choosing an apartment or a dorm, the parent and the incoming freshman student should also take into consideration which situation will best serve the student's academic needs. If a student is chronically late, living in a dorm where all other students have to be up for classes may be more encouraging to do the same. It may also be easier to find study groups when living on campus, and a dorm that's on campus certainly makes getting to each class easier. If a student isn't highly motivated with their studies, living in a dorm is probably best, especially for the freshman year.

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    Making the Final Decision

    So, whether a college freshman thrives best in an apartment or a dorm comes down to finances, the student as an individual, and the quality of life that a student may receive on campus. There are, of course, other things to consider as well. For instance, if you're not sure that your student is going to like the school, you want to avoid having to sign a year lease on an apartment. If they decide to transfer to another school, you won't always be able to get out of a signed lease. You may also decide to try the dorm for a semester. If a student, truly hates it, they could always move to an apartment over winter break.

    Whatever you decide, whether it's an apartment or a dorm for a college freshman, what's important is that the student and their parents feel comfortable about their living conditions and how they will help their child to learn and best transition to the college life.