If you’re like me, I couldn’t wait to graduate high school so I could move as far away as possible and live on my “own” in the dorms. I didn’t want any parental supervision and I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted. However, I didn’t have to “pay” (at least not at the time) for it, and someone cooked all my meals for me! I couldn’t wait to move in!
My excitement was quickly stunted when I realized that I hated my roommate. We were friends in high school and didn’t want to get paired up with a “weirdo” so we thought it would be a great idea to live together. TERRBLE IDEA!! DON’T DO THIS! It completely ruined our friendship and we haven’t spoken in 8 years. Also, I didn’t really branch out as much and meet other people because we spent all of our time together. My second roommate for sophomore year was even worse. She couldn’t get up in the mornings, she was dirty, and our entire room was plastered in Disney memorabilia.
Although moving away from home sounds great, there can be some downfalls to living in the dorms. I honestly have very few good memories about living in the dorms. I was cramped in a tiny room with people I didn’t like. They didn’t have air conditioning, so we’d fry during the first and last months of school. Not to mention, I paid a pretty penny to live in those dorms, which you don’t start paying on until after you graduate and realize exactly how much it cost! Below are 5 reasons you should consider living at home or in an apartment instead of living in the dorms.
1. Price. Dorms are very expensive. It will vary by school, location, etc. but the local university here (and it is one of the cheaper ones in the state) charges just over $4,000/year. Now a “year” is a school year, meaning from September-May (usually moving in the last week of August and moving out mid-late May), and most students do not live in the dorms over the holiday break, which typically runs from mid-late December to mid-late January. Also, a lot of schools charge extra to live in the dorms over the holiday break and summer. So, in theory, most people live in the dorms from Sept-Dec and then again from Jan-May. That is roughly 7 months. Winter and Summer are typically extra.
If we divide $4,000 by 7, that equals just over $571/month. Now, again, depending on the location of your school, this will be different, but when I went to college (not that long ago), my average rent was $200/month plus some utilities. I shared those utilities with roommates, so it definitely wasn’t another $371/month for utilities. I would say, at most, rent + utilities for me ran about $300/month, maybe a bit more in the winter months with the heat bill. Obviously, the more people you live with, the more people there are to split these costs with. Determine the price of the dorms versus some average rent costs in that area to decide if the dorms will be way more expensive than renting.
2. Size. Dorms are tiny (most dorms, anyway). You get one tiny dresser, one tiny closet, and one tiny desk. You then share the other half with another person. You also share your bathroom and shower with every person who lives on your floor. This can often be upwards of 30+ people. You get very little privacy and very little space. You have to leave the room if you want to have a private phone call. There was no air conditioning in the dorms I lived in (there might be if you live in a state that’s always hot) because it is only hot in the summer months. So, usually August/September and May were excruciatingly hot in your room. It was hard to sleep and I would just sweat my make up off as soon as I put it on.
3. Roommate. You have no idea who you’re going to get stuck with. I had a friend whose roommate barely showered or brushed her teeth. Gross!! You might also live with someone who has very differing opinions/lifestyle from you. They might listen to loud music all night or get up super early in the morning. Maybe you like to sleep with the lights on and they need it dark. It can be hard living in that close of quarters with someone who is very different from you.At the same time, you might choose to live with a friend who could become your enemy like I did. Side note: If you do decide to live in the dorms, even though it can be scary, I recommend not rooming with a friend. Get a brand new person so you branch out and meet new people instead of always sticking with the person you know. I know it still could’ve been bad, but I really wish I would’ve roomed with someone I didn’t know my Freshmen year. It would’ve forced me to meet more new people and she might’ve ended up being my best friend! Worst case scenario, if she was horrible, I could’ve hung out in my friend’s room as much as possible to get away from her. Instead, my friend and I became enemies, never to speak again.
4. Food. Not only do you pay for the dorm, but you also pay for the cafeteria/food. Again, this will vary by school, but most meal plans are $1,000+/semester. Meaning you have to buy two of them, one for each semester. Most schools offer multiple types of meal plans you can choose from, but every school I’ve seen only has a $100-$200 difference between the smallest plan and the unlimited plan. That’s how they get you! Why wouldn’t you pick the unlimited plan if the very limited plan is only a few hundred dollars less?
I was relatively budget-conscious when I was in college, so I tried to pay attention to how much I was spending on groceries each month. I spent around $120/mo (this did not include going out to dinner, but I didn’t go out to dinner often). I also liked to cook and I liked to eat healthy, so that $120 was for fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, etc. I shopped at Aldi to save money on food. Aldi is the best! You can live for much cheaper than $120/mo on food if you eat things like PBJ, sandwiches, ramen, spaghetti, pizza, etc. I recommend eating healthy, though, you’ll thank yourself for it later! J
So, using the same scenario up above. Let’s say your meal plan $1200/semester. Again, figuring each semester is roughly 3.5 months long, that is about $342/mo for food. I don’t even spend that much money on food each month for my two-person household (and my boyfriend can eat A LOT). The meal plan can really add up.
5. Supervision. Living in the dorms is not the same as living at home with your parents, but you do have constant supervision. There is an RA that lives on your floor and each floor also has a Hall Director. This can be a good thing because it’s almost like a safety net. You’re on your “own”, but you still have supports to help you. If you live off-campus alone, you will have no supervision (other than a landlord that will want to make sure you’re not trashing their house). You will have no one to answer to other than your roommates.
I truly recommend living at home for at least one year after high school, preferably even more. It will save you SO much money. I know it might sound horrible and you’re itching to get away from your parents and taste the freedom of living on your own, but I truly regret that decision. I don’t necessarily recommend living at home until you’re 25+, but if I could go back and do it again, I’d definitely live with my parents during my first 2-4 years of school. I would’ve moved out at age 20-22.
My friends that were smart and lived at home are able to do so much more than I am. They have little-to-no debt. While I was spending years buying my own groceries, paying rent, and paying utilities, they were savings those hundreds of dollars each month. Even those who paid their parents rent saved a bunch! Trust me, paying your parents $200/mo is nothing compared to having to pay rent, utilities, groceries, etc. These friends of mine were able to put large down payments on homes (one put $50,000 down and also drives a brand new truck and motorcycle—he was also smart by going to a technical college and getting a great degree with little debt that landed him an excellent career with a high salary).
I had some friends who paid off their debt before I was even done with school because they saved so much money living with their parents. I am unable to buy a home yet because I am in so much student loan debt. I am unable to put ANY money down on a home because of it. I have no idea when I’ll be able to buy a home or start a family, all because of my crippling student loan debt.
If you’re worried about your parents being too strict, or not having your freedom, sit down and have a serious conversation about it with them. Explain that you are an adult now, and you promise to respect them and their house, but that you need some freedom. Work out a curfew (or that you do not want a curfew) and chore list. Ask exactly what is going to be expected of you, but also ask them to respect the fact that you are an adult now and you’re trying to gain some independence while being financially smart. Offer to pay them a little bit of rent (something like $100/mo, it’s a nice gesture and won’t break your bank). If they’re absolutely driving you up a wall, I can almost guarantee you will make friends with someone who lives in the dorms or on their own and you can always stay at their place when you need an escape!
Truly sit down and look at how much the dorms and meal plan are going to cost you and determine the monthly price. Then, look at area houses for rent and get an idea of what you’d pay per month to live there. Make sure it isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg to live in the dorms. If you absolutely cannot stay home for a while, consider moving into an affordable apartment.
Above all, I can’t urge you enough to spend your first year or two at a college close to home where you can live at home and save your money. I promise, you won’t regret it! What I do regret is moving out immediately after high school without truly looking at the costs and how much I would save. I would’ve probably saved over $20,000 by living with my parents for a few more years (obviously, the longer you live with them, the more you save, but I don’t recommend staying with them past 24). Living with your parents for one or two years after high school is not the end of the world, and will help you in the long run.
Comment below with questions. I’d also love to hear some “horror” stories from living in the dorms! Did you have a ridiculous roommate? Tell us about it below!