On or off campus? Here’s how to decide where to live

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Catie Pusateri

Freshman architecture major Annabelle Montgomery (left) and her roommate, Olivia McClelland, in their dorm room in Kent State’s Allyn Hall.

Catie Pusateri, Reporter

To live on or off campus? That is the question. This semester marks the first time sophomore fashion merchandising major Jacqueline Quinn is living off campus, and she shares a house near the architecture building with five roommates. Quinn lived on campus in Tri-Towers last year, but wanted her own space that was closer to her classes in Rockwell Hall.

Choosing whether to live on campus or off campus is an important decision for college students like Quinn, especially when each living situation offers different benefits and drawbacks.

While living in the dorms provides an opportunity to form a close community, it does not afford as much independence as off-campus housing does. However, living off campus can mean more monthly expenses such as rent, utilities and groceries.

“I feel like in the dorms, you don’t really have to worry about money too much,” Quinn said. “All you really worry about is like shampoo and just stuff like that. You don’t have to worry about food and the money for housing, because it’s paid in full in the beginning.”

Since moving off campus, budgeting has been one of Quinn’s main struggles. Knowing how to budget is an important skill, and Quinn said she did not understand budgeting as much as she needed to before leaving the dorms.

For those living off campus, many have to keep basic expenses in mind as well as unforeseen costs such as car troubles, repair costs, pest control or higher monthly bills.

Shopping for groceries was particularly surprising for Quinn as she said everything was more expensive than she expected it to be.

Prices have risen within the past year as many industries recover from the pandemic, and food prices have risen 11.4% compared to last year, according to the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I will go to the grocery store and drop $200, and I’m like, ‘how the hell did that just happen?'” Quinn said.

One of the benefits of living on campus is easy access to dining halls and other food options in the Student Center. Although on-campus students do not need to worry about groceries and cooking their own food, nearby food options fall flat for some students like sophomore fashion merchandising major Allie Mark.

“We’ll go in the dining hall and the food’s just not good, so we end up leaving so hungry, and we’ll go to Rosie’s after,” Mark said.

Mark lived in Olson Hall her freshman year with a randomly-assigned roommate and now lives in Centennial Court B with a friend. The dining hall food is Mark’s least favorite thing about living on campus, while one of her favorite things is the convenience of being close to many places on campus. Within a 10-minute walk, she can attend her classes, get some food or meet up with friends.

Next school year, Mark plans to move into an off-campus apartment to have more control over her own food as well as her own private bathroom. For freshmen living in the dorms, Mark encourages them to meet other students in their dorm building and to not be afraid to eat alone.

“Going to the dining hall alone does not mean you have no friends or you’re a weirdo,” Mark said. “You can sit there and eat alone, it’s still normal. So many people do it.”

Freshman architecture major Annabelle Montgomery lives in Allyn Hall. Montgomery’s favorite thing about living on campus is the sense of community within the dorms.

She spends a lot of time with her new friends from the form whether they are exploring campus, eating at the Metropolitan Deli in the Hub or relaxing in her dorm room together.

“It’s like having your best friends as your neighbors,” Montgomery said.

Looking ahead to her sophomore year, Montgomery is considering moving off campus with her current roommate to save money on housing costs. Kent State estimates that year-long on-campus housing for a double room costs about $7,700 based on 2021 cohort prices, which does not include the additional cost of a meal plan.

While a switch to off-campus housing often means acquiring more living space, Raquel Penrose swapped a roommate-free dorm room in Centennial Court A for a shared room with two sorority sisters.

Penrose, a sophomore fashion merchandising major, now lives off campus in the Delta Gamma sorority house with about 30 sorority sisters. One of the main experiences Penrose misses about living in the dorms is feeling connected to on-campus life.

“I love the feeling of walking around campus, which I can still do, but I just have nowhere to go unless I’m going to the library, but it’s pretty close to here,” Penrose said. “So I do just miss walking to my friends’ dorms and walking to Eastway food is not delicious. I miss that experience of walking places.”

Although Penrose has felt detached from campus since moving into the sorority house, she has enjoyed being in charge of her own food instead of relying on the dining halls.

As a vegetarian, Penrose said on-campus food options were limited and although living off campus can lead to more of the independence many young adults crave, incoming freshmen must live on campus because the university deems living in residence halls “part of the educational experience,” said David Taylor, senior director of University Housing.

“It’s a time where you can be exposed for the first time to different values, different ideas, meet folks of different identities or demographics,” Taylor said. “Maybe you grew up in a location where everyone looked the same or everyone worshipped the same way or maybe didn’t worship at all, or whatever that might be, but it’s a time to be exposed to a lot of differences.”

All Kent State students taking more than nine credit hours must live on campus unless they are over 20 years old, accumulated more than 60 credit hours or have an exemption.

Students can be exempt from this housing requirement if they commute to Kent State within 50 miles, live in fraternity or sorority housing or have a medical condition or financial struggles.

Taylor oversees on-campus housing which he refers to as “a little city.” When it comes to enforcing this housing requirement, Taylor said that several reminders are sent to students regarding completing exemption forms if they do not live on campus.

In the rare case that a student does not live on campus or have an approved exemption form, the university can place a registration hold on the student’s account.

Within this “little city,” approximately 5,165 students live in on-campus housing, said Leah Shaw, director of Residence Life. Shaw oversees different programs offered to students living on campus to get them involved and make on-campus housing as beneficial as possible.

“Living on campus kind of takes you back to the basics,” Shaw said. “You’ll learn how to share. You learn how to have an argument with someone productively. You learn how to be courteous to people, all of those things. You learn how to create a community.”

In Shaw’s perspective, living off campus offers a sense of freedom as well as a chance to learn different lessons than the ones that on-campus living may teach students. These lessons include greater responsibility, budgeting and time management as living off campus helps students grow into adulthood since “the safety net gets pulled out a little bit,” Shaw said.

“We just want to provide space for people to find their community on campus, however they define that to be,” Shaw said.

Catie Pusateri is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]