As I've said before, one of the most common questions that college freshmen are asked is "Where are you from?" But what comes after that depends on how you answer. If where you're from is a thousand miles away, there will be no question that you'll be living on campus. But if you live, say, less than 30 minutes away, you'll most likely get a response that goes something like, "Oh, so you're commuting?" In my case, the answer is no. I'll still be living on campus, even though I only live about 15 minutes away from my school. At first, this may seem a bit strange (and, like, an enormous waste of money). Campus housing, for its part, is often made out to be something that's only for students who live far away. Why, after all, would anyone pay $10,000 or more to live in a glorified shoe box when they could just as well live at home for free? But I've come to realize that living in a dorm room is not only an invaluable experience, but it could actually be *gasp* a financially sound decision. Here's why.
1. Dorm-livers are usually much more connected to their school than commuters.
As with any other rule, there are exceptions to this. But in general, commuters have a tendency to feel left out. Any article that you find online about the pros and cons of commuting will inevitably mention this as a con. For some reason, it's just harder to find friends when you spend more time trying to find a parking spot than you actually do in class. That's only a slight exaggeration. Colleges do often have commuter student unions or clubs that allow non-residents to meet people, but these have the potential to make commuters feel even more isolated. This is due to the fact that spending time exclusively with other commuters can make a person feel even more like an "other," and can facilitate an "us" vs. "them" mentality between them and the residents. It's also harder to join activities if it means constantly driving to and from school, which could mean wasting gas. How do I know all this? I'm no expert on the challenges of being a commuter student, but my own parents commuted to their college for four years, and I don't think that they reflect very positively on that decision. In any case, living on campus is sure to expose students to aspects of college that they wouldn't have seen or heard about otherwise. This holds true even for students that happen to live close by.
2. Living in a dorm helps to establish a sense of independence.
Don't get me wrong: commuting to school won't always prevent a student from being independent. After all, living under your parents' roof doesn't mean that your parents have to coordinate your every move. Tons of people over the age of 25 still live with their parents, and they manage to coexist peacefully without having their parents pour their cereal or tuck them into bed at night. But living on campus forces a student to be responsible in a way that commuters just don't have the opportunity to. It's usually the simple things, like learning to do laundry, reminding oneself to study, going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting in the habit of waking oneself up in the morning that you learn much more quickly if you don't have your parents standing over your shoulder telling you to do them. And as much as having a roommate isn't always all unicorns and rainbows (note to self: do not watch "The Roommate"), learning to sleep next to a complete stranger is an excellent way to learn about resolving interpersonal conflicts.
3. It's not quite as expensive as you think.
One of the, if not most common, reasons for not living on campus is the extra costs associated with doing so. As if college tuition and textbooks weren't expensive enough, room and board usually cost at least an extra $10,000 or $12,000. It's highly understandable that some students wouldn't want to pay for anything that they don't absolutely need, especially if it means taking on more debt. But although the sticker price for student housing might come as a shock, students who live on campus usually end up cutting down on expenses that commuters might not be able to. One big example is having a car. Most colleges don't even allow residential underclassmen to have one on campus, which means writing off the sometimes astronomical cost of car insurance, and more importantly, gas. Although current fuel prices aren't nearly as high as what they were several years ago, commuting to school every day can really make it add up. In addition, there are also less obvious things that non-commuters save on, like home water bills and food that their parents no longer have to purchase because they're on a meal plan. The point is that while your net expenses as a resident might still be higher, other costs will decrease significantly, which will help to offset the price of room and board, if only by a little bit.
Writing about the benefits of living in a dorm got me thinking of specific advantages to living on campus for local students that those who live farther away don't have. One such example is the relative lack of homesickness. Sure, I'll still be laying my head on a different pillow at night, but I'll only be living a short drive away, which means that I won't have to readjust to a whole new part of the country. It also means that I can easily go back home if I ever miss my family or simply want to eat a home-cooked meal every once in a while. In a lot of ways, residing in a dorm at a college close to home gives me the best of both worlds (i.e. having the "college experience" while still not venturing too far out). If you are reading this article, you should know that I am not saying that you should pick a college close to home that you don't like just for the sake of "having it all." Nor am I suggesting that commuting to school is a terrible idea (it's not). That said, don't shy away from a local college or university because you've always wanted to live in a dorm. As I've come to realize, the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
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