Most universities provide housing for their first year students, typically in the form of traditional dorms or residence halls. Some universities require students to live in the dorms their first year, while others make it optional. Here at VCU, we recommend that students live in the dorms, but we don’t require it. In fact, many of the “off-campus” housing options are actually closer to our building than the first year residence halls. So, why should a student live in a residence hall and not in an apartment?
It is statistically proven that students who live in a residence hall for at least their first semester do better in their four years of college. Part of this is due to the fact that residence halls provide support in easing the transition from living with parents to living on your own. While students have more freedom than they typically did at home, there are still rules and support systems to guide them through that challenging first semester and year. In the dorms there are also more opportunities to become part of the community of the university. Many students who choose not to live in the dorms their first year have a harder time making friends and gaining a sense of community. In the dorms, you don’t really have a choice, as everyone is in close proximity. In addition, most first year dorms allow you to live there for 9 months without having to pay for a 12 month lease, like most apartments require. So, my recommendation is that you live in a dorm your first year of college.
Now, what do you do with the rest of your time at the university? On that topic, I have very mixed emotions. Personally, I don’t think it is right to make students have 12 month leases while in school, because it means they have to figure out a way to pay for their apartment over the summer. This then prevents them from being able to go on study abroad trips, do summer internships, etc, as it is almost impossible to sublet an apartment for the summer. So, living “on campus” might be a better option. But, if you live on campus all four years, the transition to “real life,” post-graduation will be more of a challenge. If you live in an apartment as an upperclassman, you can still have a meal plan on campus, but you have the option to cook and do laundry in your own space, without R.A. supervision. You learn how to pay your bills on time, maintain an apartment, etc. This provides a nice transition to “real life.” But, it typically comes with that 12 month lease that I mentioned before.
As you’re looking at universities, be thinking about what you want out of residential life, beyond the first year of college. This will help you determine universities that are a good fit. Remember that how well you are able to relax, study, and take care of yourself will affect your ability to get the most out of your education, so where you live does matter.