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College Dorm vs Apartment: Which Is the Better Option?

As you make your way to college and the rest of your life, you’re probably not thinking about where you’re going to live. However, where you live, whether it’s a dorm room or an apartment, makes a big difference in your college career. Which is the better option?

A college dorm might be a better option if you’re just out of high school, as many colleges require that first-year college students live on campus. However, an apartment gives you more freedom in regards to curfews and who comes to visit you.

This might be a difficult decision, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, one of the biggest barriers to student success in college is housing insecurity. This article will help you decide what choice to make, so stick around (source). 

How to choose between a college dorm or apartment.

What Is a College Dorm?

So what’s a college dorm, and what makes it different from a house or apartment?

A college dorm is a large group living space on a college campus. Typically, college freshmen live in the dormitories and share space with at least one roommate. These spaces are only available to students attending the college. 

Some dorm rooms are set up for just two people, and some are for three or four. 

Some rooms have a bed and desk, a large community bathroom on the floor, and a community kitchen. These spaces usually have community study rooms and recreation areas, as well.

See What Do College Dorms Come With? 

Suite-style bedrooms are usually a little larger and give more space to the students in the room rather than containing large communal areas, complete with suite-style rooms with bathrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. 

It depends entirely on the way your campus has the dorms set up. 

Additionally, sometimes dorms are co-ed, or opposite sex students may live on the same floor or at least in the same building. To find out what kind of dorms are available on your campus, you can usually check your college’s website and look at their housing section. 

Below, we’ll talk about some of the benefits and disadvantages of living in a college dorm (source).

The Benefits of Living in a College Dorm

Dorms are about as unique as colleges themselves, and usually, a campus will have a wide range of options. Whether you prefer solo living, partnering up with a roommate, or even sharing space with five or six people, most college campuses will have at least one or two buildings that meet your preferences. 

While every college has a unique spin on its dormitories, the following benefits can generally be expected of living on a college campus in a dorm.

Those Who Live On Campus Have A Higher Success Rate

Research points to the assertion that students who live on campus have a higher success rate. 

The theories behind this are many, but a good majority of professionals think it’s because being in a college dorm helps a student transition slowly from their childhood to adult life and the benefits we list below (source).

Opportunity To Meet Friends Attending the Same College

One of the unique benefits of living in a college dorm is living feet away from other people who attend your college. This is an awesome opportunity to make friends who go to the same school as you, if not friends who have the same interests.

Living next to, above, and below dozens of students, the same age as you and going to the same school is a unique experience. 

You’ll be able to recognize people from your freshman prerequisite classes and other freshman events right in your dorm. This will allow you to make study groups, find class partners, and more.

Not to mention, some colleges have special interest housing or freshman interest groups. 

These groups put you in a building on the same floor as people with the same major or area of study. You all will be taking many of the same classes, which gives you even further opportunities to make friends (source). 

Access To Study Spaces

Many college dorms will have study spaces right inside of them. 

Going to the library and coffee shops is a nice idea, but sometimes it’s great to have a big space even closer to you if you need to study. Especially because college dorms tend to be on the smaller side, a group room for study groups and late-night study sessions (extra helpful if you have a roommate who goes to sleep early) is an awesome benefit.

Studying in college can be hard with everything you’re balancing, but a study room just inches from your bedroom might be the motivation you need. You don’t even have to worry about bundling up on cold days and during storms. 

Nearer to or Right On-Campus

Most college dorms are right on campus, which is another huge benefit. You don’t have to worry about parking or commuting to your classes, which can save you a lot of money depending on where you go to school.

This also allows you to get to know your campus. Walking to and from class will allow you to see more of your college than you’d be able to if you just drove straight to class every day.

Lastly, a good walk has tons of benefits, especially for students. There’ll be days where you’ll feel like it’s too cold to walk or like you’d just rather not walk anywhere at all, but your body will thank you for the endorphins (source).

Meal Plan

Most college dorm prices include the cost of a basic meal plan, which can feed you anywhere from 1-3 meals a day. 

This is a priceless benefit, as cooking in a dorm room can be inconvenient, and eating is essential. A meal plan will help you transition from being at home to becoming more responsible for your feeding rituals. It also allows you access college campus eateries, which are another great place to make friends.

The Disadvantages of Living in a College Dorm

While it might seem that living in a college dorm is the best thing ever, there are some downsides to this. Let’s take a quick look at them now.


College dorms can be kind of pricey, depending on your preferences. Most colleges have a low-income or low-cost option for students, but it might not have all of the things on your list checked off. 

If you do have a scholarship, it can help with the cost of your dorm, but it’ll still be added to your bill. Living in an apartment isn’t necessarily less expensive, but living in an apartment with many people can help the rent become lower, which isn’t negotiable in a college dorm setting (source).

Sometimes Small

The average dorm room is about 180 cubic ft (5.10 cubic m). This is an average, which means some dorms are smaller, and some are larger. 

When you’re moving your entire life away from home and onto a college campus, this can be a tight squeeze. Though there are usually community spaces, like kitchens and study spaces and rec areas, your room itself will be pretty small, and you’ll typically be sharing it with someone else, too (source).

Sharing a Bathroom

There are options for having your room and bathroom on a college campus, but most dormitories have suite-style bathrooms or community bathrooms. You’ll also, most likely, be sharing a bathroom with one or more people. 

If you don’t want to share a bathroom with one or more people, this can be a disadvantage. 

Risking a Bad Roommate

One of the most famously notorious disadvantages of college dorm life is a roommate you don’t see eye to eye. As we mentioned above, college dorms can be pretty tight spaces. If you’re rooming with someone messy while you’re clean or vice versa, it can cause a little extra stress. 

This is a possibly avoidable conflict, as some colleges offer roommate matching services or give you a choice to room with someone you know. Just know that there’s a risk that you’ll get assigned randomly, but you may end up becoming best friends with your roomie, too. 

See College Roommates: 11 Most Common Student Questions

Rules and Regulations

Movies about colleges make it seem as though there are always tons of parties and lots of underage drinking going on in dormitories, but this isn’t the case. Most college dormitories have a strict list of rules and regulations, which if not followed may result in getting kicked out of the dorms or even reprimanded by the university. 

Most colleges have strict rules about gatherings, alcohol, and parties (source).

What Is a College Apartment?

There are two different kinds of apartments in university: regular residential apartments and college apartments.

College apartments are apartment buildings owned and vetted by your university. These are different from regular apartments, which deal with a landlord or management company and typically aren’t affiliated with the university. 

However, they may not have the same rules or regulations as a dorm, and they’re typically a little further than campus. 

Student apartment complexes usually cater specifically to college students, with low prices, roommate options or floor plans meant for roommates, and study spaces or activities for students. 

They sometimes even offer buses to and from campus. Unlike college-affiliated apartments, which are usually owned and vetted by the university, families or non-students can live in them if they want to.

Though they’re a bit different, living in an apartment usually offers a general set of benefits and disadvantages, which we’ll discuss below (source).

The Benefits of Living in a College Apartment

Whether you live in a residential apartment building that houses students and families alike, a student housing complex that caters to college students, or a college apartment complex owned by the university, there are some real benefits to living in an apartment versus a dormitory. 

More Freedom 

Usually, there are fewer rules and regulations when living in an apartment, especially if it’s an apartment not owned by the university. Though apartments still have rules about how many people can gather, quiet hours, and parties in general, you’ll have a little more freedom when it comes to an apartment complex. 

Could Be Cheaper

Depending on how many people you’re willing to live with, apartment housing may be cheaper.

For example, though a three-bedroom apartment might be $1,200 in total, it’ll be around $400 a month if you split that with roommates. The average college dorm is around $800 a month, so this is a significant cost difference. 

Additionally, if you live in a dorm that only allows certain visiting hours or keeps boys and girls separated, your college apartment will likely not do the same thing. Some complexes owned by the college will still have residential attendants that come check on you, but apartment complexes and student housing don’t do the same (source).

Apartments owned by the dorm tend to have a monthly rent that needs to be paid, and the university can decide whether or not it comes out of your tuition or not. For this reason, college-owned apartment complexes might be more expensive or the same price. 

Room for Entertaining

Living in a college dorm gives you a little more room to spread out. 

You’ll likely only be living with either yourself or 2-3 additional people, and apartments have kitchens and at least one bathroom. They also have a living space, which will give you a little more room for entertaining than a dorm room that only has room for a bed and a desk. 

The Disadvantages of Living in a College Apartments

Depending on where you choose to live, there are some disadvantages to living in an apartment, too. 

Larger Demographic

When you live in a residential housing complex, you may be living near families, professors, or other people. So, if you plan on getting an apartment to party the night away, you’ll have to consider that your neighbors are living in a much different period of their life than you.

Student housing complexes are also a little different of a demographic than your freshman dorm, as they’ll have graduate-level students, sophomores, juniors, and seniors all living in the same place. 

If you were planning on meeting up with study buddies at an apartment, it’s possible, but it just might take a little more searching. 

Further From Campus

When you live in an apartment, you’re likely living a little further from campus. Some colleges have apartments on campus, but the prices will reflect this convenience. If you live in a student housing apartment complex, they’ll sometimes provide shuttles to and from the school, but you’ll need to match your schedule to theirs. 

Paying Rent 

If you have scholarships, your school could very well just be taking the cost of your college dormitory directly from this scholarship or charging it as a piece of your tuition. At apartment complexes, this won’t be the case, as you’ll have to make a monthly rent payment. 

Buying Your Furniture

Dorms usually come with furniture already in them, such as a bed or a desk. Apartment complexes will rarely offer the same thing, though some student housing complexes offer furnished or unfurnished apartments. Regardless, this is a cost that you’ll need to consider.


Choosing your living situation is a very personal process. You may decide that the most important thing to you is the price tag, and the dormitories on your campus are too expensive. 

You might decide that finding friends with similar interests is best for you, which you won’t be able to do as easily as you would in an apartment. Write down the pros and cons list to help you make your decision, and reach out to a college counselor if you need a second opinion. 

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