On-Campus or Off-Campus: Which Saves More Money?

A major factor in deciding whether to live on campus or off campus is how much money you are willing to spend. We've detailed some things you should consider when making this decision, like commuting time, financial aid and the cost of the city itself.

The Blinding Excitement

You've prepared for it all summer. You've packed your bags, said goodbye to your high school friends, spent time with your family and told your boss you'd be back next summer. As you load up the car, you pause a moment to reflect on your decisions. Are they the right ones? It's the big day, the day you head off to college, and you hear your mother sob quietly, 'Are you sure you want to live on campus?' Well, are you?

Or maybe the college is only 15 miles away, but it's your first opportunity for adult freedoms. You jump on the bandwagon with many other freshmen and sign up for student housing on campus. It may be a whopping $6,000 for the fall and spring, but at least you're finally away from your parents' constant, watchful eyes, right?

The Truth

If your college is five minutes from your parents, you should suck it up and live with them. In the long run, you'll save a lot of money that can be put to use later, whether it be for books, tuition, a car, spring break or a future apartment. Even if your parents charge you rent, you're still likely to save money.

If you've decided to attend a college further than 20 minutes away, you're likely looking to live on campus (or off campus) for convenience purposes. Whether there is no college for 100 miles near your little town or you've chosen the college of your dreams, you must decide whether on- or off-campus housing is better for you financially.


The easy part of living on campus is that your room and board (which often includes meals) is figured in with your financial aid package. There is no need for money up front, so it makes life easy for someone who is just starting out. The reality is that the money will need to be paid back - with interest.

Thankfully, whether or not you're a state resident doesn't usually affect the price of room and board. At the University of San Diego, on campus housing and meals was $12,071 as of 2015-2016. If the price does not change, over the course of four years you would spend $48,284 just on housing and meals! Using a loan to pay for it could increase the final cost (at 6.8% interest over seven years) by nearly $12,500! If you can, try to pay for your housing with cash.

Location, Location, Location

You've heard it before, but location is the most important thing about finding a place to live. This is true when looking to save money, too. Yes, you're trying to decide between living on or off campus, but really, you should consider your college choice first.

If you're open to colleges, consider an area or school that offers cheaper living. For instance, the University of Maryland estimated a year of on-campus housing and meals, for Maryland residents, at $10,971 in 2015-16, but Lake Region State College in South Dakota charges $5,055 for room and board per year.

As for off campus, UC San Diego estimated a price of $9,746 for housing and meals for 2015-16 undergraduates.


If you own a car, you have the luxury of off-campus decisions. If not, you need to find an apartment close to campus or public transit. Many colleges have a fee for parking. Also, if you choose to live off campus, be sure to figure in the cost of insurance, maintenance and gas. If you do live on campus and have a car, assume you'll be volunteered to drive friends off campus - but, friends may throw you some money for gas. Charge per ride, and it could help you earn a little extra cash.

The Extras

The last thing that you must consider before deciding whether you want to live on or off campus is your added living expenses. Food is often included in the room and board, but this is not so when you live off campus. However, if you live off campus, you can cook your own meals much cheaper and healthier in a kitchen. Grocery bills can also be split between you and your roommates.

Another expense to be split between you and your roommates are the utilities. Some college housing includes heat, cable, Internet or electric, but many don't. If you must pay for heat, try to choose a house that has good insulation and newer windows to save on gas costs.

Also, when choosing utilities, consider what is a want and what is a necessity. If you don't need cable, you'll likely need Internet - or you could spend more time on campus and save the extra dollars for gas. Doing your homework on campus provides a quieter setting than your roommates may offer.

Are you thinking about moving back in with your parents after graduating? Check out these pros and cons to living at home after college.

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