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Do You Have To Live On Campus Freshman Year?

do you have to live on campus freshman year?

The idea of attending college often coincides with the allure of freedom:

  • freedom from living at home
  • freedom from curfews
  • freedom from a strict 8-3 high school schedule

But, just how many colleges allow incoming students the freedom to live off-campus? Do most colleges require students to be in the dorms freshman year?

Surprisingly, less than 50% of residential campuses require freshmen to live on campus. Of course, there are some tangible benefits of living on campus, but this figure demonstrates that you may have more flexibility than you would think in choosing which arrangement works best for your student.

Here, I’ll review certain situations where living on campus would not be required and possibly not recommended. I’ll also provide tips for college students living off-campus to help make their experience the best it can be.

Do You Have To Live On Campus Freshman Year? It Depends On Where You Go

Community College

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, about 28% of community colleges have dorms and only 1% of community college students live on campus. That leaves over 70% of community college campuses where your student will either need to live at home, in an apartment, or in a different living arrangement of their choosing.

Some exceptions where students live at the community college campus include the following:

  • Junior college athletes who are often intensely involved in their college campus and need quick access to services
  • Students who choose an out-of-state community college that is lacking in off-campus housing access

If your family chooses a community college, you can check on the college website or with admissions to see if the college has any affiliated off-campus housing that is catered to college students.

Commuter Campuses

Commuter campuses are defined as campuses where most students leave after class or for the weekends to head home. They may have a small smattering of on-campus housing but the campus may have a diminished residential life as only a small percentage of students stick around in non-class hours.

Some colleges may not advertise themselves as commuter campuses, so if your student is looking for a lively on-campus experience then you should have them attend a prospective student overnight or weekend trip to get a real feel as to the weekend vibe of the campus. If your student chooses a commuter campus, they will most likely have access to a smaller amount of clubs, activities, and events to choose from.

A commuter campus, however, can be a great fit for nontraditional students and students who work. It’s also great for those who want to live at home or off-campus and those who strictly want to focus on completing their education with limited distractions.

Some examples of commuter campuses include the University of Illinois at Chicago, Adelphi University in New York, and Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Tips For College Students Living Off-Campus

There are also many campuses that do not require freshmen to live on campus. Some surprising colleges that nix the requirement include the University of Wisconsin Madison (although over 90% of freshmen live on campus), Purdue University, Auburn University, and New York University, to name a few.

If your family does choose the apartment life for your student, here are a few tips to navigate the process. 

  • Roommates make everything more affordable. Choosing someone who your student is compatible with is paramount. However, there usually won’t be any central organization available to mediate any issues.
  • If possible, have your student sign a separate lease to offer them some protection against financial woes like late rent payments caused by their roommates.
  • Choose housing close to campus, ideally housing associated with the university. The closer they are, the more likely they will engage in the campus community before and after class. Being connected to the college community has shown to be a protective factor in college persistence and graduation.
  • Choose housing with amenities! How about a pool, fitness center, or an in-unit washer and dryer? These sorts of perks can make the arrangement feel more “collegey” and fun. Also, this could cut down the need for your student to shell out more money to access entertainment or a gym membership.
  • Assess the environment with your student. Is the apartment building quiet enough for studying? Is there space to do homework without feeling cramped? Your student’s living environment should be conducive to getting the grades they want.

Ultimately, every student has diverse wants and needs so no one housing situation will fit everyone. If your student doesn’t want to live on campus or can’t afford it their freshmen year, know that you do have options for them to find their best fit with off-campus living.

Kate Kaushal has been a professional high school counselor in the Chicago Public School system since 2011 and has played many roles including: senior academic and social emotional counselor, post secondary counselor, head of counseling, ACT test coordinator, CPS selective enrollment test proctor and master counselor for the district.

She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Saint Xavier University and a Master’s in School Counseling from Roosevelt University. Prior to 2011, she worked in various positions in social service, including a partner organization to DCFS, a group home for young men, and an experiential outdoor education camp for at-risk youth in North Carolina.

At Phillips Academy in Bronzeville, she started as the Junior counselor and then moved into the post-secondary arena where she found her passion. She believes in holistically working with students and prides herself in her ability to match students with resources, especially scholarship opportunities and enrichment programs. In her years as a postsecondary counselor, she drastically increased the amount of scholarships (from 500,000 in 2015 to over 15 million in 2019) earned by the graduating classes and received a Data Impact award from Chicago Public Schools. She was also a final nominee for College and Career Counselor of the year in 2018 and has presented at multiple CPS School Counselor professional development events.

Kate is a lifelong learner and is excited to join the My College Planning Team to help families find the best holistic college fit for their child and the most scholarship money possible to offset their educational costs. Kate also has a knack for matching families to the resources they need, including alternate options like trade or gap year programs. Outside of work, she enjoys running, yoga, event planning and spending time with her 2 young children.

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