Considerations for Choosing a Dorm vs an Apartment

When it’s time to head to college, you might be presented with the question, “Should I dorm or get an apartment?” A majority of 4-year colleges and universities do require first-year students to remain on campus, but upperclassmen and students attending schools without this requirement have options. Below we cover the differences between dorms and apartments, the pros and cons of each, and some tips for making your decision.

What is a Dorm?

A dorm, or dormitory, is a room on a college campus that is dedicated to students attending the school. Dorms are inside residence halls that offer not only rooms for all of the students but also common spaces such as study halls, meeting rooms, kitchens, entertainment, laundry rooms, mail rooms, and more. 

The makeup of dorms will vary from school to school. While some colleges have dorm rooms designed for one person (known as a private dorm), most are designed for two or more students. The number of residence halls on a campus can vary quite a bit and it depends on the size of the school!

There are also different types of dorms and bathroom setups that colleges can offer. Suites, for example, are a collection of rooms (often 3) that share a common space and a bathroom. Other dorm rooms will open directly into the hallway and a shared bathroom is located down the hall for a portion of the floor to use. And private dorms can resemble a studio apartment, complete with a small kitchenette and private bathroom.

Students select their dorm before the beginning of each year. Schools may give students the option of selecting specific residence halls, roommates, and the type of room they’d prefer.

Benefits of a Dorm

Some benefits of choosing to live on campus in a dorm over an apartment in town are:

  • There are often dorm room events. Many dorms have events dedicated to the students staying there. These can be movie nights, game nights, competitions, and more. They may also offer study sessions and tutoring.
  • You’re close to all the action. Dorms are located right on campus and tend to be situated so they’re close to everything you need. Classrooms, libraries, and dining halls will only be a short walk or campus bus ride away. You won’t have to travel through the town or city to get to your classes.
  • You can take part in campus traditions. Some schools actually have traditions, games, and competitions centered around their campuses! Students can show off their residence hall pride, and selecting a dorm room at these schools definitely deserves some thought.
  • It can be easier to make friends. Since you’re going to be spending almost all of your time on campus around other students, you’ll find it can be easier to make friends.

Possible Downsides of a Dorm

While there are definitely upsides to staying in a residence hall on campus, you may also consider:

  • You may share a with a stranger. While most colleges do allow their students to select their roommate, if you don’t know anyone on campus yet, you will likely be rooming with a complete stranger. This stranger could become your new best friend or could be someone you find a little difficult to room with. Keep in mind though, if you experience something serious with your roommate, you can request a room change by speaking with your residence hall’s Resident Advisor (RA)
  • Space can be cramped. Dorm rooms tend to be on the smaller side, and with a roommate, they lack space and privacy. Bathrooms, common spaces, and kitchens are all shared. Personal space can sometimes be hard to come by. Private rooms may be available, but they tend to be more expensive compared to other options on campus as space is limited and therefore not feasible for everyone.
  • There will be room checks. RAs and school officials will schedule room checks with students staying in the residence hall. They are looking for banned items while also ensuring rooms are clean.

What is an Apartment?

An apartment is a living space that charges rent. These can be studios, one bedroom, two bedrooms, or three bedrooms. Students going to college may also have the option of sharing space within a house rather than a college.

While some colleges do have “college apartments,” most living spaces off campus are owned by organizations or individual landlords. Choosing an apartment in these cases cannot be done through the school, and students must reach out to the landlord or leasing company to arrange a space. 

Apartments can be rented by yourself or with roommates. 

Benefits of an Apartment

Choosing an apartment over a dorm can come with a variety of benefits:

  • They can offer more space and privacy than a dorm. One of the biggest advantages of choosing an apartment is the ability to have more space and privacy. If you rent by yourself, you will have a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living space without having to share with others. Even with roommates, you will likely have your own room.
  • Roommates can lower rent and living costs. While renting can be expensive, living with roommates can help you cut the cost of rent and expenses such as utilities.
  • You don’t have to follow the same rules you would have in a dorm. While you still need to adhere to any rules within your apartment lease, you’re not restricted to the same requirements you may have experienced in a dorm.
  • You can have more options on where to live. Instead of living on campus, students can choose to live within the city, outside the town’s limits, or even further away thanks to remote learning.

Downsides of an Apartment

If you are considering living in an apartment including, remember:

  • There may be a commute. Since you’re not on campus, you will likely have a commute to get to your classes. If you live far enough away, you will likely have to have a car or take public transportation.
  • You could find it challenging to get involved in college events. Less time on campus could mean you’re less involved in the community. You may find it more difficult to make friends or attend campus events.
  • They require a lease. Apartments require you to sign a lease. While you can find shorter leases, a majority require you to sign on for a year. Even if you choose to go to your parents for the summer, you will still be on the hook for rent during those months. And shorter leases often come with higher rates.
  • Quality can vary. While dorm rooms are standardized and maintained by the college, quality can vary quite a bit in apartments and other shared living spaces. Other factors can impact your quality of life, too, such as location, size of the apartment, noise, and more.

Should You Choose a Dorm or an Apartment?

Choosing a dorm or apartment may be clear to you from the above-listed pros and cons of each, but there are a few other considerations to make as well.

Is Living On Campus Required?

Since many colleges require first-year students to live on campus for at least that first year, the question may not even be up for debate. In some cases, students can be given an exemption from living on campus, but this is rare. If you feel you require an exemption, you will want to talk to the housing department at your college for the next steps.

How Much Does it Cost?

The cost of dorm rooms and apartments can vary wildly. A higher cost of living can quickly drive up expenses. Comparing the two costs is a must before making a decision. You may find that the dorm room is vastly less expensive than the apartment or vice versa. 

You will also want to think about how financial aid will help you pay for your dorm room or apartment. While a scholarship may help with your dorm room expenses, the terms of the award may restrict you from using it on rent.

Where are the Living Spaces Located?

Location should also be a top concern. Some campuses are exceedingly large, and even with advanced planning, it can be a hike to get to your classes. You might be able to find an apartment or shared living space just off campus that is closer to your courses. 

When Are You Signing Up For a Dorm Room?

Colleges can and have run out of dorm space for their students. While first-year students are almost always guaranteed space on campus, upperclassmen risk losing out on a dorm if they wait too long to register. If you delay, you could find you have no choice but to rent an apartment.

When you searched for a college, you likely made a sheet of the various pros and cons of the colleges you were considering along with details of your needs and wants. If you’re stuck between choosing a dorm room or apartment, taking these steps could prove beneficial to your decision, too. You will want to weigh different factors including cost, location, privacy, quality of the space, deadlines, and more to help you decide.

Did you know that scholarships are not only for tuition and can help you cover other expenses such as room and board? Finding awards is easy, too, with College Raptor. Simply use our Scholarship Search Tool to get started!