Moving into student housing has been a rite of passage for decades. Between meeting your roommate, deciding who’s going to get the top bunk, and figuring out how you’re going to fit all of your stuff into a room a little larger than a shoe-box, for most it is a symbol of the freedom of adulthood.
I’m not going to lie: Moving into my freshman dorm was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. It was my first time away from home and the first time that I got to decide the rules that I was going to live by. It was something that I’m sure to remember for the rest of my life.
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But as great as it was, it came at a pretty steep cost: Room and board (including my meal plan) accounted for just under half of my college expenses, which I of course financed with student loans. Since graduating and struggling at times to pay off my student debt, I’ve often wondered whether or not I made the right decision when it came to living at college.
The High Cost of Living on Campus
According to College Board, the average cost of room and board for the 2016-2017 school year ranged from $8,060 at public two-year universities to $11,890 at private nonprofit four-year universities. Even public four-year universities averaged a high of $10,440 per year. Multiplied by four years, that means that the cost of living on campus at a public university is a whopping $41,760 (not accounting for future price increases).
$40,000 is nothing to sneeze at: It’s a lot of money to need to pay back over the course of a 10-year student loan, and that doesn’t even take into account the cost of interest.
Even scarier? This year’s room and board was 1.6–3.0 percent higher than last year’s costs, which means that the cost of living on campus is only going to get higher and higher as time goes on. The price you pay your senior year of college will most likely be higher than what you pay your freshman year (something you should take into account when you are shopping around for schools within your budget).
The Pros and Cons of Living at Home
Living at home instead of paying for room and board comes with some pretty obvious benefits—$40,000 worth. But the savings don’t stop there. You’ll also save money on laundry (since you can do it at home), food (since you can enjoy mom’s home cooking), and you can pocket whatever you were going to spend on new furnishings for your dorm room (since you’ve got your own bedroom to sleep in).
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t downsides. Since you’ll be commuting, you’re going to be spending a lot more money on gas and general wear and tear on your car. (Commuting also limits the schools that you’ll have to choose from: Choosing a school too far away will only increase your odds of skipping class, which is never a good idea.)
And there’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to be missing out on a major rite of passage: Moving away from home. Though I have no doubt that you’ll still be able to meet and make friends, there’s something about proximity that builds bonds. Living at home may well mean that you won’t make the lasting friendships that many college students carry with them throughout their lives. (And let’s not get into the whole bringing-a-date-back-to-your-childhood-bedroom thing.)
Is It Worth the Trade-Off?
So do the benefits of living at home outweigh the disadvantages? I can’t answer that for you: It’s something you’ve got to figure out for yourself.
Like I said before, I’ve struggled a lot with whether or not I made the right decision to live on campus in college. On the positive side, I made lasting friendships and learned valuable lessons about myself that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. On the negative side, I accumulated $30,000 of student loans just to pay for my room and board. I know I wouldn’t trade my friendships for anything, but I also know that if I had lived at home and commuted I would have been able to pay off my student loans years ago. It’s hard to know what the better choice would have been.
It’s important for you to decide what is more important to you before you enroll in college: The college experience (which, for many, is more important than saving money) or the cost-savings (which, for others, is more important than the experience). And, of course, it doesn’t have to be quite so black and white: You could always live at home for your first two years before transferring to on-campus housing if that’s what you realize you want. There’s a trade-off with either decision, and only you can decide what matters more to you.
Looking for other ways to save money in college? We’ve got you covered.