How Much Can I Save on College by Skipping the Dorm?

Dorming can be a fun experience — but an expensive one at that.

When you picture what your college experience will look like, you may conjure up images of late-night study sessions with friends in a dorm lounge or eating midnight pizza with roommates before collapsing in bed. Living in a college dorm can be enjoyable, and it can lead to lifelong friendships with the people you room with, if all goes well.

That said, there are several downsides to dorm life. For one thing, you’ll be stuck in fairly tight living quarters. Secondly, you’ll risk getting roomed with an inconsiderate roommate who leaves garbage everywhere and wakes you up at all hours when you’re desperate for sleep.

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But if there’s one huge drawback of living in a dorm during college, it’s the expense involved. Dorming is often more expensive than renting an off-campus apartment (though not always — the exception being large cities, like New York, where rents are horrendously inflated), and it’s certainly a costlier prospect than living at home during your studies and commuting to and from classes. That’s why it pays to consider skipping the dorm, especially if you’re looking to keep your student loan debt to a minimum.

The average cost of dorming

For the 2019–20 academic year, here’s what the average annual cost of room and board looks like, according to the College Board:

  • $8,990 for community college
  • $11,510 for public four-year colleges (both in-state and out-of-state)
  • $12,990 for private colleges

Let’s imagine you’re attending a public in-state school that’s 30 minutes away from your parents’ home, and that you already have access to a vehicle. By skipping the dorm for four years, you stand to save yourself $46,040. That’s a lot of money to not spend on a roof over your head when you already have a place you can live for free.

And if you think you’ll miss out on the experience of living in a dorm, consider this: If you skip the dorm, you’ll be able to keep your student loans to a minimum. That means you’ll also be able to skip the not-so-pleasant experience of feeling perpetually cash-strapped during your first few years out of college due to being saddled with debt. Therefore, while dorming may be attractive, there’s lots to be gained by avoiding it.

Of course, if the college you’re attending isn’t close enough to your parents’ home to allow you to live there and commute, then it can be beneficial to look into off-campus housing before committing to a dorm. Depending on the college you attend, you may be barred from doing so in your freshman year, so check the rules.

If living off-campus is an option, you could save a chunk of money by splitting rent with a number of roommates. You could also buy your food at grocery stores and make meals at home rather than paying for the convenience of having someone prepare them for you at a campus dining hall.

Finally, if you could commute to college, or live off-campus, but you’re really eager to experience dorm life, live in a dorm for a year or two, and then move back home or to more affordable housing afterward to limit your costs. In fact, it may be a good idea to dorm during your first year of studies. That way, you’ll have an opportunity to make friends early on — friends who may be willing to explore lower-cost housing options with you down the line.

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