Do I have to live on campus my first year of college?

Learn About Residency Requirements for Colleges

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Ragsdale Residence Hall at UNCG. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Question: Do I have to live on campus my first year of college?

Answer: At many colleges and universities, you will need to live in the residence halls for your first year or two of college. A few schools even require campus residency for three years.

There are many good reasons why colleges require students to live on campus:

  • Students are most likely to stay at a college when they feel like they belong. This sense of belonging has a direct impact on a college's retention rate and graduation rate. When new students live off campus, they are less likely to get involved in campus clubs and activities, and they will have a harder time meeting their fellow students.
  • When a student lives on campus, the college has an easier time helping out should that student encounter trouble on the academic or social front. Resident Advisors (RAs) and Resident Directors (RDs) are trained to intervene and assist when students are struggling, and they can help direct students to the appropriate people and resources on campus.
  • A college education is about much more than taking classes and earning a degree. Residential life teaches many important life skills: resolving conflicts with a roommate, suitemates, and/or students on your hall; learning to live with people who may be quite different from you; building a living and learning community; and so on.
  • At most schools, campus residence halls are much closer to important facilities (library, gym, health center, etc.) than off-campus apartments.
  • Colleges have little ability to monitor illegal behavior off campus, but within the residence halls activities such as underage drinking and illegal drug use can be detected and responded to much more readily. 
  • When you are a new student, it can be a huge benefit to be living in the same building with upper-class students and/or RAs who know the campus and academic expectations well. You'll find many more mentors in a campus residence hall than in an off-campus apartment.

Along with the obvious benefits of living on campus, colleges have a few reasons for keeping students on campus that may be a bit less altruistic.

Specifically, colleges don't make all of their money from tuition dollars. For the great majority of schools, significant revenues also flow from room and board charges. If dorm rooms sit empty and not enough students are signed up for meal plans, the college will have a harder time balancing its budget. 

Keep in mind that very few colleges have residential policies that are set in stone, and exceptions are often made. If your family lives very close to the college, you can often get permission to live at home. Doing so obviously has significant cost benefits, but don't lose site of the bullet points above and what you might lose by choosing to commute. Also, some colleges with two- or three-year residency requirements allow strong students to petition to live off campus. If you've proven that you are mature enough, you may be able to move off campus sooner than many of your classmates.

Finally, every college has residency requirements that were developed for the unique situation of the school. You'll find that some urban schools as well as some universities that have been experiencing rapid expansion simply don't have enough dormitory space to handle all their students. Such schools often cannot guarantee housing and may be happy for you to live off campus.

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