When my students build their college list, we start with criteria that is important to them in their college experience. One criterion is on-campus versus off-campus living: do students want a four-year residential college experience, or do they want to live off campus after their first or second year? Do they ever want to live on campus at all?
While this decision is unique to each student, data from Penn State suggests that living on campus makes an academic difference. Their research shows that students in on-campus housing have “an average GPA that is anywhere from .19 to .97 points higher than their [off-campus] counterparts.” In addition, students living off campus “are nearly twice as likely to get a GPA below 1.0 as those living on campus.” Certainly, there may be other factors relevant to determining students’ academic success but living on campus at a minimum correlates with academic achievement.
Interestingly, this was true during the pandemic as well. Inside Higher Ed reports on a survey from American Campus Communities which showed that students who lived on campus during the pandemic were more academically successful than their counterparts who remained at home, even if their classes were remote. Students who lived on campus had “some semblance” of a college experience, notwithstanding social distancing and other safety precautions, and 85% of those students reported feeling academically successful. By contrast, 58% of students who lived at home found “keeping up academically” a challenge.
According to the Oregon Institute of Technology students who live on campus tend to:
- Complete more credit hours and have higher grade point averages
- Become more involved with the campus community
- Complete their degree at their initial institution
- Show greater gains in student development and interpersonal self-esteem
- Express greater satisfaction with their undergraduate experience
- Persist and graduate with greater frequency
- Enjoy easy access to campus resources (library, labs, athletic facilities, support services)
When students live on campus, especially during their first two years, it is easier for them to make friends. They have a cohort of peers who are going through the same experience at the same time, which can help ease the transition from high school to college living and learning. Students who live on campus also tend to get more involved in clubs and activities and building this sort of community is critical to student satisfaction with their college experience. And most campus residence halls have full-time staff – including professional staff and students – who are available to help students with their academic, social, and emotional needs. This built-in support can be invaluable for students, whether it’s for small things like where to go if they’ve lost their keys (which is to be avoided if possible because replacement keys are notoriously expensive!) or larger things like where to get academic tutoring or mental health appointments.
Living on campus is also convenient! Students do not have to worry about commuting to campus or parking cars. Whether this means extra time to sleep or fit in breakfast (arguably the most important meal of the day), college students are busy, so saving even 15 minutes a day matters. Students in on campus housing are also usually part of a meal plan – not having to shop for food and cook also saves times, and the dining hall is an ideal place to make friends and connect with the campus community.
The decision to live on campus, and for how many years, is ultimately a student’s choice, but they need to think about what they want out of their college experience and how campus living fits into that experience. As with almost everything in college admissions, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s all about finding the right fit.
Kate Sonnenberg is a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia University School of Law. Prior to launching KS College Success, she worked in the Princeton University Admissions Office, where she read and evaluated thousands of undergraduate applications. Kate also volunteered for nearly a decade with the Princeton Alumni Schools Committee and chaired the committee that interviewed students in northern New Jersey. She has taught writing at the undergraduate and graduate school level and is certified in the Wow Method, the leader in college essay coach training.