Living in residence or renting an apartment: what’s better?

You got accepted into college/university. Great! And congratulations! You picked your major. Cool! That is definitely a big step, but there are still so many decisions you need to make. For example, where you’re going to live while in college. There are usually two main options for college students: residence or apartment. Before deciding which one is best for you, you should consider all the pros and cons that come with living in residence or renting an apartment.

residence or apartment

When I was attending university in Italy, this wasn’t an issue. On-campus residences are probably non-existent in Italy. Student residences do exist in big cities, but they are usually way overpriced and space is very limited. I lived a 30-40 minutes drive from my university, less than an hour by public transportation, so it didn’t really make sense to move out of my parents’ house.

When I first moved to Toronto, I lived in a residence for a while. That wasn’t my college official residence, but it was actually closer to the school and in a much better location (literally downtown Toronto). Living in a residence was never on my bucket list. Because I was looking for a place to rent in Toronto while still in Italy, the residence was the easiest option. I thought it was going to be terrible, but it turned out it wasn’t such a bad experience.

Living in residence: pros

  • Easier to rent from abroad. Finding a nice place in a big city can be extremely difficult even when you’re living there. Finding a place while on another continent is probably impossible, unless you already have connections. For international or out-of-state students, it might be easier to apply for a room in residence at least for the first semester.
  • Location. Residences are usually close to the school. This will allow you to save on commuting time and money. I love that my school was a 15-minutes walk away and I miss those relaxing morning walks so much. I also miss not having to pay around 120$ a month for public transport.
  • Make friends. Residences are filled with other students, which means you’ll have more opportunities to make friends even outside of your major/program. This was my favourite part of living in a residence. I moved to Toronto alone and making friends as a young adult isn’t the easiest thing. If you’re living in a residence, it is impossible not to socialize as there were a lot of activities and events planned.
  • Utilities included + furnished rooms. By living in a residence, you won’t have to worry about paying different bills on time. Internet and utilities/hydro are already included in your instalment. You won’t even need to go shopping for furniture. Most dorm rooms come with a bed, desk, and some sort of storage space.

Living in residence: cons

  • Limited space. Bedrooms are very tiny and there isn’t much storage room. If you’re considering living in a residence, don’t overpack.
  • Little to no privacy. I was lucky enough to be able to afford a private bedroom with a living room space and en-suite bathroom shared with just one other person. Still, I could hear everything that was happening in my roommate’s bedroom or in the room next door or in the hallway or upstairs. Also, there are a lot of dorms that don’t even offer single bedrooms and where there are just communal bathrooms, so you have to be prepared to always share your space.
  • Lack of security. I’ve heard so many horror stories about the risks of living in a residence. This might depend on the people that are living there, who you allow in your room, and how mindful you are of your belongings and surroundings. Of course, the same goes for apartment living. But I believe that because there are so many careless students living in residence, it is less safe than an apartment. Luckily, the worst I’ve experienced was people stealing food from the communal fridge.
  • Constant socialization. Although living in a residence allowed me to meet some good friends, it also meant constant and forced socialization. For example, every single time I was getting back from classes or work, there were people in the lounge stopping for some small talks. That was something I didn’t particularly enjoy, especially when I just wanted to get to my room and go to sleep.
  • Annoying roommates. Sure, you might have to complete a personality questionnaire and they will say that they’ll match you with someone with a similar lifestyle, but I think that never actually happens. Not only my roommate and I had completely different expectations about cleanliness but I also said I was a morning person and enjoyed some quiet time at night and I got a roommate that was staying up till 3am every single day.
  • Location. The fact that the residence is close to the school might be a good thing. But, if the school is outside of a big city, the location will be pretty boring and you won’t have anything fun to do during your free time.
  • Meal plan. Some residences might require you to purchase a meal plan. The food will be overpriced, not as good as if you were cooking it, pretty boring and repetitive. Also, because you’re already paying for food, you’ll feel bad every time you buy extra snacks or when you eat out.
  • More expensive. This might not be true for every place, but here I am saving quite some money since I moved into my apartment.

Right now I am living in an apartment that I am sharing with another girl. Personally, I love it. I like my roommate, I love my cozy very white bedroom, and I adore my new neighbourhood. Apartment living matches my personality so much better than living in residence. Although it comes with a lot of pros, there are still some cons to consider.

Renting an apartment: pros

  • Freedom. When renting an apartment, there will be a few rules listed in your lease agreement. Usually, it’s just about smoking and pets. Compared to all the rules you must follow while living in residence, that’s nothing.
  • Independence. Sure, you’ll now have to remember to pay all of your bills on time. You’ll have to cook all of your meals and you’ll also notice that groceries won’t last as long as you thought. But that is exactly what adulting is about. Renting an apartment will give you so much more independence than living in residence.
  • So much more space. Honestly, while I was apartment hunting, even the smallest room I saw was bigger than the one I had at the residence. When living in an apartment, you’ll be more likely to have enough space for all your clothes and belonging. Your apartment might also come with an extra storage locker in the basement for things you don’t need often.
  • More options. When moving out of the residence, you could opt for an apartment, or a townhouse, or a house. You get to decide how many bedrooms and roommates you want. Also, you can pick the neighbourhood you want to move to.
  • Better and more reliable roommates. When renting an apartment, you can decide if you want to move in with friends or if you want to find a random roommate. Even with the random roommate, you will probably meet a couple of times before making a decision. If they are already living in the place you want to rent, you’ll be able to see how clean and organized they keep the apartment when you view it.
  • Feels like home. When moving into an apartment, you’ll probably have to buy some furniture and you’ll be able to get all the decorations (and candles!) that you like.

Renting an apartment: cons

  • Isolation. When renting an apartment, you won’t be surrounded by students anymore. Even if you’re living in a neighbourhood full of students and young professionals, there will definitely be less of a community feeling.
  • Extra expenses. Based on the type and the location of your new apartment, you might now have some extra expenses. For example, transportation, utilities, building maintenance fees, furniture, gym membership.

Have you ever lived in a student residence or did you opt for a college apartment? How was your experience?

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