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Student Housing – Should You Be On or Off Campus?

“What kind of student housing should I have?” This is a question that many students try to answer when they are first accepted to a new college or university. In this post we will break down the costs and quality of living between these two options for you. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the housing options for students at a local university in our town, California.

On Campus

This university offers a handful of options at when it comes to student housing. Residence halls, according to the university,  cost anywhere from $3,750 (1 bedrooms, 1 shared bath) to $4,448  (1 bedroom, 1 bath) per student per semester. The village, a student living community,  costs $3,375 (4 bedrooms, 2 shared baths) to $4,075 (2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 studies) per student per semester.

The cheapest option comes out to roughly $750 per month, while the most expensive option is $890 per month.

Meal Plans

The resident halls require students to purchase a meal plan. These cost anywhere from $1,337 to $1,825 per semester depending on the number of meals per week you desire. Factor these costs into your rent at the halls, and you are looking at a total of $4,386.00 to $6,271.00 per semester.

The village does not require meal plans, but if you desire to purchase one, it will bump your total to anywhere from $4,712 to $5,898 per semester.

Off Campus

Data from Zillow and other websites tells us the average cost of rental properties in California is $340 per month. The typical property is a house with 3 bedrooms, 1 shared bathroom, and a full kitchen. The average security deposit for students is $500 and is returned to you according to the terms of the lease. Almost all properties are within walking distance to campus.

Most off campus locations also offer a higher quality of life through the various freedoms one is granted by living on their own. For example, apartments in California typically allow pets with a security deposit. Likewise, you can host friends without worrying about people in your building complaining. Conversely, you can study for finals without being bothered by the noisy neighbor above your dorm!

Other Costs

Without purchasing a commuter meal plan, you are on your own when it comes to dining. The university cites that the average meal for 2016-2017 costs $5.5 per meal.

Walmart being a short drive away from California makes it easy to purchase your own groceries and cook your own meals for less than the university’s quoted price. According to the USDA Moderate-cost Food Plan, the average weekly food cost for 19-50 year old adults is $51.5 ($1,030 per semester). That makes your dining expense come out to $2.45 per meal.

The other big cost for renters is utilities. The average cost of utilities is $256 per month.

That puts total average off campus student housing cost at $596 per month including utilities.


On Campus Off Campus
Base Rent (1 bedroom, 1 shared bath) $3,750 $1,700
Meal Plan? Yes if Resident Halls (average $1,400) No
Utilities? No Yes (average $1,280 per semester)
Pets? No Usually with Fee
Independent Lifestyle Limited Total
Estimated Meal Cost $1,600

$5.5 per meal


$2.45 per meal

Estimated Total Cost $5,350 $4,510

Choose Off Campus Student Housing

Looking crudely at the numbers, off campus housing does cost less for the average college student. It provides more freedoms, a higher quality of life, more control over one’s lifestyle, and many more benefits. There is the added burden of responsibility in signing a lease and making payments, but that isn’t stressful or scary at all (at least not in our office).

That leaves us with this question: Why live in an old dorm room with strangers when you can live in a house with friends?

Please visit our listings and see which apartment best suits you during your years in California!

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