Massachusetts Daily Collegian

You should probably move off campus

By Ian Hagerty

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Have you ever thought about living off-campus instead of in the dorms? I think it’s a great idea. If you find the right situation for yourself off of the University of Massachusetts campus, you can usually pay less for housing, have a more relaxing life style with more options and have more freedom.

The least expensive housing option that is available at UMass, which you can find listed on the UMass Amherst Residential Life website, is about $2,600 per semester and if you so choose, you can pay up to about $5,400. We can do a bit of simple math and come to realize that at $2,600 a semester, a student would be paying about $650 a month. To put this into perspective, I rented a cottage in downtown Amherst for $650 a month last year. That’s the same price for an entire cottage, compared to a shared dorm room. That was also a situation in which I was living on my own, which is one of the least desirable financial situations a student could ask for when living off-campus.

Of course I did have to pay for heat, electricity and internet to bring my home up to the same standard of living as a dorm. This cost me, on average, an extra $150 a month.

However, my home also had its own kitchen. This means that I was able to cook my own meals. This may not seem like a very big deal, but from a financial perspective, a kitchen can be very helpful. If you know how to shop with a keen eye and how to prepare food in the right ways, you can cook and eat happily for far less than it costs to pay for a meal plan at the dining halls. I can make a pot of chili with rice on the side for less than $30 and have it last me at least seven or eight meals. That’s about four dollars a meal, which is definitely cheaper than eating at the dining hall.

Now, considering rent and utilities versus a standard dorm fee as well as considering the cost of a meal plan compared to the cost of cooking your own food, you may still break even between the two options if you decided to live on your own off-campus. Simply finding a roommate can guarantee you will live for less. This year, I managed to rent a house with two other friends, and we each pay between $400 and $450 a month, which comes to about $600 total per month with utilities each. In this house, we also have an entire living room, a huge kitchen and our own private back yard. All of this and we are less than a mile away from campus. I’m not saying that there are thousands of houses just like this one, but it was not difficult at all for us to find. We even waited until the week before school started.  I know of at least a dozen other people that are in very similar situations themselves.

If the copious amounts of money one can save by living off-campus isn’t enough motivation for you, consider your quality of living. When you live in a dorm, you have to follow a distinct set of rules set by the school. You have to be quiet at certain hours, you have to sign friends in to have them over and you can’t even have a friendly gathering without worrying about getting written up. We aren’t angels. If there are rules many of us will break them and probably get in trouble at one point or another. Even studying can present a challenge because of the unstoppable noise of hundreds of people living within close proximity of you.

Of course, UMass requires that all freshmen spend their school year in on-campus housing. I think that this is an odd and somewhat pointless rule, but there can definitely be some benefits to staying on-campus your first year. If you come from living at home for your entire life, living amongst your peers, especially random ones can be an enchanting, enlightening and educational experience. Everyone should live with his or her fair share of strangers to get a feel for the world. There is no doubt this can be helpful.

So, if you are a freshman, enjoy your year on campus and make some good friends. After all, they are potential roommates. If you aren’t a freshman, go save some money, gain some freedom and make noise as late as you want. Why pay more for less?

Ian Hagerty is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]


5 Responses to “You should probably move off campus”

  1. Suyash Tibrawalla on September 26th, 2014 8:31 am

    Living off-campus is amazing. I drink much more on the weekends, care less about school work and make so much more noise.

  2. Katie on September 28th, 2014 10:09 pm

    I’m only one person, but I’m a UMass alum and moving off campus was the worst decision I ever made as a UMass student. If I could do it over again, there’s no way in hell that I would move off campus.

    It looks cheaper on paper, but wait until you have to deal with the lazy, shiftless roommates (those people you think are your friends) who pay rent late or don’t pay it at all. Wait until your security deposit doesn’t cover the damage they create in the apartment. See how you like the heating bill in a cold Amherst winter. See how little it resembles what the landlord told you it would be. See how fun it is to get your roommates to cough up the money for utilities.

    Then there’s all the time you’ll spend dealing with and waiting for your landlord to take care of basic things like your toilet or your sink, or for your roommates to clean the kitchen so that you might be able to make yourself something to eat. Then there’s all the time you’ll need to shop for groceries and to cook, or to clean the apartment (God knows my roommates didn’t clean).

    If you’re female, assume that your male roommates will think you’re the maid. You’ll either waste time cleaning up after them or fighting with them about why they haven’t cleaned. Either way, you’ll lose valuable time.

    Let’s not forget how long the bus can take to get you to campus even if you live in Amherst. Then there’s the bus ride you’ll need to get to the grocery store and back (and the waiting at the bus stop) unless you’re willing to shell out lots of money for a car. Any money you might save living off campus will go straight into that gas tank and insurance bill.

    I don’t know what you do, but studying took a lot of my time and I tried to maintain a social life too. Dealing with apartment and roommate nonsense sucked up a lot of that time. I spent an entire month in December–not a good time for this–trying to find new roommates after one roommate’s checks bounced and I explained to the other roommate that the money she gave to the check bouncer for rent wound up in his bounced checks, so she hadn’t paid any rent either. Thankfully a lawyer gave me a break on the consultation that I required to figure out how to get those two moochers out of my living space without getting sued. But that was still money.

    And stress. I cannot even begin to describe the stress, because I wasn’t one of those people who relied on her parents for endless funds.

    It’s also not like you’re going to get a nice apartment in the Amherst area. Someday you’ll look back on that hole and wonder how you could ever have thought that you were a grown up when you signed that lease. No real adult would live there. I cannot recall a single off-campus apartment in the Amherst, Northampton, Sunderland area that wasn’t a fire trap or a hole.

    College is a short four years (okay, at UMass maybe it’s a short five years). You have your whole life to deal with the crap that comes with being a renter or a property owner or simply a bill payer. Why run to that? Live simply. Don’t waste your time or your money, or lose you money. Take the convenience of a dorm room and the prepared meals in the dining hall and devote yourself to getting better grades. An apartment isn’t really less expensive, and if you find that the dorm room is more money think of it as the small price you pay for convenience and peace of mind. If something goes wrong in the dorm, you can pester housing to get you a different room or roommate. If something goes wrong off campus, it will take over your life and your bank account.

    Worse, it might take up over your parents’ life and their bank account. See how they like that and how ashamed you feel when it comes to that.

    Still think it’s cheaper?

  3. Mike on September 29th, 2014 12:47 am

    The above commenter seems to have issues with selecting people to live with as well as basic math.

    There is no one size fits all solution but if I hadn’t have moved off campus I would not have stayed at school. It never felt like I could eacape or go home by going to my dorm room.

    For the same price as a cinder block cell you can find a nicer place off campus. There are plenty of clean townhouses around and if you aren’t a slob they can be much more comfy than a dorm. You get to go to school, and then go HOME, not live at school. We spent two years living in a farmhouse that after a day of cleaning was nice and comfortable. 20 minutes from campus we found a 2 bedroom house with garage for under 1200 a month where we now live.

    Roomates can be an issue anywhere. Choose them wisely. 36K a year for four people to share an on campus apartment is INSANE. You and 3 friends could BUY a house 20 minutes from campus for that over your 4 year stay.

    As far as food goes… Umass dining is the only bigger ripoff than housing. It works out to more than going out to eat some places for every meal. Groceries aren’t cheap but they dont cost two people 4-6K a semester either.

    If campus life is for you than by all means dont leave. If you are a mature, responsible human being who would like to save money, living off campus can be a much more relaxing and affordable experience.


  4. Katie on September 29th, 2014 9:37 am

    As I said, I am just one person. There was no need to put me down or to question my math skills. I know what my bills were and you don’t. I know what it was like and you don’t. Just because things have worked out for you doesn’t mean that everyone will have your experience. There’s room for both of us. I knew people at UMass with your experience, but I also knew others who had mine.

    My point is just that things can go wrong and what goes wrong gets expensive and time consuming. There are no sure bets. And, there’s something to be said for not increasing your time commitments and responsibilities, as well as your number of bills and the risk that comes with roommates, when your primary responsibility is to study. There’s no need to have a “home” when all you have to do in an academic year is get through two fifteen-week semesters. Comfort may be important to you, and it was to me too when I moved off campus. In retrospect, however, I should have made peace of mind and time my chief priorities.

    Since college I’ve had some great roommates and a large, beautiful apartment with an ocean view (parking and utilities included…not in Massachusetts) for $1200/month. Last year I gave up that rental to buy a house. But I’m an adult with a 9-5 job and income to cover unexpected expenses and the time to deal with them. I loved my UMass friends, but very few of them resembled adults. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to pay for the youthful mistakes of their supposed friends.

    I will not apologize for offering a perspective that might help someone re-think living off campus or help them to make the decision to move off campus with more knowledge than a simple calculation of rent will give them.

  5. Mike on September 30th, 2014 11:50 pm

    I will concede that if one is not ready to be an adult they should take the lumps of living on campus… I just didn’t find living off campus to be remotely difficult. No it wasn’t as spelled out but it took me virtually no additional time and was much better for my mental health. Nobody I know who moved off campus regretted it. The people who stayed on campus did not cover their own bills and often weren’t very mature. The meal plan is theft plain and simple. YCMP is even worse… your money is only good in 8.50 increments and they keep the change… what the heck?

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