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Loan And Finance

Where Students Save by Living On (or Off) Campus

Tuition is a major cost for college students, but it’s not the only expense they have to cover with student loans and other types of funding. Housing can also come with a high price tag, especially for students attending schools in large — and expensive — cities.

According to the College Board, the annual cost of room and board at four-year public colleges averages $11,950 in 2021-2022. At four-year private colleges, the annual price jumps to $13,620, on average.

But the latest Student Loan Hero study finds that moving off campus in the largest U.S. cities with at least two four-year colleges won’t necessarily lower the price. In fact, researchers found that the annual cost difference between attending college while living on or off campus is virtually nonexistent in these cities.

Key findings

  • Across the 100 largest U.S. cities with at least two four-year colleges, there’s virtually no difference between the annual cost of attending college while living on campus or off campus. The average difference across the 100 cities is $335.
  • If you’re looking to save money by living off campus, Cambridge, Mass., is your top option. Across the three Cambridge colleges with available data — including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — it’s $5,982 cheaper on average to live off campus than it is to live on campus.
  • On the other hand, If you’re looking to save money by living on campus, consider Charleston, S.C. Across the three colleges included from Charleston, it’s $5,380 cheaper, on average, to live on campus than it is to live off campus.
  • Across seven large U.S. cities, there’s no difference in the annual cost of attending college while living on or off campus. These cities are spread across the U.S. — from Tacoma, Wash., to Lubbock, Texas, to Dayton, Ohio.

Where it’s cheaper to live off campus

After crunching the figures for the 100 largest U.S. cities home to at least two four-year colleges, researchers found 40 cities where living off campus costs less than opting for on-campus room and board.

Cambridge, Mass. — home to prestigious colleges including MIT — rises to the top, with students saving an average of $5,982 by living off campus rather than on campus. (Harvard University is also in Cambridge, but off-campus living costs weren’t available to include it among the schools analyzed in the study.) That said, Cambridge is still a relatively expensive place to live. PayScale says the city’s cost of living is 74% higher than the national average.

Next up on the Student Loan Hero list is another Massachusetts town, Springfield. Students could save an average of $4,315 by opting for off-campus housing and see their average total price drop from $56,541 to $52,226. (Western New England University is among the three colleges examined in Springfield.)

Students who go to school in Tampa, Fla., Fairfield, Conn., or Syracuse, N.Y., could also see their annual bills drop by $3,110, $3,058 and $2,837, respectively, if they live off campus. This table shows the full list of the largest U.S. cities where the average cost of living off campus is less than the cost of living on campus:

Largest college towns where students save annually by living off campus
Rank City Average total price with on-campus housing Average total price with off-campus housing Difference
1 Cambridge, MA $65,794 $59,812 $5,982
2 Springfield, MA $56,541 $52,226 $4,315
3 Tampa, FL $35,953 $32,843 $3,110
4 Fairfield, CT $67,254 $64,196 $3,058
5 Syracuse, NY $52,931 $50,094 $2,837
6 San Jose, CA $35,848 $33,612 $2,236
7 Jackson, MS $40,403 $38,225 $2,178
8 New Haven, CT $43,431 $41,452 $1,979
9 Providence, RI $56,826 $54,936 $1,891
10 Worcester, MA $58,230 $56,368 $1,862
11 Columbia, MO $35,199 $33,487 $1,711
12 Jersey City, NJ $46,370 $44,746 $1,624
13 Charlotte, NC $40,964 $39,394 $1,570
14 Pittsburgh, PA $52,715 $51,154 $1,561
15 Buffalo, NY $37,877 $36,343 $1,535
16 Savannah, GA $37,966 $36,679 $1,287
17 Lancaster, PA $53,113 $51,930 $1,183
18 Denver, CO $53,022 $51,870 $1,152
19 Cleveland, OH $52,892 $51,749 $1,143
20 Grand Rapids, MI $41,797 $40,701 $1,096
21 Dallas, TX $40,920 $39,865 $1,056
22 Shreveport, LA $39,657 $38,604 $1,054
23 Philadelphia, PA $57,345 $56,307 $1,038
24 Austin, TX $42,692 $41,793 $899
25 Spokane, WA $63,846 $63,018 $828
26 Birmingham, AL $38,258 $37,460 $798
27 Fort Wayne, IN $37,166 $36,399 $767
28 Abilene, TX $47,552 $46,809 $743
29 Boston, MA $56,544 $55,972 $572
30 Jackson, TN $39,850 $39,295 $555
31 Columbia, SC $30,725 $30,260 $465
32 Fort Worth, TX $46,883 $46,431 $452
33 Madison, WI $37,135 $36,772 $364
34 Chicago, IL $43,760 $43,433 $327
35 Raleigh, NC $37,833 $37,515 $318
36 Cedar Rapids, IA $55,991 $55,825 $166
37 San Francisco, CA $58,687 $58,536 $152
38 Denton, TX $23,736 $23,601 $136
39 Tallahassee, FL $23,260 $23,134 $126
40 Oklahoma City, OK $38,471 $38,370 $101
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data. Notes: Only cities with at least two four-year colleges with available data were included. The differences are rounded, though complete numbers were used in calculations.

Where it’s cheaper to live on campus

In 53 of the 100 cities researchers analyzed, it costs less on average to opt for on-campus than off-campus housing. In Charleston, S.C, for example, it’s $5,380 cheaper on average to live on campus than it is to live off campus at the three schools (including the College of Charleston) examined. Students who head off campus can expect an annual cost of attendance of $40,217, while students who live in the dorms will have an average price tag of $34,838.

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College students in Little Rock, Ark., might also see significant savings if they live in the dorms. Researchers found that opting for on-campus housing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock or Philander Smith College reduced their average annual cost by $4,616, from $30,117 to $25,501.

The other cities where students tend to spend less to live on campus are Bakersfield, Calif., (savings of $4,587), Orlando, Fla. (savings of $3,713), and Fresno, Calif. (savings of $3,681). This table shows the full results:

Largest college towns where students save annually by living on campus
Rank City Average total price with on-campus housing Average total price with off-campus housing Difference
1 Charleston, SC $34,838 $40,217 $5,380
2 Little Rock, AR $25,501 $30,117 $4,616
3 Bakersfield, CA $33,416 $38,003 $4,587
4 Orlando, FL $30,780 $34,493 $3,713
5 Fresno, CA $30,350 $34,031 $3,681
6 Fullerton, CA $39,114 $42,656 $3,542
7 Newark, NJ $35,965 $39,237 $3,272
8 Riverside, CA $44,752 $47,857 $3,105
9 Kansas City, MO $35,777 $38,824 $3,048
10 Oakland, CA $53,822 $56,824 $3,003
11 Miami, FL $36,189 $39,103 $2,914
12 Sioux Falls, SD $41,915 $44,212 $2,297
13 Irvine, CA $40,269 $42,523 $2,254
14 San Diego, CA $51,829 $53,981 $2,152
15 Rochester, NY $46,886 $48,970 $2,084
16 Tulsa, OK $54,507 $56,573 $2,066
17 Memphis, TN $33,712 $35,762 $2,050
18 Winston-Salem, NC $41,794 $43,808 $2,014
19 Peoria, IL $45,769 $47,744 $1,975
20 Virginia Beach, VA $40,835 $42,708 $1,873
21 Arlington, TX $27,857 $29,710 $1,853
22 Detroit, MI $42,804 $44,599 $1,795
23 Baton Rouge, LA $28,720 $30,465 $1,746
24 Houston, TX $40,340 $41,970 $1,630
25 Omaha, NE $34,665 $36,282 $1,617
26 Los Angeles, CA $50,571 $52,166 $1,596
27 Knoxville, TN $31,180 $32,729 $1,549
28 Montgomery, AL $30,172 $31,653 $1,481
29 Mobile, AL $41,385 $42,854 $1,469
30 Lincoln, NE $38,587 $40,052 $1,465
31 New Orleans, LA $38,870 $40,331 $1,461
32 Baltimore, MD $44,948 $46,265 $1,317
33 Minneapolis, MN $38,502 $39,657 $1,155
34 Jacksonville, FL $32,683 $33,670 $987
35 Evansville, IN $38,748 $39,716 $968
36 Cincinnati, OH $39,529 $40,244 $715
37 Salt Lake City, UT $39,098 $39,772 $675
38 New York, NY $56,731 $57,352 $621
39 Allentown, PA $63,025 $63,603 $578
40 Greensboro, NC $32,312 $32,849 $538
41 Tempe, AZ $29,078 $29,556 $478
42 Atlanta, GA $47,822 $48,263 $441
43 Washington, DC $58,704 $59,109 $406
44 Berkeley, CA $36,789 $37,183 $394
45 Des Moines, IA $51,888 $52,258 $370
46 San Antonio, TX $35,170 $35,434 $265
47 Columbus, OH $41,536 $41,711 $174
48 Milwaukee, WI $48,123 $48,231 $108
49 Wichita, KS $38,825 $38,931 $106
50 Colorado Springs, CO $52,020 $52,100 $80
51 Eugene, OR $34,327 $34,381 $54
52 Pasadena, CA $58,897 $58,940 $43
53 Salem, OR $58,600 $58,601 $2
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data. Notes: Only cities with at least two four-year colleges with available data were included. The differences are rounded, though complete numbers were used in calculations.

Where it costs the same to live on campus as off campus

In seven of the 100 cities, researchers found no difference in the annual cost between living on or off campus. Whether you opt for a dorm or off-campus apartment in one of these cities, you might not see your cost of attendance change very much.

These cities are across the U.S., from Washington to Texas to Alabama. This table has all the details:

Largest college towns where students pay the same annually on and off campus
City Average total price with on-campus or off-campus housing Difference
Seattle, WA $52,992 $0
Lubbock, TX $33,447 $0
Norfolk, VA $27,399 $0
Tacoma, WA $53,293 $0
Huntsville, AL $32,815 $0
Dayton, OH $44,366 $0
Ann Arbor, MI $39,162 $0
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data. Notes: Only cities with at least two four-year colleges with available data were included. The differences are rounded, though complete numbers were used in calculations.

On campus vs. off campus: Other considerations

If you’re deciding between living on campus and off campus, there might be some other factors to consider besides the cost. According to Student Loan Hero senior writer Andrew Pentis, there are often benefits to living on campus that could make a higher price tag worth it.

“If you live on campus, you could more easily take advantage of on-campus college resources, which are often free, or at least included in your tuition and fees,” Pentis says. “Living in a dorm could also help you make friends and network more easily than if you lived in an apartment or house miles off campus and only commuted in for class.”

What’s more, Pentis points out that you won’t have to worry about utility costs in a dorm, while you may need to pay monthly bills for electricity, gas or Wi-Fi if you opt for an apartment.

On the other hand, living in an apartment could be a smart option for students who want to stay in the area year-round.

“Living off campus could actually be cheaper overall, taking into account a 12-month lease as compared to a perhaps nine-month stint in the dorms,” Pentis says. “You can spend less on off-campus housing by seeking out student co-ops and utilizing school resources to find roommates and low-cost options.”

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Estimate your full cost of attendance

The cost of college can vary widely depending on the school and location you choose. When comparing your options, make sure to take your school’s full cost of attendance into account.

“Students should absolutely keep in mind that tuition is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to paying for college,” Pentis says. “Dorm or apartment rent, meal plans or groceries, technology and supplies, plus transportation — these are some of the bigger line items that often get overlooked.”

And while it might be tempting to think that an off-campus apartment would be less expensive than a dorm, the data shows that that’s not always the case.

In fact, there were many cities on this list where opting for on-campus housing saved students money on average — perhaps due to the rising costs of rent across the country. Besides comparing the costs of on-campus and off-campus housing, it could also be worth looking at the location’s overall cost of living.

“You might need to figure the cost of living in the various cities where you’re considering going to college, then add those estimates to the more objective dollar figures that each school provides,” Pentis says. “Then you’ll have a better grasp of what each school on your college list truly costs.”

Going to school in an expensive city, for example, could end up costing you a lot more in living expenses than choosing a school in a smaller, less expensive locale. While other factors go into selecting a college than price, it’s also important to consider costs so you don’t end up over-stretching your finances or taking on more student loan debt than you can afford.

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