Worth the cost? The affordability of college living

Story by Evan Dunne / Assistant Lifestyles Editor 

In many cases, college is the first step toward living on one’s own. While new college students may not be entirely financially independent, the cost differences of living in a dorm, apartment or house are often deciding factors for whoever is paying the bills. So what is the cheapest living option, and what are the advantages and disadvantages? Students move into campus residence halls in late August and move out in May. They must also move out for winter break, and thus, the total time lived in a residence hall is approximately eight months. Therefore, the costs for each housing option listed below will represent a period of eight months to reflect a fair comparison. Below are some generalized costs and testimonials from students with varying living experiences to assist with finding the best college home for you.

Dormitories

MTSU provides many residence halls options for students. Costs can range anywhere from $2800 to $3200, depending on accommodations such as private rooms or apartment-style dorms. However, the average student lives in a standard, shared room and pays approximately $2800 each semester. Dorms include a public laundry room and shared bathrooms. Some of these residence halls also provide a kitchen area, computer labs and tutoring centers. Water, electricity and internet are provided, so taking frequent, hot showers and streaming Netflix 24/7 is practically inconsequential in terms of finance. Freshmen who choose to live in the dorms are required by the university to purchase a meal plan. The majority of freshmen pay between $1850 and $2000 for five-day and seven-day meal plans. These plans allow students to access the all-you-care-to-eat dining halls as many times as they choose, five or seven days a week. The plans also come with “flex bucks,” a form of currency to be used exclusively for food. However, students can also opt for more affordable plans, and the minimum requirement for freshmen is the $965 plan. This plan provides 100 dining hall meals, and is a solid cost estimate as it sits between the cheapest and most expensive meal plans. Students must also factor in an additional $100 or so to cover the costs of household supplies like cleaning solutions, paper towels, shampoo and body wash.

Freshman Keegan Helton lives in a campus residence hall and said, “For me, living in an apartment or house would be a better situation. The dorm is a lot stricter on rules, and I don’t plan on living in one for a second year. I think a house is probably the best option, because you have more personal space. However, I’d like to continue to have a seven-day meal plan. It’s a great deal.”

Apartments

Apartment complexes surround MTSU. These complexes can charge residents anywhere between $400 and $510 per month, depending on size and style. Four-hundred and fifty dollars is a fairly safe estimate, and this cost often includes electricity, water and internet. Students can be charged for overages, but even with these fees, the price tag won’t exceed that of a dormitory. Moreover, most students living in these apartments do not utilize a meal plan, and they must buy their own groceries and other household supplies. On average, students will spend an additional $200 on food, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and so on. This doesn’t include the costs of going out to eat or the costs of putting gas in one’s car to get to campus. Even so, all of these costs together are less than the price of simply living in a dorm without the addition of a meal plan. While irresponsible spending can increase these numbers, the same can occur in a dorm. Therefore, one can generally conclude that apartment living is cheaper than dorm living.

Junior Rahsaan Robinson has lived in a campus residence hall, and he currently lives at an off-campus apartment complex. “In a dorm, you’re paying for the benefits like computer labs and the close proximity to eateries. In an apartment, you have private space. You’re on your own a lot, and that can suck,” Robinson said. “In the dorms, you’re surrounded by people and you’re made aware of everything that’s going on. If I had the opportunity, I’d like to try living in a house. You have freedom to decorate and invite people over. You also don’t have to worry about parking.”

Houses

The costs of living in a house vary more. Houses can be home to many or just a few. Rent can fluctuate, and bills are their own separate entities. On average, most college students’ monthly house rent is approximately $325. This cost is noticeably cheaper than the cost per month of living in a dorm or an apartment. However, the addition of water, electricity and internet bills can increase the monthly cost by roughly $100. One-hundred and fifty dollars is a solid estimate based on the fluctuating cost of bills. Houses also require a bit more upkeep. If a light bulb burns out in an apartment, one would just call maintenance. If a light bulb burns out in a house, one would have to buy a replacement. House living also necessitates buying one’s own food and household supplies, adding another $200 or so each month. Despite maintenance costs, the price of living in a house tends to be cheaper than living in a dorm or apartment.

Junior Jacob Harrell has lived in a dorm, an apartment and a house.

“I don’t think it’s possible to financially qualify the experience of living in a dorm. From getting to know people on your floor, and RA checks to living twenty steps away from football tailgates and breaking the rules and getting away with it, it is an experience,” Harrel said. “Living in the dorm was a shallow step into adult life. You’re waist deep in the pool when you live in an apartment. Living in a house for the first time is like learning to tread in the deep end. I have four roommates, and splitting the bills five ways has made living generally cheaper. I felt like I stayed in my dorm and my apartment, but I feel like I live in my house. With each option, you get what you pay for though. “

Approximate costs of living for eight months, including utilities, food and household supplies:

Campus Residence Hall

– Rent + Utilities – $5600 ($2800 x 2)

– Food – $1930 ($965 x 2)

– Household Supplies – $100  

– Total – $7630

 

Off-Campus Apartment

– Rent + Utilities – $3600 ($450 x 8)

– Food + Household Supplies – $1600 ($200 x 8)

– Total – $5200

 

Off-Campus House

– Rent – $2600 ($325 x 8)

– Utilities – $800 ($100 x 8)

– Food + Household Supplies – $1600 ($200 x 8)

– Total – $5000

This story originally ran in MTSU Sidelines’ February 2017 print edition. Read the full edition here

For more information, contact Editor-in-Chief Sarah Grace Taylor at editor@mtsusidelines.com

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