On-campus vs. off-campus housing: Making the decision about where to live

Elizabeth Winter
October 11, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If deciding on which side of College Avenue to live is something you’ve been thinking about, the annual Housing Fair gives students the need-to-know basics of living on or off campus. The fair will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21, in Alumni Hall, located in the HUB-Robeson Center at University Park. 

Students, parents and families also are welcome to attend housing information sessions to learn more about the process for on- and off-campus housing options on Saturday, Oct. 20, or Sunday, Oct. 21.

Living on campus: Benefits and options

Penn State Housing wants students to know that the housing lottery process has evolved over the years and that its main concern is always the student.

Jennifer Garvin, director of ancillary services in Housing and Food Services, said there are five reasons students should consider staying on campus after their first year: convenience, safety, amenities, experiences and community/friends.

Penn State’s on-campus housing options are diverse and accommodating to students' needs and interests. On-campus housing offers Special Living Options to match almost any student’s preferences, including special interest and academic-focused housing, inclusive housing for those who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming, and living spaces for those recovering from addiction.

In addition, upper-class students have more housing options available than first-year students: double rooms in both traditional and renovated buildings, single rooms in traditional residence halls, single rooms in Eastview Terrace, two-person and four-person suites, supplemental housing, and on-campus apartments. 

Garvin said that students who live on campus are provided with a safe and supportive environment, and that Penn State housing works to make things centered around the student.

Living off campus can come with a lot of responsibility like worrying about bills or maintenance issues. Garvin said that living on campus takes away some of that stress by “knowing that you have professionals around to take care of things.”

A benefit of staying on campus is not having to worry about the leasing contract extending for 12 months, like many apartments or houses elsewhere. This allows students to go home for the summer or during breaks, and not have to worry about covering rent.

One myth about on-campus housing is the looming deadline of signing and choosing where to live before October ends.

Students can request on-campus housing Oct. 1 to 31 or Dec. 1 to Jan. 31, and an invitation will be sent out on Mondays and Thursdays in November and February to view the available housing options. Students are not committed to a space until they accept the Housing and Food Service (HFS) contract offer.

Something all students should keep in mind is that signing both an on-campus and off-campus housing contract is not the best option.

Garvin stresses that when signing an on-campus HFS contract, students are legally bound to pay the room and board charges, even if they change their minds and choose to live off campus.

To learn more about the on-campus housing process, students can visit Penn State’s housing website.

Living off campus: Benefits and options

While off-campus housing may start accepting and signing leases in October, there are still many options available well into the spring semester.

“The off-campus housing market can feel like a pressure cooker, especially in mid-fall,” said Kelly Mroz, director of Student Legal Services, who encourages students to stay calm and be thorough in their decision-making.

Leases and accompanying amenities vary by company and apartment building. Some rentals come with all utilities included with the exception of cable and internet, which allows students to choose what option best fits them. Living off campus also gives students the ability to cook meals at home, which could save time and money.

Students looking to live off campus have the convenience of everything downtown and the community has to offer. Off-campus housing also provides students flexibility in their daily routines, the possibility of more privacy, and the option to stay in their apartment during the holiday and summer breaks if needed for jobs or internships.

When choosing to live off campus, students have the option to live as close or far from downtown as they want. If a job or internship is located closer to the outskirts of town, housing complexes are available and are often less expensive than downtown options. Many leases include a bus pass for transportation, and these apartments sometimes include amenities like a swimming pool, community building or sand-volleyball court.

Off-campus housing is vastly changing with luxury high-rises popping up around town. Housing like this often provides in-apartment laundry units, gyms located within the building, and even coffee stations for those busy mornings.

A variety of Penn State offices offer support to students who choose to live off-campus:

  • Off-Campus Student Support can help students navigate their rights as a tenant or provide guidance in becoming involved in the State College community. They also host a CAPS Chat counselor to help students with things like roommate issues, stress or anxiety.
  • Student Legal Services provides free lease reviews for students who want to compare their options and understand the contract they are signing.
  • For those students worried about budgeting their money while living off campus, the Sokolov-Miller Family and Life Skills Center offers consultations on financial skills.
  • For students navigating the opportunity to prepare their own food, Penn State Health Promotion and Wellness offers services to students by providing individual nutrition counseling.

For more information and tips on deciding what type of housing is right for you, visit the Student Affairs' Living On & Off Campus webpage

Last Updated October 11, 2018