College students are faced with many big choices when starting the semester. Things like choosing classes, joining clubs, or being involved in a sport can make a big impact on their overall college experience. Choosing whether or not to live on campus is a major factor in their college experience. 

The University of Saint Mary has 302 undergraduate students living on campus and 358 undergraduate students that commute. USM requires students to live on campus until they are a junior or 19 years old, or if they are 21 years old at the start of their first semester. There are exceptions like being married, being parents of dependent children, or living with a parent or guardian that is within a 30-mile radius of the campus. 

There are a lot of considerations that go into the decision of living in the residence halls, like which dorm to live in, what meal plan to use, and if they wish to have a roommate. There are two residence halls on campus; Maria Hall and Berkel Hall. Maria Hall rooms are double-occupancy with a bathroom between every two bedrooms. In Berkel Hall, students can either have one or three roommates and have a bathroom that is shared among two people. 

There are different meal plans available to students, but incoming freshmen are automatically given the 20-block meal plan. There are also 14, 7, and 5-block meal plans available for students after their first year. All in all, if a student is living in Berkel Hall and has a 20-block meal plan, they would be spending $9,240 a year for housing and food. Those living in Maria Hall and have a 20-block meal plan spend $8140 a year. 

On the contrary, students who live off campus must pay for rent, food, and utilities separately, instead of in one lump sum. Based on 17 students surveyed, the average cost per month for all expenses was $484. This includes rent, groceries, utilities, and fun money. For the whole school year, including winter break and not including the summer months, the average off campus student spends just under $5,000 a year. 

Yes, living off campus appears to be cheaper, but how does this decision affect the overall college experience? Danielle Dion, Vice President for Keleher Learning Commons and Student Development encourages students to live on campus because it gives them a better feeling of community.

“Success is statistically better if you live on campus. Students have a better sense of belonging, attend campus activities, and have an overall better academic success.” said Dion. 

Junior Josephina Guiterez is living off campus for the first time this year. “I definitely enjoy living off campus just because I feel like I have more freedom and personal space, but I do think that I was more social when I lived in the dorms,” she said. “I am glad I lived in the dorms the first two years and made the friends I did because living off campus takes away from the social aspect of your college experience.” 

Students who live in the dorms are surrounded by campus activities and sporting events that offer them a mental break from school. They are more likely to be engaged in the campus activities as well. When a new freshman comes in, they are likely to not know anyone and living in the dorms is an easy way to meet new people and see familiar faces around their new home. 

Overall, students that are exposed to residential life on campus is more likely to be engaged and have a successful college experience. Almost every student surveyed who lived in the dorms for a year or two before moving off campus agreed that dorm life was how they made friends and got accustomed to life at the University of Saint Mary. 

Kaila Trowbridge is a senior at the University of Saint Mary and is studying Digital Communications.