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How on- and off-campus rents compare in major college towns

Melody Hahm
·West Coast Correspondent
It’s cheaper to live off campus in 28 of 48 college towns in the U.S. But living on campus comes with a core perk — convenience.
It’s cheaper to live off campus in 28 of 48 college towns in the U.S. But living on campus comes with a core perk — convenience.

College campuses are buzzing as students return to school. But with the excitement of a new school year come daunting tuition fees and housing costs.

In a new report, Trulia looked at college towns across the U.S. to determine whether it’s cheaper to live on campus or move off campus with a roommate.

The real estate site narrowed the list down to 48 towns — those that have at least 45,000 people and where at least 20% of the population is enrolled in college or graduate school. It’s either the same price or cheaper to live off campus in 28 locations. The average savings comes out to $219 per month.

Meals are part of the on-campus package in eight of the 28 college towns, which of course adds to students’ expenses. After removing those schools from consideration, the average monthly savings of living off campus drops to $146. It’s cheaper to go for on-campus housing than split an off-campus situation with a roommate in 20 college towns. None include a meal plan.

In addition to the convenience factor, you’re not responsible for utilities fees or paying rent between semesters if you live on campus. Trulia condensed a full year’s worth of rent for off-campus housing into nine months to make the two options comparable.

Initially, Felipe Chacon, housing economist at Trulia and author of the report, expected on-campus housing to be the bargain across the board, but was surprised to see that the premium of living on campus wasn’t as high as anticipated.

“I thought on-campus housing was going to be considerably less expensive,” he said. “But it turns out it’s not that cut and dry. It appears to be a wash for many locations.”

The larger takeaway is that it’s likely cheaper to live on campus in a town that happens to be a hot housing market.

“There’s a correlation between how expensive a market is overall and the cost of off-campus housing. In those cities, it might make more financial sense to stay on campus because it gives you shelter from the broader market,” said Chacon.

Cities where it’s cheaper to live on-campus. Source: Trulia
Cities where it’s cheaper to live on-campus. Source: Trulia

UC Berkeley students have to pay the most expensive rents both on- and off- campus. Living on campus costs an estimated $1,861 per month, which is still $402 cheaper than living with a roommate in the city. To find a rate comparable to on-campus pricing, students would have to look south to Oakland or north to El Cerrito, according to Chacon. That doesn’t take the cost of transportation or parking into account.

Among the top 10 most populous college towns, living on campus is more economical in Berkeley and Provo, Utah, home to Brigham Young University. University of Wisconsin, Madison students pay about the same price for housing whether it’s on- or off- campus.

It’s cheaper to live with a roommate off campus in seven towns.

  • Tempe, Arizona, (Arizona State University)

  • Fort Collins, Colorado, (Colorado State University)

  • College Station, Texas, (Texas A&M University)

  • Gainesville, Florida, (University of Florida)

  • Tallahassee, Florida, (Florida State University)

  • Bloomington, Indiana, (University of Indiana)

  • Ann Arbor, Michigan, (University of Michigan)

Of course, several institutions require first-years to live on campus. According to The Washington Post, 87 higher education institutions require first-years to live on campus. The vast majority of the 87 are private colleges where tuition tends to skew higher.

While housing costs may not be top of mind for many students, thinking seriously about the more economical choice can help reduce the already exorbitant cost of college.

Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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