Is a Dorm or an Apartment Cheaper for Students?

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a commission if you make a purchase through our links, at no cost to you.

Spread the love


Choosing where to live for your first year of college can be challenging. It can seem overwhelming when looking at apartments and dorms and weighing the pros and cons, but it doesn’t have to be that crazy. While some colleges and universities require that freshmen live in dorms, others leave that choice up to you. Those students who have to choose are the ones that we’re focusing on in this article.

We’ll be talking you through the differences between dorms and apartments, as well as discussing some of the benefits of each. Ultimately, we’ll be attempting to answer the question of which one is really cheaper?

What is the Difference Between a Dorm and an Apartment?What is the Difference Between a Dorm and an Apartment?

There are so many differences between dorms and apartments that it can seem overwhelming to choose between them. In general, the significant differences come from the difference in space and the difference in people.

In terms of space, dorms are usually double rooms, although single rooms are becoming more common, all coming off of a shared hallway and using a shared common area and bathroom. Some dorms have suites, which provide students with almost their own living room, but nothing else. On the other hand, Apartments are more similar to many mini houses in one large building. Your apartment will have everything you need to live right there in your home, including bedrooms, bathrooms, living space, and a kitchen or kitchenette.

In terms of people, dorms don’t tend to give you much of a choice as to who you live with and no choice as to who you live near. Dorms are a mixed bag for sure. In an apartment, you and your housemates are choosing to live together. This can give you more freedom, but you have to be good at picking housemates, or you might be upset later.

Is It Cheaper to Stay in a Dorm or an Apartment?

Is It Cheaper to Stay in a Dorm or an Apartment?

Is a dorm or apartment cheaper? Well, it’s hard to say if a dorm or apartment is cheaper because there are so many differences to consider. We’ll be focusing here on the type of school, the location of the school, and the cost of amenities. This will help narrow down the comparison between apartments and dorms.

Type of School

Attend a public university or college. The cost of living in the dorms will likely be relatively cheap, especially when compared to the cost of living in dorms at a private university or college. The cost of renting an apartment near your school will not differ based on the type of school but much more based on the location of the school and the housing market near the school.

For example, the average cost of living in a dorm for a semester at a public school is around $8,000, while the average cost of living in a dorm at a private school is often over $10,000.

Location of School 

The location of the school you attend will play a massive role in determining the price of living at the school and near the school. In general, if you attend a school located in a city, such as New York or San Francisco, it will be cheaper to live in dorms because the housing prices in cities tend to be quite high.

The challenge with schools in cities is that many urban universities and colleges are commuter campuses, meaning that they don’t even offer dorm living. If this is the case, you will have to factor in the cost of living when you think about financing your college career.

If you attend a school in a rural area, it may be a toss-up between dorms and apartments when thinking about what is cheaper since the housing market is often limited, and landlords may hike the rent up. It is usually cheaper to live in an apartment in suburban schools because housing is much more readily available in these locations.

The Cost of Amenities 

Amenities mean everything from your wifi and utilities to the furniture in the room. Below, we’ll list some standard amenities to consider when moving to college and if that amenity is cheaper in a dorm or an apartment.

  • Wifi: dorm
  • Utilities: dorm
  • Furniture: dorm
  • Food: dorm
  • Laundry: either

Although this list makes it look like a dorm would be way cheaper, many of these amenities that you are expected to pay for separately from the rent in an apartment are simply included in the cost of room and board with a dorm. This makes it very hard to figure out which one is actually going to be the cheapest, but it is important to consider the number of extra costs that will be added once you sign a lease for an apartment.

What are the Benefits of Living in a Dorm vs. an Apartment?

What are the Benefits of Living in a Dorm vs. an Apartment?

Each person is unique, but there are some expected benefits of living in either a dorm or an apartment. You must make the right choice for yourself, so make sure you take this decision seriously.

Dorm Benefits

Proximity to class

Dorms are super nice because they are so close to class. This can make it really easy to make sure that you are on time for your classes, and it can even give you a chance to go back to your dorm if you forget something. It also means that you have a place to go back to if you need a break in the middle of the day.

Easy way to make friends

A dorm is a significant social environment, but since it is filled with new people and constant activity, it is a great place to make new friends. Since everyone in a dorm is in the same boat, everyone will likely be super friendly and excited to meet new people. There are very few times in life when you will have this many potential friends so close.

Built-in support to make the transition easy

Having a built-in support system can be really nice during the challenging transition to college living. Dorms have dorm leaders, commonly called RA’s or residential assistants, whose job is to help you work through any problems that might come up. They could help you find your classes or work through a roommate problem.

Apartment Benefits

More privacy

Since fewer people live in one space, apartments offer a greater sense of privacy than dorms. They allow you to have your own space to go home and fully relax without worrying about being bothered. If you really need their own space, an apartment might be a good fit.

Ability to choose who you live with

If you choose to live in an apartment, you will have to find people to live with. The benefit of this is that you get to pick who lives in the apartment. If you want a rowdy apartment, you can live with rowdy people. On the other hand, if you want a chill apartment, you could live with chill people. It is totally up to you.

Greater sense of independence

Although an apartment doesn’t have as many built-in amenities as a dorm does, it does help you to build a greater sense of independence. You will be responsible for paying the rent and bills on time. You will be responsible for making sure you have food to eat. These simple things can really make a big difference to some people.

Should You Choose to Live in a Dorm or Apartment?

Should You Choose to Live in a Dorm or Apartment?

You should think about what you want out of a living experience when deciding between living in a dorm and living in an apartment. You should discuss your living choices with whoever is helping you make your college decisions since they might be able to offer you some insight. Ultimately, the choice between living in a dorm or an apartment is up to you and depends entirely on what you want.

Take some time to think about the school you will be attending and look through any resources about housing on and off-campus. This can be a great way to help you determine if an apartment or dorm is best for your school. Some schools have panels where you can ask current students questions, so asking them about their housing experience might give you the insight you need to help break a tie between living in a dorm and living in an apartment.

Overall, the dorm versus apartment cost comparison might not be the best way to pick which one is right for you. Dorms at a public school generally cost around $950 per month, while at a private school, dorms might cost $1,200 per month. If you live in an apartment, you can pick if you want a cheaper place or a more expensive place, but, on average, you might be paying around $800-900 per month. This difference is so small that other differences are likely to matter more.

Wrapping Things Up: Is a Dorm or Apartment Cheaper?

Overall, it really depends on the type of school, the school’s location, and what is included when it comes to determining if a dorm or apartment is cheaper. In some places, the answer will always be a dorm. In other areas, the answer will always be an apartment. You will really need to do your research and consider the specifics of the school you will be attending to figure out if a dorm or apartment will be cheaper for you.

Check out our ultimate college dorm essentials checklist to make sure you’ve got everything you need when you move into your new living space.

> Pros and Cons of Living in College Dorms

> Live Off Campus or On? Which is Better and Why?

Picture of Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

If you found this helpful, help us out by sharing this post!


Readers of this post also read...

Is AP Chemistry Worth Taking?

Is AP Chemistry Worth Taking?

Perhaps you’re a high school junior or senior considering to take AP Chemistry and are weighing the merits of this challenging yet rewarding course. Known for its rigorous academic demands and significant time investment, AP...

Read More
How Old is Too Old to Go to College?

How Old is Too Old to Go to College?

One common misconception about college is that only students in their teens and early twenties attempt college. Unfortunately, this misconception has stopped many older people from enrolling in college to further their education. But the...

Read More