On-Campus VS Off-Campus: What Accommodation Should Indian Students Choose in the US?

On-Campus VS Off-Campus: What Accommodation Should Indian Students Choose in the US?

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Should I live on campus or off campus when studying in the US? GyanDhan helps answer this critical and often-asked question!

Yogender Panchal
Updated on:  12 Sep 2023  | Reviewed By: 
| 18K | 8  min read

(Source: College Board)

When you’re thinking of studying abroad, one of the foremost factors to consider is the accommodation.  

What most students, especially those who are stepping out of their comfort zone for the first time, forget is that selecting a suitable accommodation for oneself is a mind-boggling task, with each type having its own set of pros and cons. To top that, the cost of accommodation in, for example, the USA is no small amount. Economic Times estimates that you shell out about INR 9 Lakhs (US) in a year mainly for living expenses.

Yes, the cost of living includes various components like communication, transportation and incidentals (subsidiary or accompanying expenses). But one substantial part of it is accommodation. More accurately, it is one of the most expensive items that come within living cost.

Why are we belabouring the point? Because the wrong decision with respect to accommodation can not only make studying abroad inconvenient for you but also a costly affair. So, here’s a concise breakdown of the accommodation options available and the pros and cons of each to help you decide which housing option suits you the best. 

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What are the Different Options for Accommodation in the USA for Indian Students?

There are two basic types of residences available to an Indian student studying in the USA: On-Campus and Off-Campus.

  1. list items On-Campus Housing - When the college offers a hostel or dormitory to a student, it is called on-campus or campus housing. Some universities even provide apartments to married students, particularly during a Master’s degree or above. The dorm or flat is located within the premises of the school. 
  2. list items Off-Campus Housing - When you look for a place to stay away from college, it is called off-campus housing. Off-campus student residences are located away from the university. The onus of finding a PG, home, or apartment is on you. The lease is generally for 12 months, and you fork over the rent for the first and last month plus security deposit at the get-go. 

What Are the Differences Between On-Campus and Off-Campus Accommodation?

Choosing a suitable residence in the USA (both to your style of living and budget) is a struggle because there are several determinants involved. 
Do you want to be responsible for paying and taking care of the utilities? Would you prefer more privacy? Is it going to be a hassle to wake up and catch a transport to the college for an early morning class? 
Such questions make the task of choosing a suitable accommodation in the USA difficult for Indian students. Fortunately, a comparative analysis between the two does make the process a bit straightforward. 

1. Cost

As a rule, living off-campus is much cheaper. In a year, one can bring down the living expenses by as much as USD 10,000 (indicative, actual values depend upon the college). Looking at the given breakup of expenses in CMU, most students will certainly prefer living off-campus over living on campus because there is a difference between the costs of two types of accommodation for a year comes to be as much as USD 500 – USD 600








  Orientation Fee (fall semester only)  



Activity Fee



Transportation Fee



Media Fee



Technology Fee



Rooms & Fees



Dining 2



Books/Supplies & Miscellaneous



Travel Allowance







Also, as per a survey conducted by Business Insider, the difference between the on-campus and off-campus monthly rents of top US universities came out to be substantial. In the case of the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, the off-campus median monthly rent is $671, whereas the on-campus monthly median rent is $1218, the difference amounting to $547. Even in the case of the University of South Carolina, the on-campus monthly median rate is much higher than that of off-campus housing, the former being $975 and the latter being $551.

That said, there are more factors you need to keep in mind while hunting for a residence beyond the campus in the USA. Does the basic rent cover utilities like internet access and water bill? Typically, rental homes don’t incorporate them. You pay for it from your pocket. This can take the cumulative amount you shell out to live off campus at par to that for on-campus accommodation.

CMU offers a great checklist. It lists all the “utilities, amenities, and services that are included as part of on-campus housing.” When you are browsing and researching off-campus apartments/flats/PG, find out the cost of each, then compare the total with that of campus housing of the college you have selected. 

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2. Availability 

A lot of US universities make it mandatory for first-year students to choose on-campus housing because it makes the transition to college life more comfortable. For all other students, it means slim pickings. In simpler words, dorms fill up fast, so you have to apply well ahead of time. 

Add to it, campus housing applications are separate from the college admission form, and some universities like CMU use a randomly generated lottery number for housing, the process gets even more stringent.
As compared to on-campus residence options, off-campus housing options are more abundant, and students can apply for off-campus housing at any time as per their ease and convenience.

3. Convenience

The convenience of living depends on 3 primary factors -

  • list items Proximity - On-campus residences win hands down on this because they are a stone’s throw away from classrooms. Even the library and dining room is a short walk away. When you have spent the entire night studying, this proximity becomes heaven sent. Whereas, the ease of commuting to college from off-campus residence depends on the distance between the two. If you end up taking residence in a house far away from the campus, you will have to be doubly cautious of the time so as to not miss any classes. Moreover, you will have to think twice before travelling to college at night. 
  • list items Travel - Off-campus residences will require you to find a conveyance to the campus, however, if your college is located in a city that has robust public transportation, this should not be an issue. Again, if you are residing on campus, you do not have to worry about transportation. 
  • list items Conveniences - In a dorm, the bathroom and common areas will be clean. You won’t have to worry about getting groceries or cooking food. Such conveniences are not possible with off-campus housing. For instance, if the Wi-Fi glitches, you need to get it fixed by yourself!

4. Safety

Majority of college campuses come with guards. There is some form of protection on call 24X7. So, if you choose campus housing, you get the benefit of security and safety. On the other hand, an off-campus apartment will need you to sacrifice one thing. You can either get a residence that is affordable but has no round-the-clock security or pay an arm and a leg to find a rental that does.
Factoring in the fact that most campuses have at least the essential medical services, they become even more secure.

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5. Privacy

On-campus residence means you share a room with a minimum of one person. It can be two or more. It also means you are supervised by an RA (Resident Assistant) at all times. You have to follow the rules of the dorm (read: curfew time) and manoeuvre around the schedule of the communal bathroom.
Off-campus rooms or accommodations do not come with such hassles. You can choose to have no roommate. You can even have a private bathroom. There are no limitations on how late you can stay out. This comes in handy if you have a part-time job. Besides, the flats are much quieter. In a nutshell, off-campus housing affords more privacy. 

6. Academics

When it comes to studying, the better between on-campus and off-campus residence is determined by the student. If you focus and concentrate better on privacy and pin-drop silence, then a rented room, flat, or house is the right choice. If you learn better in group studies, then campus housing is the more suitable choice.


Which is the Best Accommodation in the USA for Indian Students?

The factors explained above are the most critical points you should consider when picking between on-campus and off-campus housing, but two more things are worth mentioning.
Social life is far more active in off-campus residence because you live with friends and are free of time-restrictions. Plus, when you live away from the school, you get the opportunity to become a capable adult. Each household decision or chore is your responsibility. Yes, it does add a bit more work on your shoulders, but it is a life lesson that pays exponentially in the future. 

That said, if you are on a scholarship or grant, chances are it will not cover off-campus housing expenses (check with the entity providing the financial aid). Furthermore, if you are freshman (read: first-time college student), the structure on-campus residences offer is impressive. For freshmen, a dorm could be the best bet. 

The suitability of a type of accommodation will, therefore, vary from college and college and as per your preferences. Since it is hard to pin-point the best type of accommodation, we recommend you to opt for that housing option which aligns with most of your preferences.  

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