• author
    • Jesse Loren

    • August 30, 2013 in Columnists

    Dorm or apartment for college living?

    The students are all packed.  The parties have faded. And, there is only one thing left to do:  Move into the new pad for school!

    For parents, the rite of passage brings tears and lament.  Speaking for myself, when I first dropped my son off at his new dorm, I only drove an eighth of a mile before calling him and asking him to meet me for coffee at the Starbucks on the corner.  I am one of these over-emotional, too-tied-to-my-children folks that are often referred to as moms.

    This year, my last kid fledges.  At first I dreaded it, but now I’m excited.  At first I redesigned her room in my version of “Love it! Or List it!”  She loved it, but it wasn’t enough to make her a commuter.   Her heart was set on moving away, and I am smart enough to realize it as the natural order of things.

    After experiencing the large pricetag of the dorms and the food plan, we are circumventing that crap for an apartment off campus.  Why “crap,” you ask?  When my son went to the dorms, they were closed during hours he was hungry.  My son is a night owl.  He needed a fridge and food in it, not a meal plan that went unused.  As a well-bred organic foodie, he didn’t appreciate the highly caloric, non-nutrient dense offerings from the campus kitchen.   We had to pay for a meal plan he didn’t use and a food budget he did use.  We had to pay for his dorm, but he often avoided staying there with the weird roommate.  It was enough to convince us to forgo the experience with our youngest.

    Dorm or apartment?

    It wasn’t that hard of a decision.  We spent about $10,000 on our son’s first year of room and board.  This year at UC Davis, the cost averages $14,000 for room and board.  Seeing that I live less than 20 miles away, we couldn’t justify the cost.  Instead, we found an apartment that is much larger than a dorm room and my kid will share it with a friend.  The shared cost is $7,000 per person, per year, plus food.  She will experience freedom and responsibility, which is what growing up is all about.

    Instead of the dorms, which over time costs the price of a luxury car, she got an apartment two blocks from campus.  Instead of a meal plan, she got a rice cooker, cooking lessons, dishes, knives, pans and money for groceries.  Sure, she will miss the ready-made meals that the meal plan has to offer, but I doubt she will miss them very much.  She likes eggs in the morning and sandwiches in the afternoon.  I think if she’s bright enough to get into the school of her choice, she’s bright enough to cook an egg and make a sandwich.

    In the long run, what do students take away from the dorms? Some loathe their roommates.  Some absolutely hate the nut they were paired up with in such a tiny space.  Maybe that will teach them to be more patient with others?  Maybe the nerd in the bunk with them might turn out to be a great friend.  I just don’t see it happening as often as any parent would like.  Maybe I raised my kids to be snowflakes, but I really don’t see the great benefit of a dorm when a kid ought to be able to make his or her own sandwich at 18.


    • Some colleges require it for socialization and living away from home for the first year. Your daughter seems more than capable of being on her own with a friend and because you only live 20 miles away she can come home for the much needed home cooked Mom meal.

    • Madge, that’s for certain. If she chose an East coast school, the decision would be different. As to the requirement, I think it is self serving when a student goes to school within the same state.

    • I agree Jesse. My kids went out of state so they had to live in the dorm for the first year. I commuted to my college USC and my parents made me live in the dorm for one semester. A disaster and then went to a commuter but felt left out as I never really met people until I married and lived in the married student housing.

    • Wow Madge, it was sort of similar for me. When I went to UC Irvine, I as a single mom renting 30 miles from the campus. I went in for classes and made some good friends in the English Department Coffee lounge. (I wonder if it is still there?) However, I was never part of the campus. The only events I attended were speaker series events, (Derrida, Cixous)
      The place my kid found is directly across from campus and surrounded by other student apartments. There are on campus apartments, but she couldn’t get into them. She didn’t want to commute, even if I only live 30 minutes away.

      • davidlacy

      • August 30, 2013 at 11:04 am
      • Reply

      English dept. coffee lounge at UCI = nope.

      • Jesse

      • August 30, 2013 at 11:22 am
      • Reply

      No! It was in top of the humanities bldg by Foreign language.

      • davidlacy

      • August 30, 2013 at 11:28 am
      • Reply

      That would have been cool. But I believe it’s gone. The budget has taken a toll here. Again, great column though!

      • Maya North

      • August 30, 2013 at 10:04 pm
      • Reply

      At that age, I was a divorcing, almost-mom, grownup and living in a dorm would have been ridiculous. After that first year, I was a mom. Living in an “in loco parentis” situation would have enfuriated me. If you raise them to be capable, an apartment is a better choice. Just my opinion.

    • You said it Maya. If you raise them to be capable, an apartment is a better choice. One caveat is if it is in a state that is far and without any local support or rules that freshmen must live on campus. Also, sorry to hear you were divorcing at 18. Yikes, but then again, probably a really great thing too.

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