Living Off-Campus: 5 Solutions to Daily Struggles

For when living off-campus is no longer just fun and games.

Life off campus is one step closer to independence. If you’ve made the transition, these are the little tips you’ll want to adopt to help with realities you’re all too familiar with.

Rant #1: The Word “Commute” Strikes Fear Deep Into Your Heart

Your transportation situation is a major defining factor in your quality of life when you’re not living on campus proper.

If you’ve got your own set of wheels, you join the pack of students spending half of their time living out of their cars. Your car comes to be not only a method of transportation, but also a storage unit and an extension of your bathroom.

Other brave off-campus dwellers choose the path of public transportation. You don’t have to navigate, so your time on the bus can be a great opportunity to do some reading, go back to sleep, or finish that assignment that’s due in 30 minutes. That said, if the bus is running late, so are you.

Survival Tips: No matter how you get to campus, always plan to head to class at least 30 minutes before it starts. You never know what you’ll encounter on your journey to campus. Also, try your best to schedule your classes together to avoid multiple trips in one day.

Rant #2: You Might Know How to Cook

Off-campus students tend to fall into one of three categories when it comes to their dining habits.

Budget Buyer

You are a gourmet with a palate finely attuned to only the best ramen money can buy. Other favourites include: Kraft Dinner and frozen dinners. You may occasionally dabble in complementing your dishes with Sriracha, but rarely stray from your cooking tool of choice: the microwave.

Survival Tips: Avoid scurvy, eat the occasional orange. Try shopping in bulk to find whole, nutritious foods that are actually more affordable than your packaged favourites. Pay mind to calories, since easy-to-prepare, cheap items tend to be densely packed with them.

The Chef

Accustomed to and spoiled by the tastes of home, this student attempts to replicate mom’s cooking and doesn’t skimp when it comes to throwing down for name brands or pricey ingredients in the grocery store.

Survival Tips: Label your spendy items in the fridge to avoid coming home and finding they ended up being your roomie’s lunch. If you can’t bring yourself to buy the generic cereal, at least look for the occasional coupon to avoid draining your bank account into your stomach.

Takeout Royalty

You’re not sure how the fridge in your apartment works because you’ve never used it, but you know the Tim’s menu better than your own mother. Your budget is mostly directed towards feeding your takeout habit, but you never have to worry about doing the dishes.

Survival Tips: Switching to a Budget Buyer plan at least half of the time will likely free up a significant amount of your cash flow, and you don’t even need to learn to cook. Make sure to try to eat something green at least once a week.

Rant #3: Your Roommate Might Be Friend, Foe, or Family


If your roommate leaves their dirty clothes all over the living room, invites strangers into your space at the witching hour, or has never cleaned a toilet in their life, that’s your problem now.

It’s also your (big) problem when they can’t manage their finances, and you have to pick up their half of the rent, so think hard about who you let move in.

Other commuter students choose to live with mom and dad, and depending on that relationship, it can be great or a waking nightmare. Learning to live with your parents once you’re all adults comes with it’s own set of challenges, which may or may not be worth the savings.

Survival Tips: Learn some basic conflict resolution skills, be specific about what you want, why you want it, and don’t yell. Establish boundaries and expectations before you have a problem. Make friends with your landlord—you want them on your side. Also, renter’s insurance is cheap and totally worth it.

Rant #4: Life Is Expensive


The upside to living off campus: your spending habits are much more obvious when they’re not lumped into one big expense, so you have more control over them. You can shop around for the cheapest internet service provider, for example, or choose to live without heating all winter to shave some dollars off of your power bill (please don’t actually do this to yourself).

This can also be super annoying. You now have to worry about paying for things like water, electricity, and internet every month—on time, no less. You also realize that parking is surprisingly expensive.

Survival Tips: Try using auto-pay for your bills—it’s painful, but worth it. Set up a budget for yourself and get used to sticking to it. Give micro investing a shot for an easier way to help save up for things, like emergency funds and spring break trips. Get familiar with all of the student discounts available to you—you could probably save on some essentials you’re already paying full price for.

Rant #5: Freedom Is a Mixed Blessing

Life away from the dorms involves a lot of self-persuasion, and successful students learn those skills quickly. When you’re at home, in bed, facing a 45-minute commute in -12 degree weather, skipping class is really, really easy.

Also, it can be tough to stay in the loop with what’s happening around your school when you’re not in the middle of the action, so you learn that your friends on campus are a valuable lifeline and news source.

If you’re introverted, you learn that it pays to push yourself to go to campus events and take a more active approach to staying involved. If you’re extroverted, you learn to balance social demands with educational ones.

Survival Tips: Maximize the capacity of your day through practices like writing an essay in the notes app on your phone during your lunch break. Use a job on-campus to help you stick around school as long as possible and spend the extra hour in the library instead of driving to an off-campus part-time job. Also, learn how to take a peaceful nap while sitting in a chair in a fully lit room.

Where you live while you go to school is all about give and take. Life on campus can be a great way to transition from living at home to independence, build community, and find yourself, but living off-campus comes with it’s own set of perks and unique experiences too.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.

Victoria Roseberry

Victoria is a writer and recent graduate who loves writing about the student experience, health and wellness, and relationships. When she manages to stop typing and walk away from her computer, she's likely eating vegetarian food or running in the trails near her home. She lives with her 14 houseplants and two pet roommates.