Dorms, residence halls, university housing. No matter what you call the housing options on campus, they suddenly become un-cool and unpopular after you’re here for a couple years.
“I always feel like I need to clarify why I’m living in the dorms. It’s kind of a valid excuse for still being here. Otherwise I feel like I kind of get looked at weird.” says Nia Orvis, an advertising senior who, as a second-year resident mentor, still lives in the residence halls.
And of course, there are advantages to living off-campus. Geology senior Tim Matthews says that living off campus is liberating. “There’s something about having a place to yourself where you can look around and say ‘ok, this is my place’ and not feeling like it’s just a piece of property lent to you by this giant university.”
But for some the convenience of “living on” outweighs the negatives. “it’s a lot closer to classes, so you don’t have to worry about travel time.” says Gary Koskinen, a senior who, after living in an apartment for his junior year, moved back on campus to work as a resident mentor. “When I lived in an apartment it was a half-hour bus ride to every class.”
“I think there are advantages even for them [seniors], at that stage in their college career.” says Director of Residence Life Paul Goldblatt. “Seniors tend to live in certain places. Shaw is a very popular place, and then the northern part of campus. Shaw is clear because it’s so centrally located I think students really like that it’s right there in the middle of everything. And then north campus is in terms of location and the attractiveness of it… the buildings are beautiful.”
However, there are some things (cooking, paying rent) that students should leave college knowing, but are not necessarily recreated on campus. “Before I got the mentor job I considered getting an apartment… I really feel like it’s a good learning experience. You get to have experience with having to pay rent, and having to buy groceries. Which isn’t always the funnest, but a necessary thing you have to learn to do before you get to the world,” said Orvis.
“I think there are plenty of opportunities on campus to learn how to cook, there are apartments that come with kitchenettes or kitchens down the hall,” says Matthews “But there’s a lot to be said for learning things financially- paying rent, not going through the university with all of your money. It’s a lot more learning fiscal responsibility.”
Matthews is right… there are a couple of ways to cook on campus. Holden added floor kitchens, and Williams Hall is notorious for having residents cook their own food. Students living in Williams can even choose not to have meal plans with the university, so they do have to do things like buy groceries and cook. Says Orvis, “I think one of the reasons [upperclassmen] live over there is they have the option of making their own food.”
But what makes dorms morph from hip, parent-free places to apparently lame dwellings toward the end of one’s education? For Matthews, a lot of it was Resident Mentors. Now that he lives off-campus, “It’s like you’re off the little playground, and nobody’s going to blow their whistle at you if you’re going the wrong way up the slide.” In other words, you’re free to make your own mistakes, an arguably essential part of growing up.
Goldblatt is quick to point out that MSU’s Resident Mentors are actually more well-liked than RAs nation-wide. “You know it’s interesting… for students who lived off campus and cited rules and regulations as the reason they moved off campus, we are much lower than the national average.”
In Orvis’ opinion, the problem lies more in the psychology involved in what people perceive as signs of maturation. “People know that as a Freshman you have to live on campus, so they want everybody to know ‘I’ve been here for a while, I can live in an apartment’. And having an apartment makes you seem older, more mature,” says Orvis.
And according to Orvis, requiring Freshman to live on campus might not be as necessary as the university seems to think. “I think even if you weren’t required to live in the dorms, people would probably do it anyway. Because living in the dorms is that classic college experience that people want, at least for one year. I think people would still go through that,” says Orvis.
But from a business standpoint, it is advantageous to Housing and Food Services to have both freshmen and upperclassmen “living on”. “…the residence hall system is run completely on room and board rates,” says Goldblatt. “It gets no money from the state, no money from the university. So the more people that live off campus, the more loss of revenue.” And obviously, they can’t fill up every residence hall with the Freshmen required to live there.
Because of this, HFS does try to attract older students. Owen Hall isn’t just for graduates… it’s for students 21 and over, and their residents are free to host alcoholic events in the dorm. In addition, there is always the option of a university-owned apartment. These apartments still have support staff and programming, but not a person in charge of keeping you in line.
“I think my hope is in the future that we will have more apartments,” says Goldblatt. “If we can create the off-campus experience on campus, that’s the best of both words. And you’re dealing with cooking, all the issues that come with living in an apartment, but they’re on campus.”
Obviously, the first concern is what works for the individual. Some people are dying to get off, but there are seniors (and even graduate students) that live in a dorm and love it. But the general stigma surrounding whether or not a senior lives on campus is something that should disappear. Just because a senior lives on campus now may not mean they’ve lived here all four years, and it’s rarely the case that a senior just can’t find anybody to live with. In most cases the seniors that “live on” are consciously making the decision that is best for them. Immature? Think again.

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