Move away or stay? Reasons to live on campus

Where you live is just as important as the classes you take. While our classes help us discover what we want to do with our life, our room choices help us discover the type of people we are compatible to live with. Living on campus gets a bad rap sometimes, and undoubtedly there are certain disadvantages to dorm life. However, living on campus is an essential part of the college experience and one of the most valuable experiences that students can have at college. Frustrations with Housing Services and Room Draw, though, can have have a detrimental effect ? pushing students away from the dorms and into off campus living.

[BOLD]The on-campus community[/BOLD]

Unfortunately for students who live off campus, they miss the best part of dorm life: its sense of community. Dorms close to campus usually have multiple lounges where students can mingle and study together. Communities here form almost involuntarily, so students who get along with their floormates will have a pseudo-family close to school.

Sonal Mayekar started her years at CMU off-campus. The apartments at London Terrace were deep into Oakland, and such independent living discouraged a collective community. "I didn't like how far it was," she said, "and I barely knew anybody."

So Mayekar moved to Morewood Gardens in her second semester and hasn't looked back. She likes the sense of community on campus, especially being so close to campus during the winter months. Although she may be unique in moving so quickly, Sonal is just one example of the problems that off-campus living can offer.

[BOLD]Lost in the shuffle[/BOLD]

But while many students do like the on-campus housing options, getting a dorm room on campus can be difficult. The lottery system of Room Draw can be both complicated and frustrating. For students who want to live on campus, a bad Room Draw number can result in a 20-minute walk in the harsh Pittsburgh weather for the next year. Or worse yet, a small room far away from friends and campus. There are countless stories of hapless first-years who found themselves where they least wanted to be because they didn't have the friends with "good" numbers who could pull them in.

"At first, it all seemed very logical, easy, and organized," explained a first-year student about the room draw process. The student, who wishes to remain anonymous to avoid any future conflicts with Housing Services, was trying to retain her current room while pulling in a friend. But her situation was complicated by the fact that her current room was reserved for the academic group of which she is a member. Confused about the situation, she contacted Housing Services, and "while waiting for a reply, which we never got, we apparently missed some deadline. Now, not only do I have a random roommate, but also my friend who thought she would be living with me, missed her own Room Draw session." Now she has to look for off-campus housing.

This angry anonymous student is not alone. One transfer student, Justin Pye, did not have such a smooth transition into the Carnegie Mellon community. Pye, a sophomore physics major, recalled that only two days before he was to arrive on orientation day, he and his family called Housing Services to inquire why he had not yet received all of his housing materials. He found that he didn't have housing, even after he had submitted all of his housing materials. So two days before he was supposed to arrive on a new campus, he searched for housing somewhere off campus. With help from friends back home, and a little bit of luck, Pye managed to get an apartment to live in for the first semester. Unfortunately for Pye, orientation was not nearly the experience it was intended to be, since he was without a campus "community."

Pye remained hopeful that he could live on campus in October, but again, Housing was not cooperative with Pye. The repeated response from Housing representatives ? "Well, we'll try to find you something" ? along with the spans of waiting for days on end, made him angrily concede defeat and stay in the apartment off campus. (The Tartan was also asked to wait three weeks by Housing Services when it requested an interview to get their perspective.) "There was no point in moving into campus after I had bought all that furniture and spent so much time in Oakland," he said dismally. He ended up waiting until the second semester, when he was finally granted a campus home in Mudge. Pye reflects, "If I had known it would be that difficult, I wouldn't have transferred."

[BOLD]Size versus Comfort[/BOLD]

But even dorm life goes downhill when the close-knit community on a single floor feels less like a "family" and more like a trap. One first-year noted that all the students on his floor were very close, but his floor was like a cocoon, and no one really hung out with anyone else on the dorm floor. Students complain that the dorm rooms are simply too small, especially those in New House and Morewood Gardens. True, these closet-sized rooms of Morewood and New House keep the students out of their dorms and in the lounges so that they can form healthy and helpful communities; but the small rooms are a trade-off for the existence of a lounge.

Regardless of the designers' intent, students such as junior Andrew Eure have complained that the dorms simply will not fit what they need. Eure admitted that within his major, drama design, "we're required to have workspaces of our own." Frustrated, he decided to move from Welch to Webster, and eventually off campus entirely.

In addition to not dealing with complicated forms, those who chose to live farther away sometimes look forward to their twenty minute long walk as a time to release all the tension of the school day. Once they get home, they can lounge in their living room, cook their own food in their own kitchen, and sleep in a separate bedroom. Mike Marorti, a junior decision science and human-computer interaction major, claimed that he could "never live in a small dorm room again," after his experience living in a room in Veronica on Clyde Street. Nadia Noharuddin, a junior in mechanical engineering, happily relates to the distance of Webster from campus: "If you're on campus you have to see campus on the weekends and after school."

But why deal with Housing Services and Room Draw just for the convenience of on-campus living? With no guarantee of a good dorm space, many upperclassmen figure that getting their own place is a better option. "I don't understand why people don't move off-campus," says Jennifer Anttonen, a sophomore physics and creative writing major. "You get your own room in a house with your own kitchen, dining room, washer and dryer, bathroom, and yard for less money than a room the size of my bathroom shared by two people."

In terms of cost, living off campus is often cheaper for students on a budget. Plus, students have the complete independence to set their own budget for food, which can also save students money. With on-campus housing costing more than five thousand dollars a year, most students can find cheaper housing off campus. Even without the convenience of a Resident Assistant on hand, the benefits can outweigh the costs.

With a little bit of luck and a good Room Draw number, students can find convenient rooms that fit their personal needs. If worse comes to worst and you end up in a bad dorm situation, look on the bright side: At least you will have a great story to tell your friends! Be sure not to write off dorms altogether because, just like a Schatz dinner, you never know what dorm situation is good for you until you try them all. Certainly, the sense of community from living in a dorm is well worth the risk of a bad roommate or a closet-sized room.