On-campus living is a big part of the college experience, but should you use student loans for housing, or should you look for other options?
Just covering the cost of tuition and books is already hard enough for many students, and while buying used books is a popular way to save a little bit of money on those expenses, there’s really not much you can do to avoid those costs. Instead, students looking to save money will often cut their spending in other places. That, unfortunately, leaves college students with the difficult decision of living at home and missing out on part of the college experience or using student loans for housing expenses.
Depending on the university, incoming freshmen may be required to live in dorms. If that’s the case for you or your student, your options for saving on housing will be limited. That being said, there are federal, needs-based Pell grants and some state grant programs that can help students pay for housing. There may also be programs through the college or university to help students cover their room and board and avoid taking student loans for housing expenses.
If you have flexible housing options or you’ve already met the on-campus living mandate, there are a number of ways you can save money and avoid racking up student loans for housing.
4 Ways to Avoid Taking Student Loans for Housing
Distance learning – Online education has been an increasingly popular trend over the last few years and many colleges and universities offer the same courses and accreditation online as they do in person. Distance learning may offer you or your student more school choices as online learning can be done from anywhere, although some universities may require that you complete some coursework or tests on campus (check with your school before enrolling). Some types of specialized higher education are unavailable online, however, almost any undergraduate degree can be completed remotely.
Live at home – While you’ll have to sacrifice part of the college experience, remaining in your childhood home and attending an in-state college or university will save a significant amount of money on housing (and potentially tuition, if your school offers in-state tuition discounts). Not only will you avoid taking costly student loans for housing, but you’ll also save on other cost-of-living expenses like laundry and dining. Whether missing out on college living to save money is right for you is a highly individualized choice, but it’s certainly worth considering, especially if you will not be receiving grants, scholarships, or other types of financial assistance.
Commuter schooling – “Commuter schools” are those that do not offer traditional housing options and they’re fairly common in large metropolitan areas, especially in the eastern parts of the U.S. But whether or not you’re attending a “commuter school,” dealing with a daily commute to and from class can help you save on your living expenses. Buying a home or renting an apartment in the suburbs and commuting for class is no different than doing it for a career. If you’re considering commuting in for your education, you should be aware that it can make participating in social or extracurricular activities more challenging and you may want to do some research into your college or university’s transportation options.
Shared housing – Finding roommates is probably one of the most popular choices to save on living expenses and avoid taking student loans for housing. Students can save money, live closer to their college or university, enjoy the social aspects of leaving home and forge new friendships. Ideally, you’ll want to find roommates that you’re generally compatible with, that are active during the same hours and that have either similar standards for housework or are willing to help. There’s always a possibility of personality conflicts but having college roommates can be a useful steppingstone on the path to adulthood.
If you find yourself stuck using student loans for housing expenses, you’ll be accruing debt that can take years to repay. Any steps you can take to reduce those expenses, like learning from home, finding roommates or commuting in can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loans. Every college experience is unique, but with a little hard work you can have the experience you want at a price you can afford.
Which of these choices is your student making to save money on living expenses?