College Accommodation for International Students Explained - United Sports USA
College Accommodation for International Students Explained

After all that gruelling SAT prep work and stacks of college applications, you’ve been accepted to study in the United States.  Now, you’ve just got to figure out where you will live.  This comprehensive guide will help you know what to expect out of college accommodation.

Am I Required to Live On Campus?

Many American colleges and universities require all freshman to live on campus.  If you have a scholarship – especially a sports scholarship – you will also probably be required to live on campus even after your freshman year.

While this may seem restrictive, there are a lot of reasons why living on campus (at least for the first year or two) is a good idea:

  • You won’t have to commute to campus, so you won’t need a car or to pay for public transport.  Without the commute, you’ll also be able to sleep in longer before those early classes.
  • Everything is taken care of for you, such as paying utility bills and most dorms even have staff to clean the bathrooms.
  • You’ll make friends and learn networking skills which will be useful to you through your entire life.
  • You will be better able to participate in school activities and get into the school culture.
  • College campuses have their own security and it is generally safer to live on campus than off campus.
  • Various studies show that students who live on campus do better academically (though other studies show that living on campus does not improve academic performance).

Costs of Living On Campus

If you have a scholarship for college in America, you’ll be really happy if that scholarship also includes housing, because college housing can be a huge cost.

It is impossible to give an exact estimate for college housing costs in the United States.  The cost varies greatly based on the location of the school (institutions in large cities generally cost much more than those in suburban areas), the amenities, and the type of housing chosen.  You will have to go to the college or university’s website and look at their housing rates.

A 2015 study by the real estate company Trulia looked at the advertised housing rates of numerous colleges and universities in the United States.  Here are some examples of what they found.  Remember, these rates are for 9 months of campus housing, living with 1 or more roommate:

  • Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN): $10,030
  • University of Chicago (Chicago, IL): $14,772
  • University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM): $8,690
  • Boston University (Boston, MA): $8,301
  • Columbia University (New York, NY): $8,572

Cost of Living Off Campus

The same study by Trulia also looked at the costs of renting a two-bedroom apartment off campus, assuming that the costs would be split between you and a roommate.  In most cases, living off-campus was significantly cheaper than living in campus housing.

For example, on-campus housing at the University of Texas, Austin costs $11,456 for 9 months.  Renting an apartment would cost $7,200 – a 37% savings.

It is really important to note that the listed campus housing costs are for dorm rooms where you will be sharing a room.  If you were willing to share a room in an off-campus apartment, then the off- campus housing costs would be even cheaper.

Depending on the off-campus housing that you choose, there may be many other expenses to factor in.  For example, if you have to commute to campus from your apartment, then you’ll need to pay for a car and parking or public transport.  However, in most cases, it is going to be a lot cheaper to live off campus in an apartment than stay in campus housing.

Types of Campus Housing

Campus housing can really vary depending on the college or university, so you have to do your research and see what is offered.  In general, colleges and universities in the USA offer these 4 housing options:

  • Dorms (aka Residence Halls)
  • Suites
  • Apartments
  • Living communities


You are probably already familiar with dorms from American TV shows and movies.  There are usually 2 students per room, but some colleges have triple or quadruple dorms.  Each dorm room opens up onto a hallway that connects the rest of the floor.  There is usually 1 or 2 bathrooms on the hall which all dorm students must share.   The floor can be co-ed or gender-specific.  Some dorm halls have a communal space for students to hang out and socialize.


Suites are similar to dorms in that they are rooms which open onto a hallway and you will probably have 1 or more roommate.  The big difference is that suites each have their own bathroom so you don’t have to share with the entire floor.  Some suites may have their own living room area and kitchen area.  However, it is more common for there to be a communal living area and kitchen area on the floor.


On-campus apartments are usually not available to freshman and are reserved for upperclassman.  They give you the privacy and amenities of an apartment (your own bathroom, a kitchen, etc.) but while still being on campus.  Campus apartments can be singles or shared with roommates.

Living Communities

Some universities have “living communities” where students collectively live together in a big house.  One example of this would be a fraternity or sorority.  There are also living communities based on common interests (such as academic pursuits) or based on a common culture. You usually need to apply for a living community with limited selection.

How Do Scholarships Affect Housing?

If you have a scholarship to study in the United States, then you need to pay careful attention to the housing terms.  Many colleges and schools will require you to live on campus for the entire duration of your student career.  Other scholarships are more lenient and you will be allowed to live off campus.

If your scholarship covers housing and you want to live off campus, you still may be able to do so.  For example, scholarships from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) cover the cost of a 4-bedroom campus dorm.  If you want to live in a more expensive on campus housing option, then you will have to cover the price difference yourself.  If you choose to live off campus, then UTSA will give you a cash grant for the amount of the 4-bedroom dorm and it is your responsibility to use this money to pay the rent and utilities.

Again, each college and university is different so investigate housing options before you accept a scholarship offer or commit yourself to a school.