On-Campus vs Off-Campus Accommodation: Which One is Right for You?

Studying abroad is a dream for many students who want to expand their horizons and gain valuable skills. According to the OECD, nearly 4.3 million students are enrolled in university-level education outside their home country. Studying abroad can offer many benefits, such as learning a new language, experiencing a different culture, and enhancing one’s career prospects. However, studying abroad also comes with some challenges, such as adapting to a new academic system, coping with culture shock, and managing one’s finances.

One of the most important decisions that you will have to make as an international student abroad is where to live during your studies. The options can generally be divided into two categories: on-campus accommodation and off-campus accommodation. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages that may affect your quality of life and academic performance. One option isn’t necessarily better than the other, as they ultimately depend on your lifestyle, preferences, and needs.

To help you make an informed decision, this article will compare the pros and cons of living on-campus and living off-campus for international students. We will focus on four main aspects: accessibility, cost, social life, and independence.

On-Campus Accommodation

Student Accommodation at Queen’s University Belfast

On-campus accommodation is a type of housing that is located within or near the campus of a university or college. It is usually managed by the institution or a third-party provider. Here are some common types of university accommodation:

Residence halls

Large buildings with multiple rooms, usually shared by two or more students. They often have communal facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and common areas. Residence halls may also offer services such as meals, cleaning, and security.


Similar to residence halls, but usually smaller and more basic. They may have fewer facilities and services, but also lower costs. Dormitories are often reserved for first-year students or students with special needs.

A dormitory at the University of Kent, Canterbury UK.



  • Convenience: You will be close to the university facilities (e.g. classrooms, libraries, labs), saving you time and money on transportation and making it easier to attend classes, study, and participate in campus activities.
  • Security: University residential properties are usually monitored by security staff or cameras, and are likely to have access control systems or locks. This can provide a sense of safety and protection for you and your belongings. 
  • Facilities: there could be various facilities available, such as internet, cable TV, gym, pool, cafeteria, etc. These opportunities for recreation and relaxation can enhance your comfort and quality of life.
  • Social life: Living with other students can help you foster a sense of community and belonging, especially during your first year at university. You might find more opportunities for social interaction, networking, friendship, and support, as well as to meet and learn from people with different backgrounds, cultures, and interests.
  • Academic support: You could have more access to student support services, such as tutoring, mentoring, counseling, etc. You could potentially benefit from peer learning and collaboration in the accommodation.
Residence Halls at Pace University, New York


  • Lack of privacy: Sharing rooms or facilities often means there is limited space and privacy. This can be a challenge for students who prefer personal comfort, freedom, and autonomy.
  • Rules and regulations: There could be specific rules and regulations in campus accommodation, such as curfews, visitor policies, alcohol policies, etc. Some places may even impose penalties for violations. For some, this can feel restricting or controlling.  
  • Cost: While costs can vary greatly depending on the location, type, and quality of the accommodation, it is sometimes inclusive of the cost of utilities and meals. This could make it a more expensive choice than independent living. However, it might be possible for you to apply for financial aid or scholarships that assist with accommodation.
  • Availability: There is often limited availability or capacity for students who want to live on campus. The demand may exceed the supply, especially during peak seasons or periods. You may have to apply early or compete with others for a place.

Off-Campus Accommodation

A shared house in London with rooms advertised on spareroom.co.uk.

Off-campus accommodation refers to any type of housing that is not provided by the university and is located outside the campus area. It can include various options for international students, such as:


Apartments are self-contained units that have one or more rooms, including a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living area. They can be rented individually or shared with other tenants. They can also vary in size, quality, and price depending on the location and the amenities. For example, an apartment in New York City may cost more than an apartment in Montreal.


Flats are similar to apartments, but usually smaller and cheaper. They may have fewer rooms and facilities, but also more flexibility and availability. Flats are common in European countries such as the UK, France, and Germany.


Houses could be detached or semi-detached buildings with multiple rooms, including a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and one or more bedrooms. They can be rented individually or shared with other tenants. Houses can offer more space, privacy, and comfort than apartments or flats, but also more responsibility and cost. This is a popular option for students in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Shared rooms

Shared rooms are rented by two or more students who share the same space and facilities. They can be found in apartments, flats, houses, or other types of accommodation. They can be cheaper and more social than individual rooms, but also less private and quiet.

Barcelona’s Garcia neighbourhood is popular with students who choose to live independently.


  • Independence: You’ll have more freedom and privacy to live on your own terms since you can choose your own roommates, furniture, food, and lifestyle. You also avoid the rules and regulations that may apply to on-campus accommodation.
  • Diversity: Living independently exposes you to a wider range of people, cultures, and experiences. There could also be more accessibility to explore the city and its attractions.
  • Cost: It can be cheaper than on-campus living, depending on the location and type of accommodation. It’s easier to save money as you can share the rent and utilities with other tenants, cook your own meals, and find discounts and deals.


  • Transportation: If you live far from your university campus or public transportation systems, it gets harder to commute to your classes. You may have to spend more time and money on transportation, or deal with traffic, weather, or safety issues.
  • Isolation: You could end up feeling lonely or disconnected from your peers and the campus community, especially if you’re a first-year student who is new to the country. There could be fewer opportunities for social interaction, networking, friendship, and support. There’s also the possibility of encountering cultural or language barriers with neighbors or landlords.
  • Responsibility: Unlike on-campus living, you usually need to take care of everything on your own, such as finding a suitable place, signing a contract, paying bills, cleaning, maintaining, etc. You may have to deal with problems such as repairs, damages, disputes, or scams.

Next Steps

We have seen that on-campus accommodation offers convenience, security, facilities, social life, and academic support, but also has drawbacks such as lack of privacy, noise, rules and regulations, and high cost. On the other hand, off-campus accommodation provides independence, privacy, freedom, and diversity, but also has challenges such as transportation, isolation, responsibility, and variable cost.

At the end of the day, there is no definitive answer to which option is better or worse. It all depends on your individual goals, budget, personality, and expectations. The best option is the one that matches your criteria and enhances your study abroad experience.

However, before you decide where to live, you need to decide where to study. If you haven’t already, browse the Global Admissions platform for information about universities and programs around the world. Our team is here to help you apply to your dream programs online with ease.

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