Graduate Housing for the Complicated
April 14, 2014 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I had a poor experience in dorm life previously. Now that I'm going to graduate school I'm facing a difficult decision, about whether to live on or off campus.

This will be a long question. As previously stated, I have Asperger's syndrome. I am also goiing to graduate school in the fall. My first college experience was terrible. I was undiagnosed at the time, and I stopped going to class, didn't know how to live independantly (do laundry, etc), and I had no friends. I dropped out after a semester, moved home and went to our local state university, did quite well academically (though still not socially and learned some skills (laundry, other independant living skills). I graduated 3 years ago, and have been working full-time for the past 2, still at home. I am 25.

Well I was rejected by that school for graduate school, so now I need to make a decision and everyone is pulling me in some direction. I can live in a dorm. At this school, that requires me to be on a meal plan. I am very worried about this.

My concerns are multiple. For one, I am sensitive to noise and large groups of people. This really affected me previously. I didn't feel comfortable leaving my room because it was too rowdy. There is no seperate housing for graduate students, so I feel like this would just be a repeat of my previous experience. I really had problems with showering with other people in the stalls next to me.

Secondly, this is a master's program I am paying myself (and through loans). I feel I am basically being ripped off. Also, because of my AS my parents would want me to be in a single room (which I agree with), but that is going to really increase the price, even more than it is already.The cheapest meal plan I would be allowed to be on would cost $100 a week. I can feed myself for a month and a half on that. I've been saving everything the past two years for this time, and it would only pay for 2 of my 5 semesters of room/board costs if I do the dorm thing, when I think I could stretch it much further with other options.

That brings me to my third concern. Cooking is one of my obsessive, aspie interests, specifically baking bread. The thought of not being able to make my own bread on the weekends, of not being able to relax my tensions by kneading some dough, has me in a near panic. I also am not happy I will be forced to eat food most likely teaming with preservatives, additives, or just boring healthy food instead of the healthy versions of bad food I like to cook. I know this probably seems dumb to be so stressed over, but there it is.

However, if I live on campus, my AS would be officially there in the paperwork so the hope is that it would provide more support being on campus sanctioned housing. Of the dorm options, only one has the suite-style that would be better for someone like me, but again I'll be spending nearly $4500 a semester for that privelidge.

Having said all that, I'm still open to the dorm option if others can give me reasons why it would be a better option for me. If it really would be a more supportive living option, I want to know.

I know this is really long, but I'm trying to get more opinions than just mine and my parents.
posted by Aranquis to Education (22 answers total)
What do your off-campus options look like? Living on campus doesn't sound like it's for you (living with undergrads? NO THANKS), and living off campus doesn't prevent you from working with whoever coordinates student accommodations for your disability.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:27 AM on April 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

My general feeling is that grad student housing is almost always a ripoff and rarely the best place for graduate students to be-practically, financially, or emotionally. At some point, you will need to figure out how to live on your own, and this seems like as good a time as any to begin. Depending on where you're living, the amount you'd be paying for shared graduate housing should almost certainly be enough to get you a studio apartment. I don't see any reason why you shouldn't take that option. Good luck!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:28 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my experience, in grad school the people who lived in dorms were international students from non-English-speaking countries, especially China and India. If you're not with grad students only, I don't see how your experience will be any different, except that you're in even more of a different state than the other people in a dorm. I don't think a dorm is a good idea.

Did you learn enough independent living skills to live alone? Graduate students often have roommates, where you're in an apartment with someone else -- would you be ok with that?
posted by jeather at 7:29 AM on April 14, 2014

What support would be available to you if you lived off campus?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:29 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I worked out at some point what meal plan and dorm would cost when I was in graduate school and even living alone without roommates, I was able to find a place that cost me less than living on campus would have. I guess on the whole, you don't seem to have any particular reasons the dorm would be a good idea, and I can't think of any, either. There are exceptions, but there are usually few enough older students living in the dorms that it's not going to be some wealth of social opportunity. In my program, most of who turned out to be living there were international students. It's something to do if you turn out to not have other options, but if you're capable of living alone I'd absolutely do so.
posted by Sequence at 7:29 AM on April 14, 2014

However, if I live on campus, my AS would be officially there in the paperwork so the hope is that it would provide more support being on campus sanctioned housing.

This is surely an erroneous assumption. If you have a disability diagnosis, you have a disability diagnosis, and support and accommodations will be available to you through your school's disability office. Unless your school has a specific disability program to support grad students living in dorms, you should have access to all services even if you reside off campus. And it sounds like there is no good reason for you not to, and that you will be a lot happier off-campus.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:35 AM on April 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why would you live on campus? Is it required? I don't see any upside; only lots of downside.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:45 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think a studio apartment off-campus would be perfect. No roommates, no hassles. (Although there may be some noise if you're in a college complex.)

Perhaps a roommate situation with a couple of other grad students. Start looking at Craigslist and advertise what you're looking for.

"Grad student looking for quiet place, with a kitchen. I like to cook and bake, but I'm not very social. Looking for a situation where I can study, cook and live a relaxing existance. Friendly, but not a partier, prefer no 420."

SO many like minded people would want you as a roommate!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:46 AM on April 14, 2014

I haven't seen any good reasons why you would want to live on campus.

If you can afford a place without roommates that would probably better.
posted by grouse at 7:55 AM on April 14, 2014

I'll add to the chorus agreeing with your assessment that you'll do better outside of campus, both financially and mentally. AskMe has a ton of questions from people moving out for the first time so if you're worried it might help to take a look through those for some tips.

My main tip is don't forget to make a budget or track spending in some way - moving away from home changes your finances dramatically, but most people find that it's very much worth it. If your budget looks tight you could try living with a roommate for a while, after screening people to rule out noisy partiers. There are lots of non-rowdy people in the world, especially as people get older.
posted by randomnity at 7:56 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're an adult; it's perfectly reasonable for you to want privacy and to cook for yourself.

If I were you, I'd look into studio apartments by campus -- make sure to actually do a walk-through of the place or a similar unit before you rent, though, because many studios have smaller kitchen appliances and sometimes no oven at all (I assume that would be a problem for your baking?). Also, maybe you already know about this, but most "bachelor" apartments aren't going to be worth looking at for you, because they're unlikely to have a kitchen.

Personally, I wouldn't try the roommate thing right now. Unless you're priced out of getting your own place, I don't think there's any reason to add roommate drama on top of all the changes of starting a new school/program, living away from home for the first time in a long time, etc.

When you're thinking about the costs of renting an apartment, remember to factor in things like furniture and kitchen supplies. If you happen to rent a place that was previously occupied by students, they'll often sell you their furniture for very cheap, because they don't want to take it with them anyway, so it might not cost much to furnish the place. Still, it'll cost *something.* (Based on past experience, I would budget at least $500).

The only downside that I can see with having your own apartment instead of living on campus is that it can be isolating. You might be tempted to hole up in your little nest and not make any friends or get involved with campus life at all. So make an effort to go to your program's events, maybe join an association/club, and go onto campus regularly. It's tough to get involved with campus life as a commuter student, so I'm not surprised that you felt disconnected as commuter during an undergrad -- that doesn't mean you have to or will feel so disconnected in grad school, though.
posted by rue72 at 8:00 AM on April 14, 2014

$4500 per semester? For reference, I paid less than that in rent in a jr. one bedroom (with full kitchen) in a major city. I could have paid even less for a shared rooming situation. Unless you're in a major city like New York or SF, I think you should be able to find a cheaper situation outside of the dormitory world.

It sounds like all the factors are leading you towards living on your own but one -- your parents. Are they strongly in favor of you living in the dorms? If so, can you ask them what they are concerned about, and what they think the drawbacks may be?

Do you have the option to switch back to dormitory housing later if living on your own isn't possible?

I'm coming at this from a biased perspective myself. I lived in dorms for eight years, and they can be a horrible place to be if you have any sensory processing issues. Apartments may have issues -- cleaning, laundry, trying to find available laundry machines, paying all the bills, noise/smells from other apartments -- but overall they are far easier to deal with than dormitories.

That brings me to my third concern. Cooking is one of my obsessive, aspie interests, specifically baking bread. The thought of not being able to make my own bread on the weekends, of not being able to relax my tensions by kneading some dough, has me in a near panic. I also am not happy I will be forced to eat food most likely teaming with preservatives, additives, or just boring healthy food instead of the healthy versions of bad food I like to cook. I know this probably seems dumb to be so stressed over, but there it is.

Self-care is important. It sounds like you know that being able to cook and bake is a major de-stressor and factor in self-care for you. It's good to be in touch with the things that are self-care for you!
posted by pie ninja at 8:19 AM on April 14, 2014

Wow. Thanks everyone. I'm fine with normal apartment noise, I just felt so intimidated by both the level of noise and the high level of partying, and the high number of people squeezed in small spaces. I think I would be fine with roommates, but I'd definitely have to search for the right ones if I couldn't find a studio.

I felt like some of my issues would make me seem crazy so it's a relief to see I'm not totally out of my mind. You all have given me a lot to think about.
posted by Aranquis at 8:26 AM on April 14, 2014

Depending on the school there are also student co-ops and many of these have grad student housing and also good policy re accommodating disabity, some including priority placement. You can find student co-ops in your area through the North America Students of Cooperation NASCO. :)

I work with grad students, abd dorms with undergrads are not popular with most grad students I know. The workload of grad school is incompatible.
posted by chapps at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

(And some coops have apartment style and they are often cheaper than dorms)
posted by chapps at 8:38 AM on April 14, 2014

No, your needs really just make you sound like an introverted adult. If you were to decide on roommates, I think you would do fine in the right situation.

Grad school is stressful. It's useful to be able to control your stressors to the extent that you can, and living alone off-campus, if you can afford it, will give the greatest degree of control over certain stressors. It's a practical solution for a lot of reasons.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:05 AM on April 14, 2014

I lived in a co op for three years in grad school. It wasn't bad. Mine was specifically for grad students.
posted by kathrynm at 9:10 AM on April 14, 2014

Just to add another data point:

I'm a fairly sociable person (with some introvert tendencies), who absolutely loved dorm living as a college student. However, if I were going back to graduate school, I would absolutely choose to live off campus.

First of all, living in the dorms is pretty much always going to be a financial rip off. More importantly, you're an adult, and it's totally okay (and appropriate) that you would want a level of autonomy that's not provided by on-campus housing.

Sure, it might take some time for you to adjust if you've been living with your parents for the last couple years, but this sounds like the perfect time to strike out on your own. Good luck!
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:24 AM on April 14, 2014

If your program is anything like mine was (Master's degree in LIS) you should be able to email the departmental secretary and ask them to put you in touch with a current student who can give you advice about where to live. In the college town I lived in grad students lived further off campus than undergrads and in quieter neighborhoods. It's hard to know where those neighborhoods are before you move to town. Current students can be a lot of help with that and with things like how easy it is to get to a grocery store from a particular neighborhood.
posted by MsMolly at 9:55 AM on April 14, 2014

I don't have AS. You are not being unreasonable for wanting to somewhere other than a dorm. I don't know how anyone makes it through living in a dorm for any length of time. I lived in a dorm as an undergrad for one semester and then found other arrangements because living with a stranger and being around constant noise was horrible.

Are you required to live in a dorm for some reason? I would consider waiting a year and applying to different schools if this one requires living in a dorm.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:10 PM on April 14, 2014

I felt like some of my issues would make me seem crazy so it's a relief to see I'm not totally out of my mind.

Do yourself a favour and stop framing your preferences as issues. Wanting a quiet, tranquil home where you can happily cook and have a bathroom with privacy is not indicative of issues; it's indicative of adulthood.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:39 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't need to be within walking distance to the university (if you can drive or if there is some sort of public transportation), then look for an apartment in a complex where there are less students. Not sure about you town, but in my college town all the apartments around the uni are packed with undergrads and weekend parties.
But when you drive 10 mins away from campus there are much nicer, quite apartment complexes which houses mostly staff and grad students
posted by WizKid at 7:19 PM on April 14, 2014

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