Students weigh the cost of on and off-campus living as housing deadlines approach


Students must compare the costs of living in dorms, on-campus apartments and off-campus apartments before they decide where to contract for the next academic year.

Cameron Karn

Fifty-four percent of all college students acquired some sort of debt in order to pay for their classes, according to the federal reserve. As tuition rises, so does this number, but tuition is just half of the equation. Living on campus can cost just as much or more than tuition itself.

The average cost of tuition and required fees in the state of Iowa for the 2017 to 2018 academic year was $8,766, as reported by the National Center for Education statistics. Living in a Friley double dorm on the Iowa State campus with the default meal plan for the 2020 to 2021 academic year will cost $8,954, and that doesn’t include air conditioning.

“Our goal is a lot different than what you’re going to see in the off-campus market — our metrics are student success,” said Brittney Rutherford, communications manager for the Department of Residence at Iowa State. “We’re concerned with keeping students in school, ensuring that we do everything we can to help them get a solid start here at Iowa State. We know that they earn higher GPAs when they live with us, much lower rates of binge drinking and a faster time to graduation. Those are our metrics.”

At Iowa State, students have a range of options to choose from when it comes to living on campus. The two main categories are residence hall or on-campus apartment. Each has their own benefits and shortcomings.

There are 20 different residence halls to choose from. Most of the residence halls share the same price layouts with the exceptions of Maple, Geoffroy, Martin suites and Buchanan suites being significantly more expensive.

The typical dorm hall breaks down into single at $6,218, double at $4,783, triple at $4,544 and for some locations, quad at $4,305. These rates lack air conditioning, and to find a room with air conditioning, add $150 for the single, $70 for the double and $40 for the triple.

Living in a dorm carries a sense of community with it, and it can be easy to make new friends, even for introverted students. There are always activities going on for students to participate in and people nearby to talk to. Oftentimes, you share space with many people who have similar interests and classes, making it easier to find help on classwork. 

Cody Woodruff, senior in political science, used to live in the dorms on campus before moving to an off-campus apartment. 

“I was just bored of the dorms,” Woodruff said. “I like my apartment because it’s bigger, and I have more personal space and my own private room.”

Jordan Swanson, sophomore in journalism and mass communications, lives in the Martin Hall suites. He said his three friends and him chose to live there because they could all move in together. 

“It’s really nice,” Swanson said. “It has an upstairs living room, two sinks and a private bathroom. I would recommend it.”

The on-campus apartments at Iowa State have a lot of perks built into them. Apartments contain a kitchenette, a bathroom with two sinks and a shower, beds, dressers and wardrobes. They also have a washer and dryer in each apartment. Students share these amenities with their roommates, but they are all inside the apartment and fairly private. There’s not as close of a sense of community in the apartments as there are in dorms. Apartments also require more responsibility, where students are expected to keep their own spaces clean and tidy.

David Torres, sophomore in pre-business, lives at Frederiksen Court. 

“It’s kind of away from campus, so you can get all of your studying done there and come back to the apartment whenever you want,” Torres said. “I would recommend it for people who want to live with their friends.”

Tiffany Geistkemper, junior in mathematics, also lives at Frederiksen Court. After spending her first semester in Buchanan Hall, she said Frederiksen Court is a better fit for her. 

“Frederiksen Court is a lot better cost-wise, and I feel like you’re getting more for it,” Geistkemper said. “I would recommend Frederiksen Court, but I would probably recommend a dorm too for new students because you find a community that way.”

The cost of an on-campus apartment is set at the beginning of the year and doesn’t change. Students don’t have to worry about fluctuating bills as the price includes the heating, air conditioning, water, electric and internet bills upfront. 

“We are very transparent,” Rutherford said.  “All of our pricing is upfront; there are no surprise bills or anything like that.” 

All housing contracts at Iowa State are designed to be student friendly. If a student leaves campus for any reason, there are no penalties or additional charges.

There are three separate on-campus apartment complexes at Iowa State. Frederiksen Court has prices ranging from $4,848 to $7,434, University Village ranges from $5,124 to $6,204 and Schilletter Village ranges from $5,933 to $6,204.

An apartment residence does not require a meal plan, while residence halls do. This alone can be the difference in thousands of dollars. For students who live in an apartment and still want a meal plan, they can still be purchased.

For students who do not buy a meal plan, the apartment’s kitchen has space for students to make their own food. The kitchen includes an oven, refrigerator, dishwasher and a microwave. Without a meal plan, students may need to spend time and money on making grocery runs.

The average single adult in Iowa spends $268 a month on food, according to the Iowa Policy Project. For a five month semester, this totals up to $1,340 for groceries and eating out. Compare this to the ‘default’ cardinal meal plan, which costs $2,205, and it’s significantly less expensive. 

Meal plans at Iowa State range from the least expensive “Bronze” plan for $1,609 per semester to the most expensive “Cyclone” plan for $2,415 per semester. At minimum, residence hall residents need to factor an extra $3,218 for their academic year. While meal plans are expensive, research by Lora Beth Brown published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association finds, on average, the dietary practices of students without meal plans are significantly less healthy than the diets of students with meal plans.

Beyond that, meal plans are designed with the intention of making life more simple for students so they can focus on what’s important. With 26 dining locations on campus, students are never far from a meal or a quick snack. With a meal plan, students don’t have to worry about traveling back to their residence for food or if they have the groceries they need to make a meal. 

The decision of purchasing a meal plan is personal and can vary depending on the person. It is a very large factor in the decision process of choosing a place to live. 

Another expense to be considered is parking. At Iowa State, parking permits are $155 per academic year for residence halls and apartment lots. Students can save $40 if they park their cars at the stadium, as the stadium parking pass is $115. For those who drive a motorcycle or scooter, the parking pass is only $60 per year.

For students looking to live on campus, there are tons of options to pick from, and more information to help make your decision can be found on the Department of Residence website. Students can also contact their community advisors for more information.