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College living can be dream or nightmare

If you checked out Monday's MoneySmart edition, you probably read Stephen T. Watson's piece, Living off campus. If you have a child in college or are studying yourself, living arrangement decisions can lead to major headaches or, if you make bad ones, daily nightmares.

In today's institutional structure, students have never had more living options. There are dorms, on-campus and off-campus apartments, and each venue offers a unique environment. It's important to remember that each place offers its own benefits and conveniences. According to a former University at Buffalo graduate, your decision should be based on what you like and what you think you can handle.

Lucas Hammill, a 23-year-old from West Seneca who graduated from UB in 2011, lived in the dorms at UB, off-campus on Merrimac St. in the University Heights, and in an on-campus apartment at Hadley Village during his four years at the university.

He noted the biggest difference between on and off campus living was the level of freedom and the speed of his social life. In the Heights, he was within walking distance of all the Main St. bars that become like a second home to many college students in the area. It's where they meet people and unwind on the weekends. 

The ability to walk to and from the bars takes drinking and driving almost completely out of the equation. It's not a secret that college students tend to get their money's worth when it comes to drinking while in school, but doing it responsibly is not only important for their safety, but the safety of everyone in the neighborhood.

Hammill said the most luring advantage of off-campus housing is the price. While living on Merrimac St. he only paid $250 a month and that's with utilities. Compare that to about $450 a month at the Towne Apartments at Chestnut Ridge and about $400 a month to rent a place at Campus Manor, and you can see why roughly 2,500 students a year choose to live in University Heights.

"Not that I hated living on South [Campus] on Merrimac St., I loved it, but I got a bit tired of cleaning up after parties," Hammill said.

On North Campus there was always less temptation to party and more time to devote to school work, Hammill said.

Off campus can be more dangerous, though. While Hammill talked about always feeling safe during his time in the Heights, he never felt comfortable walking alone. In fact, he said he never walked alone on the other side of Main St., calling the activity on Lisbon St. "much worse." In a report by The Spectrum - the independent student newspaper at UB - in April 2011, former editor in chief Andrew Wiktor chronicled some of the safety issues in "Reaching New Heights," including the hazardous living conditions of some houses in the Heights.

No matter where you choose to live, Hammill said a person's experience will almost certainly depend on his or her roommates. While in the freshman dorms his first year, he said it was the loudest experience he had at UB. After he moved back on campus his senior year to live in the junior/senior-only Hadley Apartments, he said it was much more calm and conducive to a healthy academic environment.

The people you end up spending your time with in and out of the dorm/apartment will shape your college experience. Getting involved in activities and school clubs is a great way to meet people and to learn from others' mistakes. For instance, if you have a friend who lived off campus last semester and has a few stories to tell, that could help you make a decision on where to live.

Wherever you end up living, try and base it off of you and what you like. The last thing you want to do is get stuck living with bad roommates or in a house falling apart around you.

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