In response to COVID-19, many colleges and universities have changed their campus housing policies. Contact the student life or residential housing office of the schools where you’re considering applying to familiarize yourself with their most up-to-date policies.

“You have to live on campus freshman year. It’s how you meet people. It makes the most sense. It’s all part of the experience.”

You’ve probably heard some variation of this before, especially if you’ve floated the idea of living off-campus as a freshman. While there’s a lot of truth to it — you do meet people and it can be a major part of the college experience — living off campus may be an option your freshman year. 

While most schools require on-campus living for non-local students, there are plenty of non-commuter schools that allow freshmen to live outside the confines of campus. Chelsea Mariah Stellmach, founder of KaiZenith Admissions Consulting, says it’s more common among less competitive schools or schools with acceptance rates over 50%, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

“Schools require freshmen to live on campus because it can foster community spirit and keep the student involved.”

– Chelsea Mariah Stellmach

Even if colleges don’t require freshmen to live on campus, most will tout the advantages of doing so. “Schools require freshmen to live on campus because it can foster community spirit and keep the student involved,” says Stellmach. 

Still, not one college student or college experience is the same. You know yourself best. If you want the full four-year experience minus the dorm room, here are seven schools that don’t require freshmen to live on campus.

1. University of Wisconsin–Madison

Each year a small, but mighty group of freshmen choose not to live on campus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. For students who take the off-campus route, UW provides assistance, connecting students to off-campus residence options on its Campus Area Housing page. Besides renting apartments and houses, students can choose to live in private residence halls, which boast larger rooms and luxury amenities like coffee bars and pools. 

2. New York University

“Campus” is a loose term at NYU, as its buildings, including dorms, sprawl across lower Manhattan. The result? Even students who live in campus housing aren’t really on campus, which makes living off-campus even more tempting. If you are considering something other than a dorm, check out the school’s guide to off-campus living, which is a crash course in New York City’s notoriously difficult rental market.

3. Purdue University

With tons of appealing off-campus housing options, West Lafayette, Indiana, home to Purdue, is a great place for freshmen who do not want to live on campus. Still, most first-year students choose dorms. It helps that Purdue has the lowest room and board rates in the Big Ten and guarantees all freshmen campus housing if they meet the opt-in-deadline in early May. However, as incoming freshman classes have grown in size, the school has been forced to temporarily house students in makeshift dorm rooms or in off-campus housing as they work to make more on-campus options available, which is likely why they don’t mandate on-campus living. 

4. Texas A&M University

With the exception of students enrolled in the Corps of Cadets leadership program, freshmen are not required to live on Texas A&M’s campus and dorm rooms are not guaranteed. Housing is strictly on a first-come, first-served basis, so even freshmen who want to live on campus may not be able to. Fortunately, the university has robust off-campus student services, complete with a university-run portal to search for apartments. 

5. Auburn University

Another school that does not guarantee freshmen housing is Auburn University, which, like Texas A&M, assigns rooms on a first-come, first-served basis. AU provides an off-campus housing guide, which helps incoming students connect with potential roommates, search for nearby apartments and chat on message boards — as well as find info on Alabama tenant laws, roommate agreements and apartment hunting. 

6. University of California, Davis

UC Davis guarantees housing to all freshmen who start school during the fall quarter, but there are some first-year students who opt out of campus housing, either because they already live nearby or choose to rent. The university’s financial aid office estimates that students can save about $4,000 per year by living off-campus instead of on, and its off-campus housing guide can help interested freshmen connect with rentals and potential roommates long before arriving on campus.

7. College of Charleston

Set in the historic downtown of Charleston, South Carolina, the College of Charleston is near plenty of off-campus housing options. Like many schools, it guarantees freshmen housing, provided students meet requisite deadlines, but freshmen, at least those who are not in its Bridge program, can live wherever they wish. Being the smallest school on this list — there were just over 2,200 freshmen in 2020 — it does not offer the off-campus housing resources many larger schools do. 

Deciding where to live freshman year is a big decision, but remember to explore your options, figure out what makes the most sense for you, and then get packing.