Personal Finance: Apartment Lifestyle Cuts Down Tuition Costs

November 20, 2010  

By Mai Lyn Ngo
mngo@smu.edu

Southern Methodist University’s tuition is an expense with too many zeros following the final number on the bill, but there are ways to save money despite the steep tuition costs that seem to increase little by little each year.

According to SMU’s admissions website, room and board costs a whopping $12,735 for two semesters and a meal plan costs anywhere between $500 and $5000, depending on the plan.

The question is: are the amenities on campus worth an average of $14,000 for less than 10 months?

For $12,735, on-campus students get a room ranging in size between 200 and 300 square feet to share with a roommate. SMU requires first year students to live in a dorm on campus. The only exemptions from this rule are students who either live at home or live in close proximity to SMU.

The nearly $13,000 room and board cost includes utilities such as electricity, water, and sometimes gas for apartment style dorms. The dorms are also furnished with an elevated twin bed, desk, dresser and free wi-fi.

But when the average $13,000 – $15,000 living cost was presented to Angela Raulston, a real estate agent, she was astounded by the number.

“My first thought when I heard $14,000 was, ‘woah!’”

When asked to compare the cost of living on SMU’s campus to apartments surrounding the University Park area, Raulston took into consideration bills and food. She took what a student would have spent on dorms [approximately $14,000] and divided that by 12 for a year long lease. The budget per month could afford very lavish apartments.

“After all that, you’d still have what? $1200 a month? You could live very nicely and not in a box if you are paying that much,” said Raulston.

In comparison, at neighboring universities such as the University of North Texas, student housing costs between $2,000 and $5,000. UNT’s newer halls do not cost more than $5,000.

Alex Ehmke, now a junior, lived in a dorm for his first two years at SMU. This is the first time he’s lived off campus in an apartment. Ehmke lives in the Terrace Condominiums near University Blvd. and Greenville Ave. with two other roommates. Ehmke’s total bills at the end of the month come up to $600. He said he pays $350 for rent, $100 for utilities that are split three ways, and about $150 for food. Ehmke also said he spends about 30 minutes driving to and from campus several times a day.

“My freshman year, I’m pretty sure it [housing] came out to $14,000 with a meal plan,” said Ehmke.

Ehmke said from a financial standpoint, it’s more reasonable to live off campus, but the experience of living on campus is invaluable.

Raulston said when deciding where to live, a lot of factors should be taken into consideration such as age, needs, habits, transportation, and convenience.
Sharon Chan, a third year who has lived on campus for the past three years, says despite how much it costs, living on campus is worth it particularly for freshmen or transfer students.

“I think it’s quite enjoyable and people miss out if they live off campus. It’s not as easy to get involved and stuff. It’s worth it,” said Chan. “A con may be that it is small but I think SMU’s dorms are pretty big compared to other campuses I’ve visited, and SMU does a good job in renovating their dorms every couple of years.”

When comparing SMU’s housing rates to other universities and apartment costs off campus, the question boils down to personal preference. The advantage of living in an apartment compared to dorms on campus is spaciousness, but signing a lease means more responsibilities and money management. Utilities, cable, and internet services and food are not included. Also, transportation incurs travel expenses for a car.

Having roommates can cut costs by splitting the bills and rent. Also, apartment complexes often come with several amenities including security, private parking, gate access, exercise centers, and more.

The high price that comes with living on campus has students paying more for “college life” than for the room, food, and amenities. The entire sum of $14,000 is a large bill to pay compared to what an off-campus lifestyle may offer. Living off campus fosters responsibility, money and time management, as well as independence. Keeping thousands of dollars in the bank is a good enough incentive for many students to get their own place.

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