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Moving to New City.. Live On Campus or Off?


AboveTheRim
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Hello and congratulations to all looking forward to their first semester of grad school!

So, I'm moving from Pittsburgh to Chicago this coming fall to begin grad school. I don't know anyone in the city, so it makes sense to stay on campus to build relationships and get to know the city. I feel like if I live off campus I'll be almost quarantined to my apartment.

However, I'm 26! The school has dedicated on-campus housing for grad students, but still....

Should I suck it up and just live on campus?

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I think it depends. Do you own a car, and will you be taking it with you to Chicago? I've only been to Chicago once, and the overall impression the city gave me was it's a very vibrant city. Public transportation in Chicago is also very well developed, so I don't think you'll be quarantined to your apartment. 

 

Once the new semester starts, you'll be very busy and hardly have time to stay idle! So I wouldn't worry too much about not getting to know your surroundings. 

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Personally, I would live off campus. The school where I did my master's had graduate housing, but I don't know of anyone who lived there (no one in my classes at least). You get to know people through your classes and seminars.

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@Latte I do have a car but I'm not taking it with me. I've heard horror stories about parking in downtown Chicago, and it's so expensive to park your car anywhere for an extended amount of time. Public transportation will definitely save me.

@Tie Was it looked down upon? I mean I can care less what people think, but if the "grad housing" is more or less just upperclass undergrads, then thanks but no thanks.

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I was facing this same dilemma. Decision was made for me when housing at my soon to be school let me know that "upperclassmen" to them meant sophmore - graduate students, and the selection was "random" and not based on preferences. 

 

Off campus for me. Which also happens to be cheaper. 

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I'd say off campus is better. Inf fact you may find your self in a Chicago neighborhood that is populated by grad students, so I doubt you'll be sequestered in your apartment for the duration of your degree. Any one I know who did stay in a graduate housing during their masters hated it and felt alienated. (Not to mention, it was probably more expensive). For example, Northwestern Students tend to Lincoln Park, U of Chicago Students tend to Hyde Park. I believe. 

Find a off-campus housing that is near a public transportation line that can take you to (or within close walking distance) of the school. Ask current grad students, or the grad student coordinator for help. Oftentimes, the school may even have their own website, so it may even be less of a headache than on campus housing. 

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The adequacy of public transportation in Chicago depends in large part on whether you are headed to Northwestern or UChicago (basically, north or south of the Loop). Transportation north of the loop is generally abundant, with multiple options. Transportation south of the loop reflects the city bureaucrats' general fear/disregard of poor people, to be succinct. (Keep in mind that although Chicago is still a segregated city, the transportation infrastructure went into place when there were fun things like restrictive housing covenants and other legal means of walling off various populations.) There will only be one or two El lines (red and green) that serve your area, and the buses will be much less frequent. 

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Biscuits Thanks! I didn't even realize there was such segregation still going on in Chicago. Crazy.

I'll actually be in the Loop, so transportation is the least of my concerns at this point.

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Yeah, unfortunately Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in the country. There was a recent article in the NYTimes talking to Chicago residents about the violence on the south and west sides of the city, and it transpired that most folks on the north side had never been south or west of the Loop. Utterly bizarre to live in such a vibrant city and to voluntarily hole up in a mere third of it.

You can also play a game I like to call "Spot the Giant Gaping Pothole", in which you guess when you've crossed into the richer wards by the state of the streets. Chicago does not allocate its funds particularly fairly.

Edited by biscuits
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I'm not really a "room-mate person" and would prefer the freedom of having my own place...but for the first year I intend to live in graduate apartments on-campus. I'm unfamiliar with the area and won't have any chance to explore residential areas before term starts. I don't know what time constraints will be on me in first year - a daily 40 min commute might completely wipe me so I'd rather be close to the department at least until I adjust to the workload.

 

At my university the on-campus rent is a little bit cheaper than off-campus housing, but crucially the apartments come furnished so I don't have to buy a lot of stuff at the beginning in addition to all the other "start-up costs" that come with moving. 

 

After those first 12 months...I'll be outta graduate housing as fast as I can!

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I'm not really a "room-mate person" and would prefer the freedom of having my own place...but for the first year I intend to live in graduate apartments on-campus. I'm unfamiliar with the area and won't have any chance to explore residential areas before term starts. I don't know what time constraints will be on me in first year - a daily 40 min commute might completely wipe me so I'd rather be close to the department at least until I adjust to the workload.

At my university the on-campus rent is a little bit cheaper than off-campus housing, but crucially the apartments come furnished so I don't have to buy a lot of stuff at the beginning in addition to all the other "start-up costs" that come with moving.

After those first 12 months...I'll be outta graduate housing as fast as I can!

Sounds like you and I are I'm the same boat. I would REALLLLYYY prefer to live off campus in a real apartment, but moving into an unfurnished place in a new city adds up quickly. The more I weigh the pros and cons, the more it sounds like I'll be relegated to on campus housing my first year.

I guess things could be worse.

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@Tie Was it looked down upon? I mean I can care less what people think, but if the "grad housing" is more or less just upperclass undergrads, then thanks but no thanks.

No, no one looked down on either living arrangement. Honestly where people lived wasn't a big deal. If someone lived on campus or with a roommate, it was usually assumed to be a financial thing. Every assumes you are broke and no one thinks about you living arrangements except you and your roomie. And maybe your girlfriend.

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I live off campus and don't regret it.  I'm a mile from school, so it's easy to get there.  I also like not being surrounded by other students.  I considered applying for student housing, but the application was structured in a way that you were bound to take whatever you were given and they couldn't guarantee a one-bedroom.  I could have wound up with multiple incompatible roommates.  The rents were also hundreds more than off-campus rents in nice neighborhoods (it was furnished with utilities included, but it doesn't cost that much to buy cheap furniture and pay for internet).  I also had a horrible experience as an undergrad in a housing community for grad students, upper classmen, and honors students.  I had to call in noise complaints every single night when I went to bed, there were fire drills at 3am all the time because of drunk people trying to cook and setting off their fire alarms, there was vomit in the halls and stairwells after every weekend and they often wouldn't clean it up and just let it bake in the sun, etc. 

 

That said, I don't think grad-student-only housing at a good price is always a bad idea.  I'm very independent and have moved to new cities where I didn't know anyone and lived alone there multiple times.  It would probably be easier to meet people in on campus housing if that is a priority for you.  Also, the neighborhoods adjacent to campus might not be suitable for living in due to high crime or extremely high rent prices.  Check out all your options and see what is best for you.

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