Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Mastering off-campus living skills: What you need to know

March 8, 2024
Grocery bag photo illustration along Grand River Avenue on March 7, 2024.
Grocery bag photo illustration along Grand River Avenue on March 7, 2024. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

Off-campus housing can present challenges for students. Amid the whirlwind of packing and moving preparations, essential off-campus living skills are often overlooked. 

A smooth transition from dorm to apartment or house requires thorough preparation. Addressing every aspect of a move through planning can help to ensure a seamless, and even enjoyable, experience in moving off campus. 

From mastering practical skills to navigating the intricacies of independent living, covering all bases becomes key for students venturing into this exciting new phase of their academic journey.


When journalism and professional and public writing  junior Savan Saiya-Cork transferred to Michigan State University, her only option for housing was off campus. Though she has grown to love it, Saiya-Cork said one of the biggest challenges was navigating the labyrinth of transportation options in the Lansing area.

Initially harboring disdain for buses due to her susceptibility to motion sickness, Saiya-Cork said she wrestled with the complexity of the many routes.

"You are going to wind up using the bus system," Saiya-Cork said. "You just have to accept getting lost and taking the wrong routes until you eventually get the hang of them."

She said downloading the appropriate apps and asking those around you for help requires a lot of courage, but it helps make the process a lot easier.

Having conquered the CATA buses with gusto, Saiya-Cork pivoted to confront her next transportation adversary: driving.

Community members getting on CATA bus one at Frandor Shopping Center's bus stop on Oct. 13, 2022.

While road rules might be uniform across the state, Saiya-Cork said the nuances of driving etiquette varied from city to city. Different standards for passing and idiosyncrasies in handling pedestrians added layers to the driving behaviors she needed to decipher.

Parking is another component in off-campus housing. While residencies generously offer some sort of on-site parking, those excluded or financially constrained find themselves embroiled in the quest for alternative parking.

On campus, students are given the option of confinement to commuter lots or navigating the pay-by-plate zones, possibly posing financial trouble for college budgets.

While often overlooked in the busyness of off-campus life, planning parking arrangements for your vehicle becomes a crucial note.

Cooking and Dining

Communications sophomore Mackenzie Brown said she's unearthed a treasure trove of new skills to accommodate her new residency, including cost efficiency and couponing while grocery shopping. 

Every time she goes to the grocery store, she goes home with saved money in her pocket and arms full of groceries, she said. She's able to haggle and coupon her way into great deals to ensure a cost-effective meal plan.

However, buying groceries is only one part of the off-campus skill. Brown then has to turn the groceries into a nutritious meal.

Brown champions home-cooking by opting for the stove over the dining-out hustle. She revels in the empowerment of choosing each ingredient to ensure she maintains a healthy, balanced diet.

Computational data science engineering freshman Khalil Alameh said proudly wearing the chef's hat is one of his most cherished off-campus skills. 

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Despite eating being such a huge part of his daily life, Alameh says he initially underestimated the intricacies of grocery shopping, kitchen upkeep and the management of meal planning amid academic demands. 

Since easing into the off-campus lifestyle, Alameh said he learned to manage each aspect and sees himself as a refined chef in his own way.

With a bunch of new recipes under his belt, Alameh said his dining experience at home has been better than any on-campus dining experience.

"It totally surprised me with how few people really know how to cook," Saiya-Cork said. "When you move off campus, you can't rely on your dining plan anymore. You have to learn how to work with your stove and oven, and you have to learn to make your own meals."


College life thrives on communication and relationship building, often facilitated by the plethora of on-campus events that encourage connections among students. However, in the realm of off-campus living, these events are rarer and oftentimes less accessible, demanding that students develop competence in communication and connection building independently.

Forestry grad student Parker Hopkins said living off campus emphasizes the rarity of such events. This scarcity, however, prompts off-campus students to hone their communication and connection-building skills.

Hopkins pointed out these challenges also create opportunities to meet people from diverse backgrounds. 

"You get better at making conversation with people from all walks of life when you meet your neighbors in off-campus housing," he said, highlighting the enriching aspect of off-campus interactions.

He said these encounters, though less frequent, hold the potential for rich and varied social interactions.

Saiya-Cork agreed that communication is vital for off-campus housing. Living with multiple roommates, she asserts that connecting and openly discussing issues or collaboratively solving problems is the linchpin for successful off-campus living.

The dynamic of off-campus arrangements differs significantly from on-campus housing, she said. 

"With on-campus housing, if you have an issue, you can just request to change a room," Saiya-Cork said. "It isn't as simple with off-campus housing. You've signed a contract with these people for an extended period, and you have to solve problems together and communicate issues to make it work."


Both Saiya-Cork and Hopkins underscore the significance of practical handiwork in navigating an off-campus lifestyle. 

Hopkins categorizes these as "basic adulting skills," highlighting the stark difference between on-campus and off-campus responsibilities.

While on-campus living involves tasks like maintaining cleanliness and doing laundry, the off-campus scenario demands a broader range of competencies. Students find themselves tackling electrical issues, addressing drainage problems and engaging in basic plumbing, among other practical tasks.

"You should know how to do basic handiwork around your apartment," Saiya-Cork said. "You no longer have a group of people at your disposal to solve issues."

When students move off-campus, Residence Education and Housing Services, or REHS, is no longer readily available to resolve any issues for them. Instead, off-campus students have to either manage on their own or pay for outside services to help solve issues.

For Saiya-Cork, off-campus housing isn't just a place to reside; it's a training ground for well-prepared individuals entering the real world. In this context, the ability to handle practical tasks becomes not just a necessity but a transformative experience, shaping students into resourceful and capable individuals ready to face the challenges of adulthood.


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