Living On-Campus vs Off-Campus in Australia. Interview with a Student Who Has Done Both

by Luna Erica

With a full suitcase, you step out of the corridor and into the room where you’ll be studying, jamming, and doing whatever else for the coming months or more. You hear intoxicated twenty-year-olds laughing merrily in the room next door; the smell that permeates your nose is that of old books. Time to make the place your own!

Though experiences always differ, the above scenario could occur in either student housing or off-campus accommodation. Living in Australian Halls can be an absolute blast, but having a house offers entirely different opportunities.

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For this article, we interviewed a current student in Australia who has experience living both on- and off-campus. His opinions and tips are the ones outlined below, but again: Every study experience is different. This article is here to help you make an informed decision as to how to start yours off.

To get the scoop about accommodation in Australia, we talked to Junior, a Master’s student in Computer Science at Monash University. He came to Australia first on exchange, and then returned for his Master’s because he liked it so much the first time. The Monash campus was his home for over three years before he moved off-campus with a group of friends.

What are the costs of living on-campus vs off-campus?

Let’s start with a crucial point: money.

When you google salaries in Australia, you’ll probably be shocked. (Go ahead, try it!) Students there often earn around 20 euros for an hour’s work — the country had the ninth highest average wage in the world in 2019, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The thing a lot of people don’t realize when looking at wages is that expenses are raised equally. In most cases, paying rent will be a lot more expensive in Australia than what you’re used to at home. Living “on res” (on campus) is especially pricey. One week in a room will cost you 250 AUD, which translates to roughly 150 EUR. That’s around 600 EUR per month.

Living off campus is cheaper, but it comes with its own risks. While on campus you have water, gas and electricity, as well as campus events included, you have to pay more for these things in off-campus housing depending on your own use of them. So, if you and your housemates never shower and don’t mind keeping the heating off, renting a house will be heaps cheaper. If not, the price rises depending on your use.

Sydney Opera House, in Australia

Social life and friendships

There are special student events for those living on-campus. For example, at Monash University, there are biweekly snack nights, where people come together to eat free treats and chat. They also have biweekly bar nights, where students walk to the local sports bar or club in a big group and dance to whatever music — live or electronic — is on there.

On top of that, finally, there are recurring activities such as the building-wide game of Assassins, which is basically a non-lethal Hunger Games. There’s also the Random Acts of Kindness-week, where you buy gifts for a randomly assigned person in the hall for a week to show appreciation.

Most residential buildings will have a few weeks of introduction to help new students settle in. This can include visiting the city, going on a scavenger’s hunt, watching movies together, seeing local wildlife, and playing all kinds of cool group games. Because it’s governed by the residential services, it’s all safe and none of it obligatory. That makes it genuinely fun for everyone!

But the main advantage of living on-campus, Junior says, is meeting everyone from all over the world, every semester. “That was pretty much the best experience — just living with and getting to know hundreds of people.” He adds that you can still meet people in classes or at social clubs, but that limits you a bit more to one field of interest than if you would just run into your new best friend in the kitchen. Plus, if you live on-campus, you’re closer to the academic buildings. That means you can also much more easily go to those clubs and make friends there anyway.

When asked if he would like to share any stories of campus life, Junior mentions the renowned tale of the fire extinguisher — an occurrence where a group of anonymous friends had an epic water fight with one of the water-based fire extinguishers in the kitchen. He recalls the spontaneous guitar lessons; the touristy trips to the city; the meals his friends taught each other to make. Student housing is a lot more than just living together, whether it be in a house or on campus.

Many things that make campus life so special, though, are things you could recreate in a student house. Having the same group of people around you all the time can make for great parties or some midnight trips to McDonald’s (“Maccas”, in local slang). The big difference is that you’ll have to organize it all yourself.

Junior summarizes his experience with student accommodation as follows: “Initially, my plan was to live on-campus for, like, a semester, and then I’d move out. But then campus life was so good because of the people you meet, and I just stayed there for three years instead.”

What about the bathrooms (and other facilities)?

Time to answer the real questions!

Unless you’re lucky (or rich), you’re not getting out of the awkward bathroom encounters or the shared kitchen usage. Still, there’s something great in knowing you can always knock on someone’s door if you need help – something you could do both on- and off-campus.

Then again, there’s also comfort in knowing your housemates… granted you like them. It can feel safer having the same people around you all the time. And it can be the best years of your life if they end up becoming your friends. The only risk is that you often won’t know who you’ll end up with until you do.

As for hygiene — on res, you can count on the cleanliness of the place. It’s always a good idea to bring flipflops (or “thongs”, if you’re Australian) into a shower for ultimate safety, but the residential services will have hygiene guidelines to follow and will usually have a cleaning company take care of the place daily. In off-campus housing, not so much. It’ll be your responsibility to keep your space clean and communicate with your housemates to keep the common areas clean as well. That can be easy as peas, but it again depends entirely on the gang you end up with.

On top of your average facilities, residential buildings will often also have additional ones. At Monash University, Junior spent many nights in the basement of his building, where the residential service had set up not only a place where people could go to drink (which was not technically allowed anywhere else in the building, although, you guessed it, it happened anyway), but also a small (and very comfy) movie theatre, and a music room with a piano, drums, and a broken guitar. Monash Residential Services also included ‘Halls Caf’, a small restaurant where any student could get a cheap meal twice a day.

And what’s nicer than living a short walk away from uni? The proximity to campus and all of its additional facilities — libraries, study lounges, restaurants, theatres — is one major advantage according to Junior. That said, of course, you can also get an off-campus house very close to campus, or do it the real Aussie way and buy a car to drive to class.

The Australian Gold Coast in Queensland Surfers Paradise

Rules, guidelines and regulations

The endless rules are one big peeve Junior mentioned about living on-campus. Not drinking in your room is one rule that’s easy to be broken, of course. But there are also technicalities — things such as having to fill out a form to have a non-campus friend stay over in your room or not being able to make huge adjustments to the room itself.These small things can make you feel a bit watched at some points.

In your own house, you would have a lot more freedom. Keep in mind, though, that with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility. Halls have rules for your safety, and for theirs. They have security guards and offer you any services you may need, and that just has to come at a price.

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So, how do you find your perfect place?

Junior suggests that the easiest and fullest experience is to first live on-campus for a while and then move into a house with the people you met there. That way, you get the whole campus life experience before moving into a freer way of living with people that you actually want to live with.

Once you’ve decided to live on- or off-campus, the real work starts. Here are some tips to help you find a great place:

If you want to live off-campus

There are tons of online resources to find housing in a certain area, and all you have to do is message them for more information. A great one to check out for Australia and the UK is BestStudentHalls.com, where experts help you find a place — and they do it for free.

It’s always smart to go see a place in person before you sign a contract if only to get a feel of the people who live there with you. If you’re moving abroad, viewing a house or studio is harder. One option is to rent a hotel or hostel room for a week or two when you arrive, look for rooms in that time, and then move in.

A less risky choice would be to find a room-finding service that can do the work for you, but that may cost you some cash. Finally, of course, you can reach out to any people you may know in the country — or to the university services — and see if they can help you out. No one will underestimate your struggle, and the kindness of most Australian folks will only be proven.

If you want to live on-campus

For on-campus living, then, it’s even simpler. You have two options: One is to is reach out to your university’s residential services, choose a building, fill out some paperwork and move in. A second option is to consult BestStudentHalls, who have all the different types of halls, and essentially all your possibilities, together on one website.

Especially if you’re moving abroad, this can be a nice and safe way to arrive after a long and exhausting journey. Monash University even offers a free taxi service to your building, so do some research to see if your university has the same option!

Ready to move in?

No matter where you live, attending university is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll make friends and learn things and be welcomed into a community of peers in a way that you’ll experience nowhere else. Junior’s big tip for uni life, fittingly, is this:

“Just be friendly. Don’t stay in your room all the time – it can get tempting to do that and just work on your stuff. But once you leave, all you remember is the memories of being in your room in the dark. You can do that anywhere. This is the finite time where you can meet all these people and just chill.”

And if you really want to move, after all, there’s always next semester.

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