Choosing off campus

Two groups of juniors vying for housing in Pierson College’s lower court next fall have launched a rigorous campaign, soliciting votes from their classmates using posters and e-mails. Last spring, the battle for the Saybrook College’s 12-Pack suite was less organized, but still ended in more than one man-tear. The housing lottery blights the Yale calendar every April for all students planning to live on-campus.

But each year, 20 to 30 percent of upperclassmen ­— or roughly 600 students — forgo the uncomfortable social politics of housing season, leaving their residential colleges altogether, Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske ’74 said. Although that number has declined significantly since the 1990s, when an average of roughly 900 students moved off-campus every year, it represents a group of students who choose to carve out homes on the edges of the Yale bubble rather than within it.

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Erica Cooper
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While the decision is largely socially motivated, an off-campus move hinges on the question of cost for many students. $10,700 for this year’s room and board at Yale may not be cheap, but it’s relatively consistent. Moving off-campus puts this money in students’ pockets, but exposes some Yalies to an unfamiliar level of financial freedom and an opportunity to save or to spend excessively.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Because off-campus students are geographically — and often emotionally — detached from their colleges, less time is spent in common rooms, dining halls and butteries and more time leaking cash in coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

“Off-campus life tends to cater more to those from moneyed backgrounds,” said Alex Kain ’09, who has lived off-campus for two years.

Still, students who are on financial aid are still eligible for receiving aid off-campus, Director of Student Financial Services Caesar Storlazzi said. The aid money is simply transferred to off-campus facilities, such as landlords and gas companies, in exchange for a smaller Yale tab.

The relative cost of on- and off-campus housing is largely determined by rent, which ranges vastly by building and area. Houses and apartment buildings on the west side of campus, along Howe Street and Edgewood Avenue, for example, typically have low-end monthly rents, from $400 to $600 a person. The rents in other apartment buildings, like the Taft, the Oxford, the Cambridge, the Dinmore and Orleton Court are usually a couple hundred dollars higher and can reach into the quadruple digits.

Off-campus students, who usually find summer subletters, pay nine months of rent per year. In comparison, the annual cost of Yale housing, divided by nine months, comes to a monthly rate of $650. But since the cost of utilities is $100 per month, on average, off-campus students with rents over $550 generally spend more than those living on-campus.

Food, of course, complicates the bottom line. It can either cut expenses or stabilize living costs, depending on one’s dining preferences.

On campus, the full 21-meal plan is mandatory for freshmen, while other on-campus students can opt instead for 14 meals a week with $150 of flex points per semester. Both plans have the same $4,860 annual price tag.

The savings from turning down the meal plan — which breaks down to roughly $23 a day — can be significant for off-campus students who stick to a rigid dietary regime.

In an average day, David Thier ’09, an Edgewood Avenue resident, said he consumes one can of black beans, one onion, an assortment of spices, an eighth of a block of Monterey Jack and two tortillas. Thier’s cheap calories keep his living costs low.

Most students, however, admitted that they cook less than they initially thought they would — or could — given their busy schedules. And the endless eating out and ordering in, many agreed, can add up to a hefty sum.

“Its hardly the endless circle of dinner parties that we were envisioning. Lots of Main Garden,” said Edgewood Avenue resident Jeff White ’09, referring to the Chinese restaurant around the corner. (White is a former photography editor for the News.)

Still, off-campus students who miss the convenience and quantity of Yale’s dining halls can attend Sunday family night dinners, purchase a 5-meal-a-week plan or bursar their meals. Many students interviewed even admitted to leaving dining halls with bags full of fruit and napkin-wrapped sandwiches to last them at home.

NEIGHBORHOODS OF CULTURE

Unequal in quality but equal in cost, Yale’s dormitories are a socioeconomic equalizer. Many on-campus students suggested that the diversity of their college communities is often lost by moving off-campus. Ben Margines ’10 said he would never abandon his on-campus culture or the “grab bag of friends” he has lived with in his last three years at Yale.

“The continuous social interaction that on-campus housing provides is the epitome of college-life,” he said.

In contrast, class differences are starkly apparent off-campus, said Kathryn Olivarius ’11, who is moving into the Lynwood next fall. “When it comes to the Oxford, the Cambridge and the Taft, there is a definite class divide,” Olivarius said.

While social class can be more noticeable off-campus, Thier said, many students live well below their means. “There are a lot of wealthy people slumming it,” he said.

Ultimately, Thier said, one’s social group, not bank account, determines one’s off-campus address. Off-campus dwellers, he said, tend to locate where their junior or senior friends lived the year before, creating neighborhoods of culture as opposed to wealth.

Beyond financial considerations, a dozen off-campus students said they enjoy greater privacy off-campus, distance from the fast pace of Yale’s campus life and, simply, a more secure sense of home.

Streeter Phillips ’10, who rents an apartment in the Oxford, calls the off-campus life “bittersweet” — both liberating and isolating. Off-campus students, he said, are inevitably removed from their residential colleges, which are one of the most unique and celebrated aspects of the Yale undergraduate experience.

Still, Master of Saybrook College Edward Kamens said most off-campus students remain fully engaged in their colleges, adding that “the college masters and deans do all that can be done to ensure that most students living in the college is the preferred, default, and very best option.”

Inevitably, the off-campus groups form a kind of “intimate community,” as Lynwood Place resident Allen Sanchez ’10 put it.

Belonging to this outside community, however, means forgoing the custodial services and security gates of the University.

Many off-campus students grumbled of general maintenance issues, such as malfunctioning plumbing, dishwashers and air conditioning.

Kain, a resident of Lynwood Place, noticed that a ping-pong ball placed on his floor immediately rolled to one side of his room. “Our house is sinking on one side,” he deduced.

A door in Kain’s Lynwood bedroom leads out to a parking lot. On two different evenings, he said, uninvited strangers tried to open it with accompanying shouts of “Frank.”

“I think someone sells drugs on Lynwood Place,” Kain said. “And they mistake my house for the drug house.”

Dwelling in these more independent — though sometimes more dangerous — living situations, feels less artificial, off-campus students agreed.

And as the economy continues to sour, upperclassmen are bracing for a tougher lifestyle after college. Paying bills and buying groceries, Sanchez said, is good practice for post-graduation.

“It puts you in situations that you wouldn’t experience otherwise,” he said. “This will be valuable after college.”

Comments

  • Howe-streeter

    I'm not quite sure where you got your numbers, but I live in one of those many Howe street apartments, and my 1-br rent is $950/month…

  • Sam

    Juniors and seniors still living on campus eating cafeteria food and being taken care of by the University are immature losers that should grow up. Living off campus is one step closer to the real world, when one pays bills, cooks food, is exposed to diverse people of different ages and races and must find a social network outside of the university. Of course, Yale has an interest in keeping students on campus. Yale makes a profit on giving them room and board and the student gets more attached to the University. The student, however, loses out in the end.

  • Wrong Sam

    Did you not read the article? Many students living off campus are wealthy. They are not living closer to the real world because their parents are helping them out still.

  • The Horse's Mouth

    I'm glad that you enjoy living off-campus, Sam. But to characterize peers who make a different choice as "immature losers" is just plain nuts. Lots of juniors and seniors--who are plenty grown-up--know that they have the rest of their lives to live off-campus. And as for paying bills, are you telling me that because you're living off-campus, you're paying your rent yourself? Or are you simply conveying your parents' support to a landlord? Look, there are lots of ways to do Yale. Living off campus as a junior and/or senior is certainly one of them--and a valid choice for some. But to claim moral superiority for doing so is, frankly, childish.

  • Anonymous

    What "social network" do you take part in off-campus, Sam? Paying for drinks doesn't make you significantly more grown up than the rest of us; it just means you have way more disposable income.

    Given the abysmal state of any off-campus housing that doesn't cost well in excess of Yale room and board, I think it's pretty reasonable to stay on-campus if you can live with the people you want. Of course, if your desired roommates live in different colleges or have differently-shaped genitalia; if price is no object; or if you live in Morse or Stiles, then Yale housing may suck enough for you to look elsewhere. But the more-mature-than-thou attitude is hilariously childish.

  • Anonymous

    This is a stunning piece of reporting.

    Claire Gordon should be desperately proud of herself for unearthing such a groundbreaking issue.

  • Y09

    As someone who has lived off campus and tried to keep up my involvement in my (wonderful) residential college, I can say that there are certainly benefits to either experience that go beyond cost issues. There is something extremely refreshing to not being in a residential college, although it's hard to put my finger on it exactly.

    As much as off-campus students might be missing out on certain aspects of Yale life, we must be honest and admit that within every residential college, there is a hardcore group that lives and breathes their college and has little to no "Yale life" beyond it. Are they going to be ready for the real world? Of course. That's not the point. But are they necessarily taking advantage of all that Yale has to offer? I don't think so.

  • MC '09

    A large portion that I feel was left out of this article was the disparity between living conditions of the residential colleges. A HUGE reason why I moved off campus was because I was living in Morse. I honestly do not know how Yale thinks it is fair to put students in Morse and Stiles and charge them the same amount on room and board. It's a joke when compared to the amenities other colleges have. The printer in the library never even works half the time. Not to mention the horrid aesthetics, and terrible lighting and ventilation in the rooms. I moved out because I was tired of paying Yale to live in what felt like an upscale prison.

  • Sam

    #5, the social network includes a mature set of friends that prefer not to socialize in an institutional dorm room setting. If you find good roommates, living off campus can actually be less expensive.

  • TO MC '09

    Transfering is an option, is it not?

  • Anonymous

    I never realized that paying bills, interacting with people of various ages and social backgrounds and cooking my own food can only be done outside university walls.

    Not to mention all the maturing I'm missing out on from engaging in said significant activities!

  • annoyed

    Sam, yes, they ARE all immature losers…or…

    1) don't want to live without the amenities that yale provides since they have the rest of their lives to fend off addicts yelling for Frank and skip class to wait for a plumber

    2) study abroad for a semester

    3) realize that it will end up being more expensive

    4) enjoy living with their friends who want to remain on campus for their own reasons

    5) don't fantasize about "roughing it" for the sole purpose of reminiscing about their shitty college apartment and joking about the bug problem.

    6) for whatever reason, don't spend their time dreaming of potential dinner parties with fondue and stove-top ravioli.

    7) recognize that many people who move off campus often do so as a social statement, in an attempt to seem more grown up (that would be you, Sam). you don't have to be a hipster to be mature, kids.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Sam,

    I came to Yale to get an academic education. I don't see how taking advantage of the measures Yale puts in place so that I can make the most of my studies is immature.

    Learning how to live on your own, pay the bills, cook for yourself and be otherwise responsible is important, but not the point of college. I'd rather make sure I learn as much as I can about my major, so I can be prepared for my career, than get all excited about playing grown-up with a bunch of my friends.

  • Flores

    Hey Claire I found your article trying to see if somebody at the YDN had ever in the history of Yale told me how much I should expect to spend on food in a month. I didn't really find out, but…I read the article anyway and I enjoyed it very much--maybe EVEN more than I have enjoyed reading the various merits and demerits of "Sam's" two cents that he felt were necessary at dropping in on your well-researched article.

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