My daughter started college on her 18th birthday, and as she walked out the door that day, I ached inside. It felt like a sudden change of season, and a major milestone that there was no way to emotionally prepare for. My first baby becoming an official adult and heading to the hallowed halls of higher education on the same day hit me hard. Watching her walk out our front door, I felt my heart trying to chase after her.
I don’t know how parents drop their kids off at college. I really don’t. I felt emotional about my daughter starting university, but it wasn’t like we weren’t going to see her. She came home that first evening to tell us about her day over dinner. Then she retreated to her room to do homework. Then she got up and did the same thing the next day.
We are fortunate to live five minutes away from a major university, and 15 minutes from another. My daughter chose the further school for its programs, and chose to live at home instead of on campus. And we are thrilled with that decision — for the most part. Like all decisions, there are pros and cons to it. If you’re debating that decision with your kids, here are some considerations:
The Pros of Living at Home During College:
The most obvious benefit of our daughter living with us during college is financial. According to the College Board, the average cost of room and board in 2017–2018 was $10,800 at four-year public universities and $12,210 at private schools. Her bedroom at home costs us nothing, and we’re already budgeted to feed her. Speaking as someone who is still paying off student loans 20 years after graduating, saving $40,000+ over four years is nothing to sneeze at.
We enjoy hanging out with our kids, and family time has always been important to us. I love that our daughter can come home after a hard day and lay her head on my shoulder. I love that we can be here to help her through her rough spots. I love that we’ll get to meet her new friends and play host to kids who are far away from their own parents. I love that I don’t have to worry if we haven’t heard from her in a while. I love that we get more time with her.
Easing into adulthood
A somewhat related perk is that our daughter gets to have a slower transition to full independence. Many college students find themselves overwhelmed by suddenly having total freedom and the responsibilities that go along with it. I’ve seen students lose themselves in college, crack under pressure, flail about aimlessly, and engage in all kinds of destructive behaviors as they struggle to figure out how to make the transition into adulthood. Independence is great, but it doesn’t have to happen overnight.
Finally, especially as a young woman, living at home is somewhat safer. Two of my best friends were raped our freshman year of college — one of them in a dorm room during the first week of school. According to the Department of Justice, one in four undergraduate women entering college will be sexually assaulted by the time she graduates. Of course, living at home doesn’t guarantee our daughter’s safety, but it does remove her from the environment that predators and opportunists can easily take advantage of.
The Cons of Living at Home During College:
For us, the pros pretty heavily outweigh the cons, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any concerns about the arrangement. A few thoughts that pop into my head sometimes:
I lived on campus all four years of college, and I made lifelong friends through that experience. When you’re living far from home, you have to learn to rely on those you’re living with. I don’t know if I would have formed as close of bonds with my college friends if we hadn’t spent time together 24/7, and done so in the absence of family and other friends. I want my daughter to enjoy those kinds of friendships, but I think she’s going to have to work harder to create them than I did.
Figuring out boundaries
Our daughter is now an adult, legally responsible for herself — so what does that mean for us as her parents? What is our role? How has it changed? What rules should we have, if any? Thankfully, we have a good, communicative relationship with our daughter, but these questions still hover in my mind — especially looking ahead to the coming years. Right now, she’s just left high school. But two years from now, she’ll be 20. What will things look like then?
When you live on campus, you’re in a self-contained lifestyle that caters to you, whereas having to drive to school and back home again every day is a different beast. Our daughter has to either pack a lunch or buy one each day. She has to find parking or coordinate ridesharing with other friends who live off campus. She doesn’t have a dorm room to retreat to during a break between classes if she wants to. It’s more like going to work, which perhaps will prepare her better for the “real world,” but compared to living on campus it’s less convenient.
Yes, the easing into adulthood pro can also be a con, depending on how you look at it. While I’m not keen on pushing full independence too quickly, I’m also aware that living at home can be used as a crutch. It’s a balance we’ll all have to stay conscious of, with us making sure we give her the space to stretch her wings and with her taking responsibility for her own life under our roof.
Every family has to make the choices that work for them within the circumstances presented to them, of course. Ultimately, we are grateful to have the option to forgo campus living, happy that our daughter has chosen it, and thrilled that when she walks out the door, we get to see her walk back through it every day — at least for a little bit longer.
Annie Reneau is a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone. Her writing can be found on Upworthy and Scary Mommy, in O Magazine, and in a big ol’ slush pile inside her head. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.