I lived on-campus my first year of university, and I've lived off ever since (well, okay, I don't go to school now, so of course I don't live on-campus!
). I think it's a good idea to live on-campus for your first year, especially if you're from quite a ways away, because it forces you to meet new people and gives you a closer view of university/college life. I know if I had lived off-campus my first year, I would never have bothered to get to know anyone -- I'm a loner by nature, and I just would have stayed at home. Living on-campus with a roommate in a close-knit residence enabled me to break out of my shell a bit.
After first year, I think you should do whatever makes you happiest. For me, that was living off-campus. Residence was great and all, but I need my privacy, and I was tired of being forced to participate in the various games, parties and activities that my residence always seemed to be having.
A few pointers, from someone who's been there:
* meet your future landlords beforehand and get a feel for them. How involved are they going to be in your daily life? (If you're living in their house and they live there, too, they could be really
involved!) How involved do you want
them to be? What are their policies on late nights, drinking, smoking, overnight guests, etc?
* if it's at all possible, try to speak to previous tenants of your landlord. What did they think of the landlord? How quickly did problems like leaky toilets or burnt-out lights get fixed? Was the landlord intrusive? Why are the previous tenants moving out? (If there's bad blood between the previous tenants and the landlord you might get mixed messages, but it's good to know now.)
* try to keep up an open communication with your landlord. We had a problem with another tenant in our building regarding our cats, and we discussed it with our landlady -- her solution was to install a pretty french door in our living room, to keep the cats out of there at night so they wouldn't wake up the downstairs tenant. If you keep things friendly -- and try to always keep property values in mind and show that you take an interest in maintaining their home -- you ought to stay on good terms with your landlord.
* make sure to check the security of doors and windows before you move in. If screens are loose or the lock on the door sticks, find out if your landlord can have it fixed before you move in. If they're not interested in fixing things and ensuring your safety, I'd find someplace else to live.
* if you're living alone and female, get a male friend to leave the voicemail message on your phone (or just opt for the generic one the phone company provides), and make sure to have yourself listed only by your first initial and last name (eg. J. Smith) -- nobody needs to know you live alone.
* look into having security lights installed over your front door (the kind that turn on automatically when triggered by motion); that way, you can leave them on all day and they'll turn on when you get home -- they'll also turn on if somebody else shows up at your door.
* make sure you have a telephone in your bedroom, right by your bed, even if it's just your cellphone. That way if there's an emergency at night, you have quick access to assistance.
* my dad had me keep a wooden baseball bat under my bed when I lived alone. I never used it, but just having it there made me feel safer.
* if you make any changes to the apartment, make sure to check with your landlord first (especially if they're major changes, like painting) and always keep the receipt -- a lot of landlords will let you deduct minor repairs from the rent, so long as you provide proof of purchase. (A lot of landlords will also let you paint if you promise to restore the apartment to its original colours before you move out -- but check first!) We replaced the mailbox and installed a security light instead of the regular porch light, and took those costs out of our rent, with our landlady's approval. For other things (like installing funky doorknobs in place of the old boring ones, or swapping a cushioned toilet seat instead of the hard, cold plastic one) just make sure to keep the ones that came with the house, and re-install them when you move out.
The most important thing about living on your own (whether completely alone, with a family or other renters, or with your friends) is to be aware of your own personal security. If something about the apartment could put your health at risk, you have to let your landlord know. I found living alone to be both scary and empowering; as a result, I can fix pretty much anything (previous landlords have been all but useless at home repairs), I know how to take care of myself, and I learned to be comfortable on my own.
Whew, I'm long-winded! Guess I must be bored at work or something ...