One of the most intimidating parts about choosing where you are going to study, besides the university, is trying to decide where you’re going to live. Should you stay on campus? Should you rent a place? What if it’s too expensive? If your school has some sort of Facebook group, it’s possible some people are even starting to plan to move together. Do universities expect you to stay in dorms?
Honestly neither is better than the other. On campus or off campus there are many variables, but let’s get more specific. Really, what are your choices?
The Dorms: This is the simplest, and for many of us, the easiest one. A lot of universities in Canada, like in the U.S., offer student dorms and accommodations. Dorms are basically large buildings where students share common spaces like kitchen, tv rooms, laundry rooms, etc. Most times bathrooms are also shared by each floor. However, according to an Insider article, the U.S. puts a lot more emphasis on dorm life than Canada. For a lot of international students this may be good news.
When I was applying to American universities, even before I knew that it was mandatory for me to live in the dorms, I felt that social expectation to live on campus. I thought if I didn’t, I’d miss out on a lot of opportunities to meet people and make friends. This was also probably put in my mind by movies I’d watched when I was younger. While it’s true living on campus might help you make friends, you’re not missing out on much if you don’t. There are other ways in all universities to get involved on campus and meet people.
Moreover, according to McGill University graduate, Paula Tsvayg on Money magazine, “There’s much more of a culture of independence” in Canadian universities. Students would have to move out after their first year, so definitely there’s less pressure to live on campus. Even when it comes to Greek life, according to Insider, it’s not as big as in the U.S. either.
Townhouses: Campbell Cohen Canada Immigration Lawyers describe Townhouses as student accommodations provided and managed by the university, housing three to six students who would most likely get their own room each. In this case, the shared kitchen and living room would be only for these students rather than the whole building or floor. The only thing is usually this type of accommodation will be reserved for upperclassmen, meaning first year students would not be able to stay apply to this.
While student accommodations tend to offer reduced prices, depending on the university’s options and availability, it may even be more convenient to find a place off-campus. Nevertheless, the best place to start is the university’s housing website. Even if they can’t help directly, they usually try to include other options for students to look into or will at least be happy to direct you to someone who can help, since it wouldn’t be strange for dormitories to fill out quickly.
Apartments: The biggest pros about renting an apartment will definitely be the sense of independence and the level of comfort. The biggest con will be the cost. According to InternationalStudents.com the prices can vary greatly, as well as quality and availability. Rent can vary from CAD 400 to CAD 1500, especially in larger cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.
For international students, signing the lease and talking directly to the landlord may be a bit more complicated so if you plan to rent an apartment, make sure to start looking into it and planning with plenty of time before you need to be there.
Homestay: Staying with a host family in Canada can be an interesting choice for those who want that sort of completely culturally immersive experience. With luck, even after your time in Canada ends you will have a second family you’ll want to keep in touch with and come visit. According to the Canadian Education Centre (CEC) Network, “many Canadian families welcome international students.” CEC states the student would be matched to a family with similar interests and encouraged to participate in the family’s community activities.
CEC also mentions that Homestay is set up by the school, but it’s under the off-campus section because students would still have to commute to school for an average 30-50 minutes by bus or train, according to Campbell Cohen, though these times would obviously also vary.
A Small Exception:
While all of these are excellent choices for long-term students, short-term students might find simpler options. InternationalStudents.com points out that there may be some already furnished apartments available. Additionally, CEC mentions that there is a wide range of hotels to choose from, as well as Bed and Breakfasts and Youth Hostels.
Remember, especially if you’re studying in Canada long-term, try to find a place that is comfortable and safe. You’ll be in a different country, maybe for the first time; research and think thoroughly so this place can truly feel like a second home.
Wendy is an international student from Ecuador who just graduated from Seattle University with a double major in Creative Writing and Theatre. She’s excited to share some of the stories of things she’s learned in her time in the U.S.