You have so many decisions to make when heading off to college. Once you pick your school and get accepted, you still have to figure out your major, which classes to take and how to juggle your studies with a part-time job and socializing. Where you live is an important decision, too. Most four-year colleges have residence halls, or dormitories, on campus, but there's also the option of renting an apartment or house off-campus. How do you decide?
First, make sure you really do have a choice. Many colleges require freshmen to stay in a dorm unless they live within a certain distance of campus. The argument is that they tend to do better academically. There's easy access to your classes, your professors and resources designed to help you get off to a good start. Being on campus also makes it easier to get involved in activities, meet people who share your interests and truly experience college life. Most freshmen are on their own for the first time, and it's a huge adjustment. Living in a dorm provides a level of security that an apartment doesn't. And since parking is expensive on many campuses, if you live there, you don't necessarily need to have a car. (Some schools don't even allow freshmen to keep one on campus.)
Some colleges take it a step further, creating programs just for freshmen like the Freshman Experience at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta. This program provides for freshman-only housing and meal plans, but it also includes a support system with features such as networking opportunities with upperclassmen, faculty and alumni. This might be really appealing to you, especially given the 2010 statistic that 1 in 3 college students either dropped out or transferred to another school after their first year [source: Mack].
That being said, you might still want to live in an apartment. Many residence halls offer apartment-style living, single rooms or suites where you have a private bath or share a bath with just a few other people. But the standard (and the least expensive option) is still a double room with a community bathroom, and not everyone is down with that. Dorms have rules that might rub you the wrong way, like no burning candles or visitors after 1 a.m. You may also be required to purchase a meal plan, and while some dining halls have great food and lots of options, others don't, or their hours aren't convenient.
Cost is another factor. Everything is included in a dorm; in an apartment, you have to worry about paying rent and utilities separately, buying and cooking food, and getting to and from campus (and often paying for a parking space). But if you have several potential apartment roommates lined up, the cost of renting could be comparable. It all depends on your budget and comfort level.