Legally Blonde is one of my favorite movies of all time! I love watching protagonist Elle Woods on her journey through the application process before she finally is accepted to Harvard Law! In one of the film’s iconic scenes, Elle (and her adorable dog Bruiser) arrive at Harvard and move into a dorm room before heading to her first day of class. I was a little surprised that Elle was moving into a dorm room instead of an off-campus apartment, and it made me wonder: do law schools have dorms?
I was surprised, but it turns out that some law schools do have dorms! Law school dormitories are typically part of graduate student housing, meaning that the law students will mix and mingle with graduate students from a wide variety of disciplines. Law school dorms can range from traditional dorm rooms to shared on-campus apartments, depending on how the school has set up its housing.
What Are the Advantages for Law Students to Live on Campus?
Living on campus makes it easy for law students to get to class. Even on large campuses, most on-campus housing options are relatively close to the classrooms that the students need to get to. This can be extra important for law students who are always short on time given their responsibilities to attend class, do homework, and engage in their law school’s extracurricular activities, such as internships or writing for the law review.
If a law student has received financial aid, they can often use this to pay for on-campus housing only. Usually, the office of financial assistance will handle this payment process internally so that the student doesn’t have to write any checks or do administrative work to pay for their housing. This can be a significant advantage as it’s part of the financial aid package and a seamless payment process.
On-campus living also allows law students easy access to amenities that make the non-scholastic parts of their lives easier, such as the dining hall and athletic center. Students can take advantage of these services to create more time for classwork and studying since they’ll need less time for grocery shopping and meal preparation.
An additional advantage to living on campus is the built-in community that a dorm creates. Law students are typically housed with graduate students instead of traditional undergrad students, who are often the same age (or a little bit older). This usually results in a living environment that is more focused on academics and studying than on the undergraduate lifestyle.
What Are the Disadvantages for Law Students to Live on Campus?
It can be quite a bit more expensive to live on campus than to rent an off-campus apartment at many universities. This high on-campus cost is usually true for all on-campus housing, including traditional undergraduate dormitories. If you have financial aid that includes room and board, this is often mitigated, especially as this money can usually only go towards on-campus housing expenses.
Although most on-campus housing is set up for single students, most universities have limited on-campus facilities for married or family student housing. These facilities are typically one to two-bedroom apartments that include a full kitchen. Some campuses even have facilities designed specifically for families, including childcare options and outdoor playgrounds. Many schools will also offer extracurricular and educational opportunities for the spouses of current students.
On-campus housing is often very old and not always set up for a modern living. Some older dormitories can have thick walls that inhibit cell phone signals, as well as older internet cables. They also tend to have fewer electrical outlets, a remnant of a time when students didn’t have multiple electronic devices (laptop, phone, watch, Kindle, iPad, etc.) that needed to be plugged in to charge.
Maintenance can also be an issue for some campuses, especially if resources are stretched thin. Universities don’t always keep their housing facilities maintained and updated, and there is no way for students to perform any of this upkeep themselves. This means that on-campus law students are stuck with the facilities available and should not expect any significant improvements over their three years of law school.
There is often a waitlist to get a spot in graduate and law student on-campus housing despite these disadvantages. Accommodation is usually assigned based on seniority, which means first-year law students may never actually secure a room on campus. This uncertainty can add extra stress to incoming law students and cause unnecessary and unwelcome anxiety.
Where Else Can Law Students Live?
Unlike most undergraduate programs, universities don’t typically require law students to live on campus for any of their three years of law school. This allows law students to consider a variety of off-campus housing options.
Renting a House or Apartment
Many law students will choose to live off-campus in either a rented apartment or a house. In most areas of the country, the off-campus rental option is quite a bit cheaper than the on-campus dorm.
However, students who rent a house or apartment should be aware of the additional costs, such as utilities. Some rental agreements may include utilities such as electricity, water, heat, and even internet, but students should make sure they understand these hidden costs before signing a lease.
Living off-campus does mean that there is less immediate access to on-campus amenities such as the dining hall, medical center, and fitness center. Law students can still access these facilities using their student ID card; they just are harder to get to since they’re not living on the campus where they are located.
Students should also think about the length of their commute to campus, plus where they’ll park their car if driving. Most schools have a parking fee for commuters, and not all campus parking lots are close to the academic buildings (especially at large universities). Some schools do offer discounted or even free access to public transportation, making it easier for off-campus students to get to campus.
Live at Home
Living with their parents may be an option for law students who choose a school close to their familial home. Living at home can be a cheap or even free option, depending on what is negotiated between law students and their parents. Since law school tends to be quite expensive in general with high tuition and fees, saving money by living at home can be a great way to keep costs low and avoid building up more student debt.
However, law students should think carefully before choosing to live at home with their parents. For many, especially those who lived on-campus or away from home for their undergraduate education, moving back under their parents’ roof can be stressful. Parents may have expectations around curfews, overnight guests, and chores that all need to be negotiated.
Private Student Housing
One unique option that law students should consider for their housing is private student housing. Private student housing consists of dormitories that are often close to campus, run by a third party, and not by the university. Some private student housing options are in the traditional dormitory style, but many also have communal apartment living options.
Private student housing provides many of the same amenities as on-campus housing and is often more up-to-date and better maintained. They can have their own fitness centers, community gardens, dedicated study lounges, full-sized kitchens, and even movie theaters. The dorm rooms or apartments are fully furnished, so students don’t have to spend time or money purchasing furniture they may only need for the three years of law school.
Third-party management company staff members supervise students who live in private student housing. These employees fill the same role as a resident advisor or house parent in their work to keep their student communities safe. However, the level of oversight is often less stringent than on-campus housing and students have more freedom.
Can Law Students Live With a Roommate?
It is very common for law students to live with a roommate, especially those who choose to rent an apartment or a house off-campus. For many, a roommate is a critical component to being able to afford housing that’s close to campus. Many law students will find a roommate who is also in law school or who is attending another graduate-level program at the same university.
Living with a roommate can be an excellent option for those looking to grow a social circle and those who generally like being around other people. Having a roommate means that many household chores and expenses can be divided, which is helpful from time and money perspectives.
However, living with a roommate isn’t the right solution for everyone. Some law students will do better living independently without any other people to distract them from their studies.
Roommates can also be challenging if there are disagreements about using the shared spaces in the apartment or house. Some people are messier than others, some are night owls, and some like to have overnight guests. All of these can become serious issues in a shared apartment if they’re not adequately negotiated ahead of time.