The Joys of Living Off Campus

Are you a Caltech undergraduate frustrated by this year’s housing lottery? Have you been living on campus and suffering from your dorm building often being too loud or smelly or in need of maintenance? Were you conflicted between living in a House or trying your luck with the new Bechtel lottery process? There is another option! I have lived off campus (not Bechtel off, but off off) this year, and it has been fantastic! Nearly every aspect of my housing experience has been significantly improved by living off campus, and I would recommend it to everyone who is feeling even the tiniest ounce of frustration with Caltech Housing.

The most immediate improvement of living off campus is the nicer and larger living space. My apartment building was renovated last year, giving us all new kitchens, floors, bathrooms, etc. By contrast, the North Houses were last renovated …. never? While living in a House or Bechtel, I frequently witnessed bug infestations in the kitchens, leaky pipes dripping from the ceiling for months on end, and strange and pervasive smells. Living in an off-campus apartment, I have never experienced any of these issues. Any time maintenance is happening in my apartment building, it is communicated well in advance and completed very quickly. Additionally, the living space size in an apartment is likely to be much larger than in on-campus housing. My single bedroom is over twice the size of a Bechtel room, I share a bathroom with only one other person, and our kitchen is around the same size as a Bechtel kitchen.

On top of all these improvements in the physical living space, living off campus is also significantly cheaper! For those living on campus, the cost of housing ($3749 per term) plus the required meal plan ($2478 per term for the cheaper “Flex” option) comes out to $2075 per month. Off campus, I pay $1200 in rent, ~$100 for utilities, and ~$300 for food, for a total of $1600 per month. Over the course of the nine-month academic year, I am saving $4275 by living off campus and buying my own groceries.

While there are a few downsides to living off campus, they are far outweighed by the benefits. One potential concern is the added time it takes to get to classes; I live one block away from campus, so I am able to walk from my front door to any of my classes in less than ten minutes. Many students who live farther away use a scooter, bike, or car to get to campus just as quickly. Being off the meal plan, I buy my own groceries, cook meals for myself, and pack a lunch to bring to campus every day. For those who enjoy cooking, this is a major improvement over the Caltech meal plan. To me, the only downside of being off the meal plan is the annoyance of carrying a lunchbox around all day. Even without a meal plan, it is always still an option to buy food on campus at the listed price at Browne, Red Door, or Broad.

If you are considering moving off campus for next year, I urge you to do so! Finding housing off campus may seem daunting at first, but it is relatively easy: ask current students you know who live off campus, or browse for listings on and and start cold-calling or emailing the landlords. By opting out of the Caltech housing lottery and finding your own housing off campus, you can spend the next year living in a nicer, larger, and cheaper space, and free yourself from the annoyance and frustration of interacting with the Caltech Housing office ever again.