Figure Out Where (and How) to Live in Graduate School

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graduate school College was easy in terms of living arrangements: You spent your freshman year in an undersized dorm room, probably with a creepy roommate whose personal hygiene habits left something (or everything) to be desired. Sometime after that, you and a few friends probably found an apartment off-campus, one of those distinctly collegiate ones with the furniture that was meant to take a beating, the cigarette-ash-caked Venetian blinds, and the living room that was, miraculously, just the right size for throwing parties for your closest hundred friends (who gleefully packed themselves in there like early-twenty-something sardines).

Here, then, is a primer on what your options are, how to make the most of whatever your living situation happens to be, and what the benefits are of each of these choices.But grad school is different: From the work load to the work itself, and from the responsibilities both academic and personal that you’ll have to consider, where and how you live is more important-and probably more complicated-as a grad student than it ever was as an undergrad.

Is The Solitary Life For You?

There are two schools (no pun intended) of thought on this one. And while both living alone and with others each have their advantages and drawbacks, the ways in which they affect the overall grad-school experience are quite different.

Living alone is often a great thing for grad students because of the hours they tend to keep. If you’re reading this article, you already probably know all about this: Classes may run until late into the evening, or an undergrad may need much more help than you expected on his paper or on the notes she missed the week before, and as a result your office hours end up stretching until late at night. Or maybe you have to pull an all-nighter in the library yourself in order to finalize some piece of research on your dissertation or thesis paper. Whatever the reasons may be, the truth is this: Your schedule as a grad student is likely to be just plain weird. And living alone will allow you to have to deal with one less headache: You can come and go as you please, sleep a bit later in the morning in order to compensate for late nights, and generally minimize the oddness of your schedule by accepting it and building even your home life around it.

The downside is that you won’t have anyone there to commiserate with: When the going gets tough (as it surely will in grad school), it’s often more than helpful to have someone there to keep you going. And is that person with whom you’re living also happens to be a grad student, they will not only be able to offer you empathy, but also, perhaps, play the role of study partner or research assistant if necessary.

Whatever you choose, just make sure you know both the up and downsides before getting into one or the other of these living situations. It can have a tremendous effect on your overall grad-school experience.

Livin’ Large?

Ah, yes: The MTV Cribs-version of the America dream: A Bentley in the driveway, two Italian sports cars in the garage, and a Polynesian-style swimming pool in the back yard. This is how we were all meant to live, this is how we all deserve to live. And one day, you, too, may find yourself living this dream. But right now you’re a grad student, and having chosen to pursue a life of the mind for the next few years, you should accept the fact that you’ll also be living the life of the relatively unwealthy, too.

A caveat is probably necessary here: You will have stipends, and hopefully scholarship money, and whatever work-study program your school has arranged for you and your fellow grad students. But the truth is that your living situation is more than likely going to be rather-well, basic.

Don’t get frustrated: Think of it in the same terms that the Medieval monks did: A life of the mind is more effective in the context of a pared-down life of the body.Or something like that.

The truth is that you may find yourself frustrated at some point because of the nature of your living situation. After all, many of your friends who went right into the working world from college are probably living it up with their newfound wealth (or whatever is left of it after rent, paying off school loans, and chipping away at the credit card debt they’ve probably accrued over the course of their undergrad years). So just keep in mind that you are sacrificing now for great reward in the future.

But the important thing here is to avoid the temptation to live beyond your grad-student means: Sure, there may be much nicer apartments near your school than those you are likely to live in, but the last thing you’ll want to do is get yourself into the financial hole at this stage of the game. Just accept the situation for what it is, make the most of it, and know that you will be living as you dream in no time at all.

Finally, your living situation will likely be dictated, more than anything else, by where your grad school is located. And while this has been covered in prior articles, it bears repeating: Big-city schools tend to not only be more expensive, but also drain more of your money on living expenses. Understand the ramifications of this decision before you accept the offer of admission at any of the schools that have put one out there. It’s best to make a difficult decision in the beginning, and therefore avoid having to suffer through its consequences later on.

Beyond everything else, though, just remember how lucky you are to be in graduate school in the first place. Many people want to go but just don’t have the chance. Focus on your studies, make the most of this amazing opportunity, and understand that you won’t always have to make these kinds of lifestyle sacrifices. It’s a temporarily cloudy situation with a long-term silver lining. Keep your eyes focused on your goals and you’ll be just fine.

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