On Campus

The lie of the tight-knit community

Why living in residence might not be worth $10,000 a year

When I was finishing high school, my biggest priority in choosing a university was to get out of the house and experience life in residence. Various pundits of higher education, family, friends, teachers, and counsellors, all touted the importance of experiencing that aspect of university life. You will learn as much outside of the classroom as inside of it, they insisted, provided you leave home and live in residence. Craving the perceived independence, freedom, and the idea of living down the hall from my entire group of friends in a “tight-knit community,” I swallowed their arguments whole and shipped off to Toronto.

Having now lived it, I am somewhat less enthusiastic about the value of moving away for university. In very tangible terms, I don’t think the benefits of living in residence are worth the $10,000 a year that pay the average university’s fees for room and board. Of course, I had some great times living in residence at U of T this past year. There were great parties, incessant socializing, and the comfort and convenience of not having to cook or clean.

But there were equally great parties living at home during high school, and my non-res friends at U of T can come down to campus whenever they feel like. Relative freedom from cooking and cleaning also likely exists for most of us at home. And incessant socializing, it turns out, gets old pretty fast, and can be a huge drain on one’s productivity and motivation to trying new activities rather than just chillin’ in the quad with the same dozen acquaintances.

An emphasis on the distinction between acquaintanceship and friendship is important. I think it’s fair to say that most of us enjoy real friendship with a handful of people, and that beyond that, social groups tend to consist of mere acquaintances–people with whom you are friendly, but don’t share the same depth of connection as you do with a real friend. Life in residence immerses you among acquaintances, which can certainly have its benefits in terms of honing social skills, becoming more open and accepting of differences, and so on. But it is likely mistaken to assume that living in residence will provide you with an instant, enormous, “tight-knit” network of friends.

Like in high school, people will always have their differences, and cliques still exist. The benefits of immersion into university life, such as the oft-cited creation of a “tight-knit” community, deserve to be scrutinized before you (or your parents) drop $40,000 or more over the course of your undergrad.

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