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Pros and cons of living off-campus

The way Americans go to college is changing. More adults facing midlife career changes and new or returning mothers and retirees are attending college than ever before. At the same time, the spiraling costs of higher education are forcing students to look for new ways to meet their financial obligations. As a result families, educators, and students are demanding greater flexibility in curricula, employment opportunities, and living arrangements.

After exhausting family resources, scholarships, grants, and loans, a needy student will usually begin searching for ways to cut living expenses. Many are willing to concede to a little less luxury, a little more noise, or a few duties in exchange for reduced expenses.

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One viable way to cut housing expenses and find employment is a ''live in'' housing arrangement, in which a student receives room and board in exchange for some weekly duties. These arrangements can be rewarding, challenging, or disastrous. So any student contemplating a live-in arrangement should take a few moments for forethought. Consider, for example, the precarious nature of this situation, your motives, and the rewards and problems you may encounter.

Before making a commitment you should decide whether or not your only motive is to pay for college. If you have no desire to be of service to the household, then you will find the agreed-upon duties could become a great burden. Consider also whether or not living and working off campus damage instead of enrich your college experience and thus become a possible source of resentment in your life.

You should also analyze the duties you will perform. An agreement that you will work no more than ''X'' number of hours each week is a good idea. Usually 20 hours a week is all a student can handle while carrying a full course schedule. There is nothing more debilitating than mental fatigue. So be sure to consider the ''mental weight'' of the duties. Do not put yourself in a position where you will be solely responsible for a very old or very young person over extended periods of time. They require consistent love, patience, and understanding, far beyond what most college students are able to provide while they are pursuing an education.

You will also need to have a place of refuge. Remember, home will not necessarily be a place to put your feet up and relax. Home will be work, and you will need somewhere you can go where no one expects you to mow the lawn, wash the dishes, walk the dog, study, or take an exam.

A final preconsideration should be your role in the household, taking other members into consideration when you play your stereo, invite friends over, or decide to take a vacation.

Once you have agreed to a live-in housing arrangment there are potential problems to avoid. Although you will find extra little things you can do, things that will be greatly appreciated, do not allow them to become expected of you.

Do keep impeccable records. An initial evaluation of hours spent on each task may show you a more efficient way to perform your duties and how to better schedule them with your study time. Your financial records should include check numbers, dates received, hours worked, and bills paid. Then if a dispute should arise between you and your employer, you will have the data you need to make your case.

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The best measure of success and compatibility with your new housing arrangement will show in your attitude toward the household duties. The joy and gratitude, or lack thereof, that you express will be far more important than keeping every room spotless, or never being late to prepare a meal.

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