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Students help their fellow students move into residence at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Branko Miokovic/iStockphoto

Leaving home to attend university has its pros and cons. Here are some points to consider when making your decision

PROS

EXPERIENCE A RITE OF PASSAGE AND GET A HEAD START ON YOUR PROFESSIONAL NETWORK

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Like a first bungee jump, leaving home as a young adult is exhilarating and frightening. It also marks the start of adulthood in Canadian culture.

Christine Proulx is a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri and she feels strongly that, when it's an option, students are better off leaving home to go to university.

"The opportunity to carve out your niche and discover your independence, who you are, and learn to become an adult is greater if you're not living with your parents," explains Dr. Proulx.

Living in a university dorm can be an ideal place for this rite of passage. Students are surrounded by peers who are going through the same adjustments, which creates a natural support network.

"The tasks of that time period of your life – individuation, becoming a person, learning and growing – allow for that vulnerability to get to know someone at [a deeper] level," Dr. Proulx says. "Many people make lifelong friends from college, [like] roommates, that they may not have if they went back to their parents' house every day."

The bonds that we make when we are vulnerable become lasting connections. This dormitory camaraderie helps create a lifelong and fond sense of attachment to the university experience that many home-based students do not have. These friendships are also the start of your professional network. The dorm mates you pull all-nighters with are also the people who may eventually be working at companies where you might be seeking employment.

GET THE MOST OUT OF CAMPUS LIFE AND AN EDGE IN THE JOB MARKET

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University location is one of the Top 6 factors students consider when choosing a university, according to research by SchoolMatch Canada, a service that helps students find a university that suits them best through data collection and algorithms.

"Students who move away from home at this time usually are moving out of home for the first time and often this shapes a large part of their future careers," says Jeff Lui, co-founder of SchoolMatch. They "generally develop deeper ties to their peers, and the larger school community."

Participating in extracurricular activities can help with future careers because students can gain employable soft skills, such as teamwork and communication.

Students who live at home are often restricted from on-campus activities and peer bonding by factors such as public transit schedules.

Ties to peers can also help with future career networks.

"Going to university away from home is important because you are able to develop relationships in different markets that may sustain you over the course of your career," says Julie Wright, general manager at the Waterloo Global Science Initiative.

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YOUR PARENTS START SEEING YOU AS A GROWN-UP

According to Dr. Proulx's research, most parents experience their children leaving home for university as very positive, and enjoy the evolution to a more peer-like relationship.

"For many of [the parents] it was just a joy, they spoke with pride about their young [adult] children," Dr. Proulx says.

CHOOSE THE UNIVERSITY THAT SUITS YOU

The university in your hometown may not be the best one for you. If you know what you want to do, there may be a school that specializes in your field. Or perhaps you are suited to a small school that emphasizes teaching, or a big school where there is more course selection and recruiters are more likely to visit, or a school with an established co-op program to help you gain valuable job experience or even finance your education.

REDUCED COMMUTING TIME

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Students who live in big cities or the suburbs can easily spend an hour or more a day getting to and from school. Cutting down commuting time means more study time, and it is better for the environment and your health.

According to a study from Lund University, Swedish researchers found that commuting more than 60 minutes a day was associated with negative health outcomes, such as poor sleep, fatigue and increased sick days.

CONS

DEBT

For students who graduated in 2013, the average debt load was $28,810, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

For students who move away from home, the cost of university includes living expenses, which can add considerably to their debt load. As an example, consider a triple room with a meal plan at Queen's University in 2014-2015: nearly $12,000 a year (their cheapest option), which comes to nearly $48,000 for a four-year degree. This is on top of the average tuition of $5,772 that Canadian students paid in 2013-2014, according to Statistics Canada. And don't forget to add the interest on a student loan, which will be greater the bigger the loan.

Student debt affects you for years, even decades after graduation. According to Statistics Canada, university graduates who borrowed money for postsecondary education had a lower net worth, were less likely to have savings and investments, or be home owners by age 29. And if you miss student loan repayments, your future credit, or ability to borrow to buy a house or car, can be affected.

On top of debt, is debt-stress. Economist John Gathergood at Nottingham University found that individuals who struggled to pay debt not only had poorer psychological health (anxiety and depression), so did their partners.

NOISY ROOMIES

Most first-year students who leave home live in some form of shared housing such as a dorm. Sharing living space with strangers is part of maturing, but it is also stressful, even if you get along (though sometimes you may not, which is even more stressful). There may be times when you desperately need to finish an assignment or catch up on sleep, and you may not be able to do it in your room. Sometimes, this can get so disruptive that you will need to find new living arrangements.

GROWING PAINS

Students may struggle at times in their relationship with their parents as they work through establishing their independence, Dr. Proulx says. "For young adult children, the focus is creating a sense of self separate from parents and family."

Homesickness can be another challenge.

"All university students miss something about home when they're way," explains Christopher Thurber, a U.S.-based clinical psychologist who co-authored a study on homesickness in university students. While most students develop healthy coping skills, a minority do not.

Dr. Thurber estimates that intense homesickness (when it interferes with behaviour) affects between 5 to 10 per cent of university students and in extreme cases can result in them dropping out.

Also, students raised in culturally distinct families may face additional challenges adapting away from home. Sustained exposure to different values, beliefs and behaviours can be a deep source of stress. The bigger the cultural contrast between the home and university environment, the bigger the adjustment, points out Dr. Thurber.

He adds that establishing a few culturally similar connections, for instance at university clubs, along with getting as familiar as possible with the campus before arriving, will help ease the transition.

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