What is Co-Op Housing?

Nate G.
Nate G.

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Tired of living in the same boring dorm buildings? Not sure if off-campus housing is right for you? Join us as we discuss the unique student experience of living in college co-op housing!

Cooperative houses, or co-ops, are self-managed houses. Living where students collaboratively run the operations and governance of the whole residence. Co-op housing should not be confused with co-op job programs! They share the same name but serve completely different purposes for students. 

How Are Co-Ops Different from Dorms?

Most college students typically live in university managed dormitories. These are buildings where a whole floor or section runs under RAs (undergraduate resident advisors) or GAs (graduate student advisors). RAs and GAs are university stewards responsible for ensuring proper conduct in the building. Responsibilities include hosting events, serving as mentors for their student residents, and building a fun environment among students who live in their jurisdiction. Dorms typically consist of a single, double, or triple bedroom; and an external bathroom shared with all the other students on the floor. The university is in charge of cooking and preparing meals for students at school-managed eateries, as well as the maintenance and overall cleanliness of their facilities. 

In contrast, co-op houses managed by and for students. All co-ops have distinct identities and traditions that aim to foster a tight knit community among the usual 20 – 70 students who live in that residence. Students redefine the typical gender requirements in university dormitories. Students living in co-op residences collaboratively coordinate roles, like finances and budgeting; they also coordinate other activities, such as who cleans bathrooms and does the dishes. As a result, the key difference is that students feel more like they are living at home in co-op housing. 

Co-Op Housing Costs

Co-op housing on college campuses have become increasingly popular in the United States. A key selling point: because co-op houses eliminate landlords, residents don’t have to pay for what would’ve been the landlord’s profit margin. Co-op residents only have to pay for the housing operations such as utilities and food. Monthly payments by residents are also not impacted by rent prices from their surrounding neighborhood. 

Austin’s Intercooperative Council reported that “a year of housing, utilities, and food in the co-op costs $6,347, while a year in the dorms is $10,715.” In the same report, at the House of Commons co-op at the University of Texas – Austin, approximately $100 of each of the residents’ monthly rent goes towards bulk food purchases to feed 27 mouths daily for a month.


It’s important to note that while student co-op housing is rising in popularity, not every school neighborhood has this option for students. If co-op housing is something you’d be interested in, let’s talk! We at Empowerly would be happy to help craft your college list with co-op housing in mind. Additionally, if you’d like to connect with one of our mentors to talk through financial planning for college and student housing, by all means, book a free consult today! We can help with your transition to college, allowing you to stay focused on achieving your goals!

Questions? Let us know!