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Privacy, freedom lure students off campus

Privacy versus sociability, independence or camaraderie and, finally, to share or not share.

For most students at the University of South Florida, where they live becomes a balancing act, a personal choice they must make.

But within these basic questions are endless possibilities that go beyond the traditional student housing of a shared room, some beds, study desks and a communal bathroom down the hall.

Dormatories, or residence halls as USF calls them, were once considered a bastion of independence by students making the transition from home life. But apartments catering to students are the new stronghold for those who wish to probe deeper into the world of true independence _ the world off campus.

Sylvia Wilson, manager of University Townhouse Apartments, says living in off-campus apartments that cater to students is hands-on training for life after college.

"It gives them a little more freedom and sense of responsibility, a check on what the real world is all about," Wilson said.

Residence halls also are redefining college living to meet the expectations of today's students.

Next year, USF's renovated Alpha Hall will open its doors to students as an apartment-style building. In an attempt to fuse apartment life with the convenience of living on campus, Alpha will offer various floor plans of up to four bedrooms, including a living room, kitchen and private bathrooms.

"Being a part of college life can't be duplicated off campus," said Janet Payne, assistant director for residence life. "I think if students want the full college experience they would consider living on campus."

For many students "the full college experience" doesn't seem to last the full four years of college.

Dorms provide an introduction to college life, a kind of basic training. After a couple of semesters, when their self-confidence is higher, students break away from campus living and begin exploring the periphery.

"When you move into the dorms your first semester, it's like your basis," said Zimo Darmarajah, a freshman majoring in biology who lives in the residence halls. "I'm probably going to move. For me I want somewhere bigger to live and with a little bit more privacy."

Joanne Risacher of the department of residence life agreed that dorms are more attractive to first- and second-year students who are making the transition into college. Apartments are better for older students, she said.

Terry O'Brien, manager of Ashley Gables apartments, said 12 to 15 percent of his tenants are students, and about 95 percent of those are juniors and above, including graduate students.

Apartments, too, are borrowing from their USF neighbors by integrating college-style amenities into their communities. To meet the needs of student residents, Ashley Gables has a "think tank" equipped with computers, a copier and a fax machine. University Townhouse Apartments _ it's known as UTA _ also has a computer lab that provides Internet access to residents.

Jeff Heagerty, 22, a resident at UTA, initially was attracted to the community because of its computer lab. Since he doesn't own a computer, he said, the amenity saves him a trip to on-campus labs.

For Heagerty, living in dorms has never been an option because of his older siblings' horror stories.

"In apartments there's not as much authority that looks over you to see if you're doing something wrong," said Heagerty, a senior majoring in international studies. "There's more freedom, but you still get to be around other students."

Wilson said that while the UTA community understands that students must sometimes be students, there are rules that must be followed.

"They're looking for a place where they can be students, where they won't be penalized for playing the music a little loud. Once in while, they get a wild hair and then I just have to trim it," Wilson said.

Martin Fisher, an international student from England, said his decision to live in an apartment was based on his need for solitude.

"It feels nice to be able to come home and not have a lot of people around you," said Fisher, a geology major. "It's a nice break from school."

The university's Off-Campus Housing office helps link students with private apartments, providing information on roommates, rooms for rent, even furniture rentals.

But Debby Hoveskeland, manager of The Club at Woodland Pond, said most of the students she rents to find her through word of mouth. Hoveskeland estimates that about 60 percent of her tenants are USF students.

While apartments seem to be attracting students who are familiar with the ins and outs of college life, residence halls are aiming to keep their occupants and recruiting first-year students by visiting high schools throughout Florida.

A price freeze on rent was offered to residents who made a commitment to stay in the halls for the fall semester. Rates increase 7.5 percent for others.

Residence halls also have developed a new monthly payment plan.

About 2,300 students live in USF dorms, and Risacher said the popularity of apartment living does not pose a threat. "We don't have enough housing for everyone. Students should have choices."