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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

It struck me all of a sudden when I was filling out the census form online.  I have a son who is in college and does not live at home, most of the year.  Do I count him in my household when I fill out the census form?  After all, campus housing is temporary, isn’t it?  

Well, it all depends where he was living on April 1, typically (with a caveat that nothing about this year is normal). 

How is the college student counted?

As it happens, every college or university is responsible for providing the Census Bureau with a total count of students living in university-run housing, which may include fraternities and sororities. Many schools transmit this information electronically using their housing administrative records.

If the college student had been in a dorm on April 1 this year, they would get counted through the regular process that Universities have with the census bureau.  If they lived in off-campus housing, they would need to fill out a form for that household with all the people with whom they live.  

According to the Census Bureau’s Official Residence Criteria for the 2020 Census, college students will be counted at their “usual residence” on April 1, 2020 or where they live and sleep “most of the time.”

Why is the census important to college students?

Knowing where college students live has a big impact for universities and colleges and the towns they are located in.  College students benefit from Federal student loans, local and state legislation, campus funding, campus improvements, and health and social services. Officials use the Census to ensure public safety, provide health care, and improve schools and hospital facilities.

What if you have made a mistake when filling the form?

If a mistake was made and the student was counted at the parent’s house, you can resubmit your Census form online.  The census bureau is confident that there is no problem with a duplicate submission because they have ways of sorting duplicates and getting the right information. 

What about other types of students?

Boarding-school students below the college level should be counted at the home of their parents or guardians. 

Students (high school or college) who are living at home should be counted at their home address.

Children ages 0-5 are often undercounted because people mistakenly think that kids so young shouldn’t be counted, or if the kids are often cared for by someone else other than their parents. All children are to be counted wherever they live most of the year.

Do we do things differently this year under COVID conditions?

The Census which is taken every ten years,  is a “snapshot” of the country on April 1 under normal conditions.  For that reason, the Census Bureau wants all college students to be counted at the address where they normally would have been living, if COVID had not happened. 

What about international students?

High school or college students who are living or studying abroad outside the United States on April 1, 2020, are not counted in the census. Foreign students living and attending school in the United States should be counted at the on- or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time.

I am glad that I stopped to do a little bit of  research before I filled out my census form.  I will not add my son to our household in California, but instead, he will be counted by his University on the other side of the country.  As long as everyone is counted, it all works out in the end.

The 2020 Census counts every person living in the United States and the five U.S. territories, whether you are a citizen, legal resident or otherwise.  

Complete your 2020 Census today.  Visit

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

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Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Producer/Founder of DesiCollective Media, where she creates audio, video and written content that impacts the South Asian diaspora. She is also a writer for magazine...