Off-Campus Housing: What You Need To Know

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College is a time of big decisions and new experiences. Life comes fast when you’re on campus, as friendships change and new challenges rocket at you from all directions. Wisely managing these new choices can give you a great advantage in the long run. Choosing where to live strongly influences your quality of life, and the choice you make should reflect your personality and needs.

Traditionally, students choose between living in campus dormitories or locating nearby rentals depending on their needs and lifestyle. There are benefits and downsides to both living on-campus and off-campus. Making careful considerations to ensure your health and happiness means understanding the differences between these living situations.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Living On-Campus

On-campus housing offers several advantages for students, particularly in their first and second years at school.

Better Social Life. Moving to a new city or state with unfamiliar people can be jarring, and living on-campus allows you to develop a sense of community with peers. Different halls, floors, dorms form into networks of friends over time, making the transition to campus living easier.

No Monthly Bills. Dorm life eases students into the transition from living at home to the real world. Rent, bills, and meals are taken care of as part of most housing packages.

Accessibility. Living on-campus also puts the student in the middle of everything, meaning less commute time and easier access to campus events.

Building Communities. Many universities also offer specialized housing for students who want to create a community with like-minded individuals, based on interests and similarities.

Security. Colleges go to great lengths to ensure the safety of students on campus. From security officers to emergency call boxes, safety is a priority for most university administrations.

There are, however, disadvantages as well:

Distractions. Dorms can be energetic places. While this can be a great source of excitement, when it’s time to buckle down and get work done some people find it difficult to stay focused with neighbors and friends dropping by unexpectedly.

Dining Halls. Depending on the school, meal plans can sometimes be expensive. There is, however, a good number of universities that offer affordable meal plan options to students. Making sure that you’re getting all its worth is key before making a decision.

Lack of Independence. Dorms are designed to ease students into real world living, and part of this is upholding strict rules. Because of your close proximity to other people and RAs, listening to loud music and having people over at odd hours is a no no. It is worth nothing, however, that some schools no longer enforce curfew so this is a plus if you’re thinking about spending late night hours outside the facility. Aside from strict rules, you can come out of dorm living having not developed adult routines like paying bills, budgeting for rent, and more.

Holiday Shutdowns. During the holidays and summertime break, dorms are usually closed from access, even by their residents. This is problematic if you have an off-campus job, or simply want to stay put and get some extra work done in your down time.

On-Campus Housing Process

While the specific process each school uses is different based on their policies, more often than not dorm housing is assigned to you. The housing process usually involves:

1. Application process. You send in all the paperwork the university provides you with, which will include your financial information. Here are some samples to give you a better idea:

2. Sending contracts and deposits. There are rules and procedures that schools want you to acknowledge on paper for legal reasons. Be sure to get this in as soon as you can, to avoid missing registration deadlines.

3. Selecting your preferences. Loud or quiet, substance free or otherwise. Up late or early to rise? This is where the university tries to match up your lifestyle with an appropriate roommate and floor.

4. Assignment. Your school will either have a first-come, first-served or randomized selection process. After looking over your housing request info and taking it into consideration, they will give you a room assignment.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Off-Campus Housing

Off-campus housing gives students a taste of the real world. The advantages of off-campus living are numerous:

Privacy. Dorm rooms are often double or triple occupancy, meaning you have to schedule and/or negotiate your alone time with another person. Off-campus living usually means having your own bedroom.

Better Food Choices. Get what you like and cook it whenever you’d like. More diverse and healthy range of food options means you can stay healthier. Plus, your dining hall never closes.

Sense of Responsibility. Off-campus living is a great opportunity to teach good living practices like timely bill paying and housekeeping.

Freedom.The most obvious benefit of off-campus living is freedom. Living off-campus means you take responsibility for yourself.

No Curfews. If you want to spend the whole night studying at the library, feel free. You are your own boss.

Roommate Choice. Having the opportunity to select your own roommates is an exceptionally valuable item. Living with friends, partners, or family members can help build a sense of community and support much more so than a stranger–particularly one you don’t care for.

For responsible students, off-campus housing is a great way to get away from the bustle of campus life and kick start adult living. There are, however, disadvantages as well:

Isolation. Removed from the hustle and bustle of dorm life, you can often feel as though your classmates are making friends while you are being left out. Actively participating in campus organizations that fall within your line of interest can abate this to some degree.

Commute. A major benefit of living on-campus is being able to easily commute to classes and campus events. Living off-campus means having to walk, bike, or drive further distances. Drivers will have to deal with campus parking, which is often a disaster.

Real life. Having to buy groceries, pay bills, line up rent — these things aren’t fun tasks. Living on campus affords you the opportunity to dodge the irritations of adulthood for just a little longer.

Off-Campus Housing Process

Congratulations, it is time to find your new home. Finding a rental is one of the more important things you will learn as an adult, and being sure you are thorough will prevent future problems from coming up.

1. Search. You get to select your own space, so have fun with it. But also be sensible, taking into consideration factors such as proximity to classes, space, safety, and price.

2. Viewing. Go check out your potential apartment. Be sure to make a checklist of items to check, from showers and toilets to sinks and stoves. Look in drawers and under sinks for unwelcome insect roommates.

3. Application. When you find what you’re looking for, it is time to apply. Fill out all necessary paperwork. Most landlords will also request a credit check, many offering the chance to cosign with parents or relatives for students with little or no credit.

4. Lease Signing. If you are approved, you are given the opportunity to put down your security deposit and sign the lease. Be sure to read through the lease thoroughly. If you are moving to a competitive housing market, research local tenant rights and see if you are under rent control laws (just in case).

Off-Campus Housing Options

On-campus housing packages vary to give some degree of flexibility to students, but generally are very similar in nature. These packages will usually include a base rate for housing and a variable meal plan, both paid in full per semester.

Off-campus housing involves more nuance: apartments for rent, houses for sale, condominiums, or commuting from home are all available options for off-campus housing. Some universities will facilitate your off-campus housing search with online tools and search engines, while others leave you to find listings among real estate agents and craigslist postings.

Perhaps the most popular off-campus option is an apartment rental, where one or more friends collaborate on paying rent in multiple bedroom apartments. When opposed to mortgaging a house, renting is a short-term solution with minimal financial commitment to start. Purchasing a home or condominium is another option available to people with their eyes on long-term ownership or investment. A third route, Renting-to-Own, offers some of the positive characteristics for each that we will discuss at length shortly.

2-bedroom apartment
4 bedroom home shared with 3 other occupants
PAYMENT$1,502/month; $13,521/year (average)$891/month if sharing a 2-bedroom apartment$318/month (based on $1,275/monthly rent divided between 3 occupants)
SPACEUsually limited.Apartment Size. Slightly bigger.Entire property; Own room; Shared kitchen and bathrooms; More space overall.
BILLSNo utilities.You pay utilities. Split with roommate.You pay utilities but pay less since you split it with 3 others.
SCHOOL FACILITIESAccessibility to school facilities.A bit of travel required.A bit of travel required.
FREEDOMUnder campus monitoring. Have to abide by house rules.More independence but have to consider neighboring apartment units.Independence.
RULESFollow House Rules.Abide by Landlord's Rules.Benefits of your own home.
RESPONSIBILITIESLittle responsibility.Sense of responsibility (rent and utilities).Sense of responsibility (life preparation).
FOODMeals are usually part of housing. Limited food choices.Buy own food, can be more expensive. Can eat whatever you want.Buy own food, can be more expensive. Can eat whatever you want.
PRIVACYLess to no privacy (though some universities are now offering rooms that allow more privacy to students)Lots of privacy.Lots of privacy.
SOCIAL LIFEIncreased Social Life.Can be isolated.Can be isolated.
HEALTHMay be prone to illnesses going around campus.Health benefit - If flu is going around campusHealth benefit - If flu is going around campus
ROOMMATESome dorms allow you to choose your roommate though for some universities, it's still the luck of the draw.Can choose roommate.Can choose roommate.
PARKINGMay be a problem.Not a problem unless limited parking slots.Not a problem. Depends on properties garage/driveway size.
FINANCIAL AIDHousing can be covered by financial aid.Not covered by Financial Aid packages.Not covered by Financial Aid packages.
SECURITYCampus security.Lack of security.Lack of security.
CURFEWSome colleges no longer have curfews though some still do.Come and go as you please.Come and go as you please.

Off-Campus Housing Tips:

Start looking for housing early. You need plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods, landlords, choose roommates.

Read on Expectations. Know what to expect ahead of time.

Be Wise on Your Selection. Choose housing close to campus, if possible. If not, public transportation should be accessible.

Compatible Roommate. Choose a compatible and responsible roommate. Don’t live with someone you don’t know or can’t stand/trust.

Establish good relationship with landlord, homeowner, and/or neighbors.

Appliances. Find housing with appliances, such as a fridge and laundry, so you don’t have to buy them yourself.

Neighborhood Research. Research the neighborhood thoroughl to determine which neighborhoods good and which are less desirable.

Beware of Shady Rental Companies. This is not always apparent on housing listings, and many rental companies in particular will try to put students in less-than-desirable parts of town.

Essential Establishments. Make note of convenience stores, groceries, malls, hospitals, etc. Google Maps is a valuable tool to get the full picture of your surroundings before making a decision.

Pet-Friendly Housing. Make sure your housing is pet-friendly if you have (or plan on getting) a pet.

Proximity to Campus. Don’t live somewhere where you can’t get to campus quickly by car or bike.

Choose wisely. Thoughtfully consider where you want to live, depending on your priorities and what you want to experience in college. The frat house isn’t for everyone, and if you’re looking for quiet, set yourself up to succeed with thoughtful planning and care.

Stay organized. Create and consult a list like this one before you move in. Keep a list somewhere in the house to keep you and your roommates organized and in communication.

Roommate Selection Guide

Choosing a roommate is among the most important decisions a student can make. I can say from experience, a poor roommate match can be detrimental to your focus, study time, sleep, and general well-being. Making sure you take care to choose a roommate who is financially stable and someone you can tolerate is key to a successful living situation.

A roommate can become your best friend or worst nightmare, and while there’s no fool-proof way to select one, being diligent when you decide can make a big difference. Here are some simple tips to help ensure your living situation is happy and functional:

Before you move in, make sure you’re a match. If you have the opportunity to select your roommate, choose carefully. Take their habits, their interests and goals, and the way they interact with others, and make sure that it is comparable with your own. If you don’t know one another or you are assigned a new roommate, you have a great opportunity to make a friend–take time to ask and answer questions.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Once you move in, maintaining open communication with one another is crucial for making sure everyone is happy. If something your roommate is doing bothers you, calmly express that to them and address the issue. Finding middle ground and compromise will keep relationships healthy. Also, communication does not mean passive aggressive notes. Those just make things worse.

Be friendly. You and your roommate may not be too similar, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open to the opportunity to learn something about someone new. Step out of your comfort zone, and you may learn something about yourself as well.

Be understanding. Being sympathetic to your roommate’s habits, moods, and needs is beneficial for everyone involved. If you are open and understanding, chances are they are likely to reciprocate when on those days when you need a little extra help.

Be respectful of space and spaces. Having a friend for a roommate is a wonderful experience, but making sure you establish clear boundaries is crucial to being comfortable in your home. Be sure to keep common spaces neat and orderly, and develop a schedule or routine for cleaning early so neither roommate feels exploited.

Schedule visitations and study times. Set ground rules. You won’t be happy if your roommate comes home with a group of people late on the day before you have an exam, so communicate this early. Establishing study times will both give you quiet time and develop a routine or structure.

Take advantage of common interests. If you and your roommate have something in common–and you likely will–take advantage of the chance to collaborate on an activity. If you enjoy similar music, go to a show or concert. If you enjoy camping or hiking, take a trip out into the woods on the weekend. Activities shared between roommates are the best chance for roommates to bond.

How Lease-Option Homes Can Be An Option

Particularly for families with strong connections to university culture and multiple children who will likely cycle through the school, Lease-Option homes, also called Rent-to-Own homes, are becoming a popular campus housing option. When split among 4 or more housemates, the costs become much lower than apartment rentals and on-campus housing without sacrificing space.

Rent-to-Own homes are usually larger than the standard two-bedroom rental, meaning that a student can actually lower their total costs by taking on additional roommates. Furthermore, having a full-sized house means extra space, more independence, and a sense of ownership of the property. Rent-to-Own housing for students also recreates the feel of a suite, replacing some of the sense of community lost by living off-campus.

How Lease-Option Homes Differ From Other Campus Housing Choices

One of the more noteworthy differences between Rent-to-Own homes and other housing choices is in the numbers: Rent-to-Own homes can be considerably cheaper than other options.

Cheaper than On-Campus Housing. On-campus living can be outlandishly expensive considering what students get: cafeteria food, small shared rooms. On-campus rates are paying for structure, oversight, and convenience. Renting off-campus is almost always cheaper than living on campus, but commuting costs and not having a meal plan need to be taken into consideration.

Cheaper than Off-Campus Housing. Where Rent-to-Own becomes advantageous when compared to off-campus renting is how pricing can be divided among more people to achieve a lower rate. While a two-bedroom apartment may be cheaper in total, dividing a larger four bedroom house between more people can cut costs exponentially.

In Closing

Finding the housing situation that best suits your needs is one of the more important decisions you will make, especially in your first couple years as a student. School is stressful enough without adding incompatible roommates, cramped quarters, or unreasonable commutes to the mix. Taking time now to make the right decision will ensure that you get the most out of your college experience. Happy hunting!