Is your first-year student still trying to decide whether to live on or off campus next year? At most schools, deadlines for off-campus housing applications fall in February and March (with Room Draw in March or April). This is prime time for apartment-hunting as well. Here’s the information you need to advise and guide your student!
Advantages of off campus student life
Moving off campus can be a good option for students seeking more independence, privacy, space, or a new environment. Students living off campus are responsible for their own cooking and cleaning, and must learn to budget and pay bills (“important pieces of the independence puzzle,” as one parent observes). If your student isn’t sure she’ll have the time and interest to grocery shop and cook, she can look into keeping a limited meal plan on campus.
Depending on the housing market and university housing costs, living off campus may save money. Make sure to factor in utilities, transportation to campus, food, and furnishings or appliances that aren’t included when you make your calculations. Students can economize by “inheriting” furniture from graduating friends or grabbing items off the curb during move-out season.
Do you want to be a landlord? Parents looking for an investment opportunity often consider buying an apartment or townhome near campus.
Disadvantages of living off campus
Students living off campus will have a longer commute to class, in good weather or bad, and it can be less convenient to participate in campus activities. Without the dining hall to fall back on, students may not eat as well, and “If there’s trouble with a housemate, there’s no RA to help.”
Living off campus means that students are no longer under the watchful eye of campus safety departments and measures, and maintenance problems can be more serious and take longer to resolve than in dorms. It may be difficult to find housing that offer leases shorter than 12 months. While your student may be able to find a sub-lessor if she expects to vacate the unit for the summer or a semester, it’s important to check that the landlord allows subleasing before counting on the money.
Lastly, if the parent owns the unit, the burden is on the student every year to find responsible roommates, collect rent, etc.
Off-campus housing options
One option in many areas is to rent part or all of a house with a larger group of students. This comes with more space, but also more responsibilities. Landlords in this situation can be hit or miss, so be sure to check out the Safe Housing Search Tips below if your student is considering this option.
Apartment buildings often abound around campuses. This is a better option if your student has a smaller group of roommates or would like her own room. Be sure to check out the neighborhood and ask about security measures and the parking situation.
A third option available at some universities is “professionally managed student housing communities.” These apartment buildings lease exclusively to students, and often boast academically-focused housing that offers educational, recreational, and social events along with amenities such as attached recreation centers. They also tend to offer shorter leases catering to the academic calendar. This can be a good compromise for students who want to live off campus but still want some of the services on-campus living provides.
Tips for a Safe Housing Search and Smooth Off-Campus Transition
Start early: January–March is the time to secure off-campus housing for fall.
Begin with the university’s housing resources, reputable search sites, or by talking to upperclassmen who live off campus. Some schools have offices for Off-Campus Life, and may host Housing Fairs in the spring. Still looking for student housing? 3 tips for finding a great place
Beware of scams: never send deposit money without having seen the property with the landlord present.
Your student should always bring a friend when viewing a house or apartment.
Consider the commute to campus and the safety of the neighborhood, and research public transportation options.
Take time to learn about the city’s rental housing rules and standard lease clauses. There will be occupancy limits, and ordinances relating to noise, gatherings, yard maintenance, snow removal, outdoor furniture, etc.
Does the house have a history of code violations? In some locales, complaints follow the residence rather than the tenant(s). This is an inheritance your student doesn’t want.
Students often don’t qualify for leases on their own, so parents should be prepared to provide financial information and co-sign as guarantors. Parents may need to sign the lease with a notary present if the student is renting in a different state.
Parents who pay the rent should require 100% of the initial security deposit back, and expect students to be responsible for the move-out cleaning.
Your student should read the lease carefully and then document everything. Agreements, concessions, or promises from the landlord should be put in writing and signed. Photograph the apartment upon move in and store all documents securely.
Keep a minimum meal plan on campus for convenience and to ensure at least one good meal a day.