In any given year, around 20 million students attend college in the US. In the upcoming academic year, millions of those students will commute from home to attend a community college or live in dorms. Yet, many juniors, seniors, and graduate students prefer living off campus. For some, it’s a matter of finding a quieter environment than student housing to support their studies. For others, the motivation is affordable living. On-campus housing comes at a fixed cost and a college apartment can prove cheaper if you get good roommates.
Of course, finding the right apartment is a challenge in itself. Keep reading for tips to help you find the perfect apartment.
Figure Out Your Budget
Most students live on some combination of student loans, grants, work-study or part-time jobs, and even help from family. Colleges base student housing costs on general averages of these financial sources. They also base those costs on the length of a semester.
Most students that choose an apartment will live there on a full-time basis. That means you must figure out how much you will really have available for the year. You do that by adding up what you’ll get from student loans, jobs, and support from family.
Then, subtract your tuition, fees, expected book costs, and any other incidentals your college charges each semester. The leftover amount represents your budget for the year.
Divide that number by 12 to get your monthly budget for everything. Some apartments include utilities in the rent, but assume yours won’t. You’ll want to do some research and get an estimate for monthly utilities for apartments in your area.
You’ll also want estimates for monthly food costs for one person and average Internet costs in your area as well. Subtract those from your budget.
Since you probably can’t cover rent with that amount, it brings up the next consideration: roommates.
Most college students don’t lease an apartment by themselves. Instead, they rent with one or sometimes several roommates. This spreads costs like rent, utilities, and Internet across several people.
Don’t rush in with roommates. Liking someone as a friend doesn’t mean they’ll make a good roommate. A likable person can still prove unreliable.
Look for people who show up for class, do their homework, and hold down a job. They are far more likely to pay their part of the bills.
You can even look for people who already rent an apartment and want a roommate. If you go this route, ask lots of questions, such as:
- How long they’ve been in the apartment
- When the lease is up
- Why they want a roommate
- Do they have a job
This gives you a chance to do two things. You can help ensure they’re responsible. It also lets you get a feel for the other person’s personality.
Never move in anyone who gives you a bad gut reaction.
A long commute to your college can encourage students to skip class rather than deal with traffic or bad weather. That means finding a place reasonably close to your school offers you better support for your education.
For example, students at UC Davis might look at available apartments at https://www.davisapartmentsforrent.com/apartment-finder/. With the apartments located within a few miles, it means a short commute or bike ride and less temptation to skip class. In a pinch, you could even walk to class.
When you start your apartment search, use your school as the central location point and limit results to within five miles at first. That will give you a solid picture of what’s available and where.
Location, Part Two
It’s a sad fact that many apartments that cater to college students are in sketchy or downright bad neighborhoods. Think of it as supply and demand.
College students want cheap rent. Property costs less in bad neighborhoods, so landlords and management companies charge less in rent. While it might prove impossible for you to avoid a sketchy neighborhood entirely, you should avoid outright bad neighborhoods.
You can find detailed crime statistics for most cities online that will break down the numbers for fairly small areas, even minor neighborhoods. You can usually enter the address for an apartment and see where it sits on a color-coded map. If an apartment sits in the middle of a high crime area, it’s best to avoid it if at all possible.
Don’t sign with the first apartment you look at unless it’s ideal for your needs. Look at several places and think it over for a night.
Also, don’t only look at apartment complexes. Some people convert garages or part of their home into a fully-functional apartment. While you won’t get half-off, you can often find a place like this that is cheaper than traditional apartments.
These kinds of apartments are often better for seniors and graduate students. You typically find these apartments in quiet neighborhoods, so you get fewer distractions. That lets you focus on your studies as you roll up on graduation or dive deep into the materials for your grad program.
Again, don’t take an apartment from a landlord who makes you uncomfortable since you’ll live so close.
With very, very few exceptions, the shortest lease you’ll see is six months. The most common lease length is one year.
You must bear that in mind when figuring out your budget. You won’t just need to cover rent and utilities for the months you attend class. Those bills will come due every month regardless of whether classes are in or out.
Affordable Living in a College Apartment
Affordable living in a college apartment typically means compromising in some way. For most people, that means living with roommates because none of you can afford the rent by yourself. It’s a time-honored method for keeping costs down, but you sacrifice privacy and face lots of distractions.
You can also look for low-cost options like studio apartments or people who converted parts of their home into an apartment space.
Looking for more tips on surviving the college life? Check out the articles in our Life section.