Housing Decisions for Next Year

During second semester, students start planning for next year’s housing. They compare on- and off-campus options, consider which friends would make good roommates or housemates, and factor their daily routine and budget into the equation. It’s an exciting but also sometimes nerve-wracking process, especially for freshmen.

What should you know in order to help your student make a good decision?

Staying On Campus

More floor plans to choose from
For second-year students and beyond, there’s usually a wider selection of room configurations available, from singles to suite-style apartments. Pricing may vary.

Special-interest housing
Your student may want to consider residential communities that center on a common interest or cause. For example, many universities have academically themed or interest-based learning communities, and more schools are offering gender 
non-specific residence halls or floors.

College-owned apartments
They’ve been described as “apartments with training wheels.” Utilities and internet are included and, since there’s a kitchen, students may not have to buy a campus meal plan or can choose a reduced plan. Bedrooms may be shared or private. Best of all, such accommodations are usually charged on an academic-year, rather than 12-month, lease.

Moving Off Campus

Consider your budget
Decide what you can afford for your student’s monthly living costs and use that figure as a starting point.

Things to research:

  • What are typical rental rates in the community? You may need to pay more for a well-maintained property.
  • Can your student afford a single room or will they need to share?
  • What are typical utility costs? How about “extras” like cable and internet?
  • Will there be transportation costs to get to campus?
  • How about furnishings and appliances?
  • Look closely at food costs. Students who cook for themselves can save money, but for many it’s convenient (and healthier) to keep a partial campus meal plan.

Before going on online…
Help your student pin down what they have in mind: How many roommates (i.e., how many bed/bathrooms)? Apartment or house? Do they need storage for bikes, skis, etc.? How close to campus would they like to be? Are there safety concerns?

Next, encourage them to utilize local student housing support services. The college housing office may have information about off-campus life. Some property management firms specialize in student rentals and can be a helpful place to start.

Meet the landlord and see the 
rental in person
Encourage your student to take a friend along to meet the landlord and confirm that the property is as advertised. This gives your student a chance to ask questions such as: What are typical utility costs? Is subleasing allowed and on what terms?

Review the lease carefully
For most students, this will be their first experience with a detailed legal document. A landlord may require a parent co-signer if the student doesn’t have a rental or credit history. In our son’s case, his father and I insisted he send us a copy of the lease so we could review it with him.

Be clear about the following:

  • What’s required up front in addition to a security deposit? First and last month’s rent?
  • What dates does the lease cover?
  • What utilities are provided (heat, water, garbage collection, etc.)?
  • What are tenants’ responsibilities for upkeep (lawn mowing, maintenance, snow removal, etc.)?

Take photos before moving in
Your student should document the condition of the house or apartment, and in particular their room, when the lease is signed. Pay special attention to stains on the ceiling, holes in walls, a cracked bathroom sink, etc. so that, if there is a dispute at the end of the lease, your student can prove their case and get their security deposit back.

Purchase renter’s insurance
In the event of fire, burglary, water damage and so on, renter’s insurance is essential to cover the cost of lost property, including valuable items like laptops and bicycles.

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Wendy Redal is a writer, editor and marketing communications specialist based in Boulder, Colorado. She previously taught journalism and mass communication for 20 years at the University of Colorado Boulder. In addition to her current job as editorial director for Natural Habitat Adventures, a global nature and wildlife travel company focused on conservation tourism, Wendy is working on a book on mindful travel. She also coaches students on college admissions essays and provides editing services for graduate theses. Wendy and her husband are the parents of two current university students.