The decision to live on or off-campus can be a heated debate. Living on-campus puts you in the center of the college experience and within walking distance of your classes, but on-campus life isn't for everyone. Students who decide living off-campus in college is right for them will find there are plenty of benefits.
Depending on your school's student housing options, opting for an off-campus apartment can save you money. Plus, it offers you the freedom and privacy dorm living often lacks. So, are you ready to live off-campus? Here are comprehensive tips for students living off-campus in college.
Finding an Apartment
The prospect of living off-campus is exciting. You get to choose the neighborhood you live in and find an apartment that fits your lifestyle. Before renting an apartment in college, you need to consider several crucial factors.
1. Know Your Budget
More than half of colleges — 60 percent — either overestimate or underestimate the cost of living off-campus. That means you will need to do thorough research to create and manage a budget for yourself. Your budget could include things like income from your job, financial support from your parents, and scholarship funds. You should know approximately how much money you will have to spend each month. Here are seven major expenses to factor into your plans for living off-campus.
- Rent: Rent will probably be the biggest item on your monthly budget. How much of your income can you allocate to paying your apartment's rent? It is a good rule of thumb to put no more than 30 percent of your monthly income toward rent. You still have other expenses to pay besides rent. If you find a beautiful apartment that will put a lot of stress on your budget, it is probably a good idea to keep looking for your off-campus home.
- Security deposit and move-in fees: Some apartments will require a security deposit and/or move-in fee. Others may not have either of those requirements, but you need to be prepared to include that amount in your budget. A security deposit could be as much as one entire month's rent. Keep these two potential costs in mind when searching and budgeting for an off-campus apartment.
- Utilities: Your monthly rent may or may not include utilities. When you are considering an apartment, be sure to ask this question, so there are no surprises. Typical utilities include water, gas, electricity, heating and cooling, trash, and Internet service. The monthly cost of utilities will vary based on location, so you will need to do your research to find out how much you can expect to spend. Each utility is a vital part of a functional home. Make sure you factor in those costs.
- Pet fees: Do you have a dog or cat? You will, of course, need to factor pet care into your budget, but you could also incur a pet fee when you move into your apartment. Some apartment buildings do not allow pets, while others have an open-door policy for four-footed critters. In between, you will come across buildings that have pet fees that work much like a security deposit. Some buildings have monthly pet fees you will need to pay in addition to your base rent. Always ask about an apartment building's pet policy. In addition to fees, some buildings may have breed or species restrictions.
- Laundry: When you live in a college dorm, laundry is sometimes included in your overall cost of boarding. When you decide to live off-campus, laundry becomes your responsibility. Many apartment buildings have coin-operated washers and dryers. It usually costs a few dollars to wash and dry a load of laundry. You will need to remember to stock up on quarters. You may find an apartment with an in-unit washer and dryer, which means you can forget about quarters. However, this will contribute to your water bill if you live in an apartment where you pay for that utility.
- Parking: Do you drive a car? Some apartments have paid parking spots that offer a convenient and close spot to leave your car. Be sure to ask about that when you are on the hunt for an apartment. If you don't drive, you might need to pay for public transit to and from campus, depending on how far you live from your classes.
- Food: A meal card is one of the perks of living on-campus. You can swipe that card multiple times a day and grab ready-made meals at almost any time of day. Like laundry, meals become your responsibility when you live on your own. When you are considering apartment options, find out the location of the nearest grocery store. Then, think about how much it will cost to feed yourself three meals each day.
2. Do Your Due Diligence When Selecting an Apartment
Once you have set your budget, you can narrow down your apartment search. But your budget isn't the only factor that matters. Here are few apartment features to evaluate.
- Size: You do not need the biggest apartment when you are a student, but you do want somewhere you will feel comfortable. Additionally, you want to ensure you are not overpaying for an undersized apartment. Go online to check out the average size and price of apartments in the area you are hoping to live. Compare those statistics to the size and rent of any apartment you consider.
- Walkthrough: Before signing any paperwork, you will want to do a walkthrough of the entire apartment and check that everything works. Do the lights turn on and off? Does the toilet flush? How is the water pressure in the shower? Do the locks work? Do the appliances that come with the apartment work? Is there any sign of bugs? Are there enough outlets, and do they work? You don't want to move into an apartment only to find a bunch of things in your new home are in dire need of repair.
- Amenities: Just because you are on a budget does not mean you can't look for apartments with amenities. Does the apartment have air conditioning? Check for that in-unit washer and dryer. Ask the leasing agent if there are any perks that come with renting the apartment. For example, a building might have a gym open to residents.
- Check your commute time: Whether you are driving, walking, or taking public transportation, you need to know how long it will take you to get to class and work. Commuting can eat up a lot of your time and your budget. Try a couple of test runs between the apartment and campus to get a good idea of how much you can expect to spend on the go.
- Lease duration and details: When you have found an apartment you want to snag, take time to read the fine print before you commit. Your apartment's lease will contain all the details about the rent amount, how to pay, the length of the lease, and any restrictions. Twelve months is the typical length of an apartment lease. Are you planning to live there for an entire year, or just the duration of the school year? Know the answer to that question before you sign. If you only want a nine-month lease, talk to your leasing agent and try to negotiate that. Breaking a lease can be costly and damage your chances of finding an apartment next time.
Packing and Shopping for Off-Campus Life
Now you have tips on how to rent an apartment as a college student. Once you have signed the lease, you can start thinking about your move-in date. Are you paying for movers or a moving truck, or will you be recruiting family and friends and their vehicles? Have a plan in place to get all your belongings from home to the new apartment, which brings us to your packing list. Here are a few college apartment tips that will help you make sure you have everything you need.
1. Bring What You Can From Home
It can be tempting to buy all-new things when you are moving into a new apartment, but remember, you still need to live on a budget. Look at the things you own at home when you are packing. Of course, you will want to pack basic things like clothes, your computer, and toiletries. When it comes to getting items you may not already own, ask your family. For example, do they have kitchenware they don't need anymore?
You will also want to take into consideration the duration of your lease when putting together your packing list. Will you be living in your off-campus apartment for an entire school year or more? Or, will you be making frequent visits home and living there between school years? If you are staying at the apartment for a 12-month lease or longer, you will want to pack the majority of your belongings. If you are living there just for the academic year, you can pack a bit lighter, which will make the move back home easier.
2. Remember You Might Need to Supply Your Own Furniture
On-campus dorms usually come with basic furniture: a bed, a nightstand, a desk, and a dresser. It is possible you will be able to find an apartment that is already furnished, but most apartments come unfurnished. Once again, check what pieces you can take from home to furnish your apartment. Try not to leave furniture until the last minute, so you can avoid living in a bare apartment.
3. Consider the Space You Have
When you are packing your things and buying new items for your apartment, remember the square footage of your new home. Can you fit a new flat-screen TV? Will that king-sized bed fit in the bedroom? Packing for the size of your apartment will help you make sure all your things fit. Plus, you can avoid packing unnecessary items that will end up making your new home feel cramped. If you have a studio apartment, you will have limited space. If you have a larger apartment with roommates, you need to remember you will be sharing common space in the apartment.
Quick tip for anyone living with roommates: Ask them what they are bringing. That will help you avoid having duplicates of things like microwaves and couches. Here is a look at some of the basics you may need for the rooms of an off-campus apartment.
- Bed frame
- Bedside lamp
- Closet hangers
- Laundry basket
- End table
- DVD player/gaming system
- Floor lamp
- Pots and pans
- Dish detergent
- Toilet paper
- Shower liner and curtain
Living in an Off-Campus Apartment
Once you have found out how to get an apartment in college, you will need to figure out how to live in one. Here are some basic guidelines to help you navigate the ins and outs of living in an off-campus apartment.
1. Keep Your Kitchen Stocked
Remember how we talked about food being part of the budget? Well, grocery shopping for yourself can be a tough transition for a lot of college students. When you live at home with your family, you are probably used to finding a fully stocked pantry and fridge, if not having your meals made for you. Start out by buying yourself basic staples, such as salt, pepper, and flour. From there, you can make yourself a weekly grocery list that covers your meals for the week. Try to stick to your list and shopping schedule, so you don't find yourself in the middle of a study session with an empty kitchen. It can be helpful to meal prep, so you have food ready to eat throughout the week. Plus, this trick helps reduce the amount of food you waste.
2. Set Roommate Ground Rules
Living with roommates in an off-campus apartment means you are sharing space, expenses, and schedules. This might seem like nothing new to people who grew up sharing everything with siblings, but it can be a bit jarring for some college students. Whether you are friends with your roommates or you are just meeting, you can avoid a lot of squabbles by putting down some basic ground rules.
- Shared space: Roommates share the kitchen, living room, and bathroom of an apartment. That means everyone is responsible for the cleanliness of those rooms. Set basic expectations for how clean those rooms should be and split up chores. If one person ends up picking up after everyone else, roommate tension is inevitable. Likewise, you will need to coordinate use of those shared rooms. What time does everyone need to shower? What time is everyone going to cook their meals? How often can one person use the couch and TV in the living room?
- Shared expenses: Rent and utilities are obviously going to be a shared expense among roommates. Determine who will be in charge of paying those expenses and find a way to ensure everyone is pitching in their fair share. Beyond those two costs, you and your roommates will need to decide what else is a shared expense. Do you each pay for your own food? How about things like toilet paper and toothpaste?
- Guests: This issue can cause a lot of roommate disagreements, especially when quiet time for studying is essential. How often can each roommate have guests over? Is everyone comfortable with overnight guests?
3. Keep Track of Your Bill Due Dates
Living in an off-campus apartment means you have to juggle several separate bills. You need to pay for rent, Internet service, and any other utilities not included in the cost of rent. Forgetting to pay any of those bills can mean a utility gets shut off, and it could also affect your credit score. Avoid that issue by knowing your bill due dates. If you are forgetful, most utilities allow you to set up autopay.
4. Be a Considerate Neighbor
You probably do not want to deal with loud music and rowdy neighbors while you are trying to study or sleep. The same goes for your neighbors. Dorms have RAs to help keep noise in check and mediate disputes between residents. Off-campus apartments do not have that perk. Your neighbors might be fellow college students who don't mind late nights, but they might be people who have to get up for work the next day. Keep an eye on how much noise you are making when you blow off steam after a long week or a big test. If a neighbor asks you to quiet down, respect that request.
5. Use Your Freedom Wisely
The freedom that comes with living off-campus is one of the biggest benefits. You do not have to answer to a dorm's restrictions, such as hall meetings or mandatory quiet hours. Just remember, this freedom comes with responsibility. You still need to study for your classes. You need to pay rent and all your bills on time. You need to get along with your roommates. Balance your newfound freedom with the adult responsibilities of maintaining life in an off-campus apartment.
If you have decided to live off-campus while you attend school in Pennsylvania, PMI can help you find an apartment with the right budget, location, and amenities so you can focus on your academic career. Visit our student housing page to see our apartments available for rent in Shippensburg and State College, PA!