I have rented off campus housing to college students for decades and seen every success and failure imaginable. If you want to know, how do you prepare for living off campus, then you are in the right place. Follow the 11 steps below and you’ll be on your way to a great year.
What does it mean to live off campus?
When you attend college, classes are often far away from home and you will need to take residence. Typically this means living on campus within one of the school’s dormitories, or renting an off campus home. This can be an apartment or house outside the grounds of the college or university.
Choosing to live off campus can mean added freedoms you don’t have living in a dorm room. However it usually includes a lot of additional responsibilities. And, can lack the social amenities found on campus.
Unless you are living in a college or university off campus apartment, you are likely to be on your own.
Living at home while at college
Make no mistake, living at home while attending college is similar to living off campus. But when parents are taking care of the costs and maintenance, the whole aspect of living on your own is missing.
Living at home while attending school is technically considered commuting.
Transitioning to an off campus rental
1. Initial preparations for living off campus
One of the first things you should do if considering living off campus is to check if your college or university permits this. Some schools have very specific rules that all students must live on campus. Sometimes this is a subset such as Freshman.
Can you live off campus freshman year?
A lot of colleges will require freshman students to live on campus. Your first year away from home can be difficult enough with a new schedule, new faces and many new habits. Adding the responsibility of caring for a home and commuting can put an unneeded burden on new college students.
Even if a school allows it, freshman students should consider otherwise.
However, in some cases a college or university may not have enough housing and freshmen will be required to live off campus.
Will you miss out on social activities found on campus?
Another thing to consider while preparing to live off campus is the social activities and venus available to most students. A big part of attending college is networking with like-minded people your age. Clubs, fun activities, on campus concerts, speakers and traditions are all part of the college experience.
Amenities and services found on campus
While living off campus you may miss out on amenities and services that other students will have such as a gym, dining hall meals, library, dormitory pool tables and volleyball all arranged for students to have fun and meet each other.
Consider sticking around after classes and participating in lots of events to make sure you are not missing out on an important part of the college experience.
2. Create a budget for living on your own
Before you begin the process of looking for an off campus apartment or rental, you will want to have a good idea how much you can afford.
How much does off campus housing cost?
You can expect to pay a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per month to live off campus. It all depends on where you choose to live and the market rate in the town.
Rent is just part of the costs as you need to factor in other costs such as utilities and food. The more you use the more it can cost.
Is living off campus cheaper than a dorm?
Will you save money living off campus? Most students considering a move off campus will want to know if it will be cheaper or more expensive. And, it certainly can be.
Living in a dorm is pretty much an all-inclusive apartment. Your rent covers the electric, heat and maintenance. While an off campus apartment or house you control your costs.
By living more frugally and turning the heat down when you leave, or only lighting rooms you are in can save a bundle.
But most of the cost of an off campus rental is in the rent. So you can choose a lower priced property or split the cost with roommates to reduce the cost.
Living off campus with a girlfriend or boyfriend
Lots of students take the plunge and move in with a boyfriend or girlfriend. That is one way to cut your costs. Just keep in mind that breakups can be tough. If you budget for one amount and your partner leaves, you may end up with financial issues.
Considering moving off campus with roommates
Most people who move off campus do it with roommates. Students often get together and discuss the idea, and it just happens.
There are a few things to consider when choosing a roommate to live off campus such as:
- What is their schedule
- Will you be sharing a car to get to classes
- How will chores be divided (don’t let that garbage pile up!)
- Will guests be allowed to stay over
- How will expenses be divided
Roommates are a great way to keep costs of living off campus to a minimum. But when one of you decides to start a band in the basement or quits school you don’t want to be left with the burden of extra payments.
Be sure to choose roommates wisely and discuss finances thoroughly.
Can non-students live in off campus housing
Unless you are living in a college or university off campus apartment, there should be no reason you can’t share an apartment with a non-student.
Certain apartments are built only for college students and they may prohibit non-students. Also, some landlords may have rules where they only rent to students. But for the most part it should not be a problem. Just ask.
How to save money living off campus
There are plenty of expenses you will have to consider living off campus such as electric & gas, food, fuel for a car, cleaning & laundry supplies, and repairs. Be sure to consider all of the items you need including mops and lightbulbs.
Here are a few tips to save some cash:
- Clip coupons
- Take advantage of daily online deals
- Carpool with your roommate
- Buy regularly used items in bulk
Will you use the college meal plan?
Budgeting for food is a big deal. When you use the school’s meal plan, you know exactly what the cost will be regardless of how much you eat.
When buying your own groceries, it can be easy to splurge, or buy food that you don’t get to eat. Roommates may have different tastes such as organic food or chocolate which can run up a shopping bill.
Some colleges and universities will allow you to purchase the meal plan even if living off campus. This may cost a bit more, but can relieve you of shopping and cooking duties.
Consider a strict budget for food shopping each week and stick to it. Check your supplies each week to see what you really did not eat and cut back on those items.
3. Research locations to live off campus
A lot of students begin their journey of living off campus when a fellow student invites them to be a roommate. The path to moving from a dorm was made easy.
But if you have been considering the move and don’t have a place lined up, there are some things to consider.
How far away from campus are you willing to live?
In many areas the price per square foot tends to go down the farther you get from campus. But just how far away do you want to be? Is the time it takes to commute going to be worth it. Can you just walk a few blocks?
Some schools just don’t have a vibrant off campus housing market so your daily trek to campus may be long.
Check out this article on living far away from school
How will you get to class?
Some off campus rentals may be only a few blocks from class. But keep in mind you may have to walk in the rain or snow some days.
Consider if there is a campus bus in the area. If you plan to drive, will there be a place to park your car on campus and at home. Check for public transportation options and how far from campus will that take you.
Is the area safe?
Saving money is great. But not at the risk of your safety. Be sure to thoroughly check out an area before signing a lease.
4. Find off campus housing
There are plenty of places to look for an off campus house or apartment. The best place to start though is your college or university housing office. Typically they will have some information on apartment communities and private rentals.
Often students can get a discount or other benefits. Some “college apartments” have amenities just for students such as a shuttle service.
Another idea is to check flyers in student centers and common areas. Local landlords often post rentals that you can check out.
Consider letting your fellow students know you are looking. Someone may be leaving their great apartment or searching for a roommate.
5. Visit the rental properties
You will want to make sure you visit any off campus rentals before signing a lease or agreeing to rent. That can be a challenge if you are not from the area.
But you will live there 10 months out of the year so make the effort. Here are few things to consider:
- Be sure to view the exact room you will live in
- Examine windows – is there a view, how much light will you have
- Listen for noise disturbances
- Check if the property is clean
- What is the storage like
- Is there a washer, dryer, dishwasher
- How easy will it be to move furniture in
6. Consider transportation
How you are going to get around while living off campus is definitely a major concern. Many colleges are located in vibrant towns or cities and you can walk almost anywhere. Often a university bus system picks up students from all over town.
Other times that is not the case. There are certainly some things to think about.
Living off campus without a car
Perhaps your new rental will be close enough to campus to walk or hop a campus bus. That’s great. Just keep in mind you may need to get to the grocery store and carry packages back.
If you are involved in extracurricular activities such as band you may need to haul an instrument around.
For those who do plan to have a car off campus, have a plan on where you will park your car both at home and on campus. Parking tickets can add up quickly.
Public transportation will be a great option for some off campus dwellers. Find out exactly where you can board a bus or train and where it will take you. Are those places safe? Can you get a frequent rider discount?
7. Review the rental property lease
Now that you have located the perfect place, it is time to sign a lease. This is a legal document that states you will agree to pay the rent and abide by the landlords rules.
A lease will often cover a lot of topics and you should read it thoroughly and ask questions for anything you do not understand.
Here are a few highlights that students should pay particular attention to:
Rental costs all fees and expenses, such as application fees, amenity fees, and carpet cleaning
You may have been told what the stated rent is, but often a lease contains other fees and charges that may apply. Be sure you completely understand each of these and which will be expected to pay.
- Application fee
- Amenity fee
- Security deposit
- Carpet cleaning
- Pet fee
- Lockout charge
- Washer/dryer charge
- Parking fee
Joint and several liability
Living with roommates sounds great until one of them leaves or causes damage.
Joint and several liability is a legal term that means that the landlord can choose to hold everyone, some or any single person responsible for liabilities under the lease such as rent due or damage to the property.
A cute and cuddly pet sounds like a good thing to keep you company in an off campus apartment. But you should really avoid this.
Students are often gone for long periods of time and the pet will need care. Often they cause damage to the rental that can be expensive to repair.
Leases often contain pet deposits and any sign of wear and tear from a pet will be charged.
Student Legal Services offer free lease reviews
Some colleges and universities provide a lease review service that can help answer any questions you may have. If they offer it, take advantage of the service.
8. Get renters insurance
Being a student today often entails keeping expensive computer equipment in your possession. In your rental you may also have furniture, cooking tools, musical instruments and even… books.
All these things can cost a lot of money and if they become damaged, you may have to buy them again.
A simple renters insurance policy is fairly cheap and can allow you to replace your items if they become damaged.
Does a landlord’s insurance policy cover your items
A landlord’s insurance policy typically does not cover a tenant’s belongings. Their coverage is for the property itself.
9. Complete move-in inspection
At this point you are probably very excited. You may have traveled a long with a truck filled with stuff and family to help you move in. But before you do that, it is prudent to complete an inspection of the property to document the condition before you take possession.
Complete a walk through preferably with the landlord and record anything that is damaged. Things to look for may be:
- Scratches in the floor
- Broken appliances
- Paint issues
- Plumbing issues such as drips or leaks
- Broken or misaligned doors, windows and cabinet
Have the landlord sign the checklist if possible to acknowledge the issues. It would also be a good idea to take some photos of any damage and a short video so you have it when you move out.
10. Moving in to an off campus apartment
Students moving into an off campus apartment won’t typically need everything that someone would bring if it were more of a permanent move. Most student renters keep it simple. This short checklist of tasks will get you started.
Connecting utilities – internet/cable, gas/electric
Before you show up to your new home for the semester, make sure to connect any utilities and cable service. Just call in advance and let them know when you will take possession.
Furnishings (bed, couch, table, desk)
Living off campus you won’t have to settle for the junky twin dorm mattress. Lots of students don’t even bring a bed. Just dump their mattress on the floor.
You may want to have a couch, TV, some place to eat, and a desk to do homework.
Finding free stuff
There are plenty of ways to acquire free things so you won’t have to empty your room from home. Prior tenants often leave things behind. On move out day, renters often fill the sidewalk with furniture they don’t plan to bring home.
Facebook Marketplace has a free stuff section where you can find loads of useful things. Also check out Craigslist.org for household items people give away.
You may only need it for a few weeks or so, but if your new off campus rental is not equipped with air conditioning, it may be something to plan to bring along.
11. Responsibilities as a student & tenant
Living off campus usually means extra work like taking out the trash and cleaning the bathroom. Being prepared ahead of time will help you get a good start to the school year and help avoid the stress of living on your own for the first time.
Some things students should be aware of:
Grocery shopping – If you are not on a meal plan, you will need to head to the food store at least once per week. Find out where other students shop, and plan to get there.
Cleaning – Just because you don’t live at home anymore does not mean you shouldn’t keep your new place clean. Make your bed every day and you will feel great when you come back from class.
Vacuum, clean the kitchen and baths, wash clothes regularly. Plan one day each week for this.
Cooking – Unless you are making microwave meals, it takes a bit longer than most people think. Have a few recipes prepared that are simple at least to get you started.
Paying bills – Rent, utilities, phone services all have to get paid on time. Make sure you pay bills as soon as they come in so you don’t forget.
Get to class on time – You may live farther away from class than in the past. Give yourself extra time to get there on time every day (it’s okay to be early!).
Following rules and laws – Every off campus rental has rules, every town/city has laws. Make sure you are aware of these and follow them. Ask your landlord or prior tenants for tips.
Noise – Having a party in your new off campus home is usually okay. Just be aware of noise as it gets later in the evening. Some of your neighbors may need to get up early the next day.
Garbage – You may not like putting the garbage out on collection day. Nobody does. But letting it pile up will attract vermin and possible fines from the town or your landlord. Just do it.
Some final tips for living off campus tips
As someone who has been a landlord to college students for decades, I can assure you that even the most unprepared first time renters figure it out after a while. But, the ones who are least prepared will suffer more in the classroom, pay more, and endure more stress living in a place that does not work.
Be sure to check out other articles on living off campus, and share this one with your future roommates so you are all on the same page.