Packing up and heading off to college is an absolutely thrilling time in a young person’s life. However, with all the fun comes a lot of responsibility. One of the first, and perhaps most important, choices a college student must make is exactly where they want to live.
Students may choose between living on- or off-campus, though some schools require freshmen to live on-campus. On-campus housing is generally a convenient option for students because they will be close to their classes. Off-campus housing can potentially be less expensive than living on-campus.
Here are a few things to consider on your journey to finding college housing.
1. Start With a Budget
College student housing can get expensive very quickly, especially if a student decides to live in off-campus housing.
It’s important to begin any college housing search by first determining a budget. How much rent can the student actually afford month-to-month while also maintaining enough funds to pay for tuition, food, and other living expenses? Figuring out a personal housing budget is a wholly unique process for each student.
Budgeting Considerations for College Students
Students should sit down and map out all monthly expenses either alone or with a loved one to figure out just how much they can afford and go from there. While developing your budget, consider things such as:
• Transportation costs to get to and from campus
• Utilities and internet
• Whether the apartment will be furnished or will require you to bring (or buy) furniture
• How you’ll split these costs with roommates
• Grocery costs vs. relying on the college dining plan
Some considerations and costs may vary depending on whether you choose to live on- or off-campus. If you are still debating between on- or off-campus housing, it may help to map out two budgets to capture the difference in cost and expenses between the two options. SoFi’s Ca$h Course: A Student’s Guide to Money has more information on setting up your college budget.
Paying for Housing Expenses
In addition to costs, evaluate sources of income so you have an idea of how you will pay for your tuition and housing expenses. Have an honest discussion with your parents or guardians about how much they are able to contribute toward housing and tuition expenses.
In addition to savings, undergraduate loans can be used to pay for housing expenses. Students may apply for both federal or private student loans. Federal student loans have certain benefits like deferment options and income-driven repayment options that aren’t necessarily afforded to private student loans. Therefore, federal student loans are typically prioritized over private student loan options. Learn more about the differences between private and federal student loans in SoFi’s private student loan guide.
Students who qualify for a need-based Pell Grant can also use these funds toward their housing expenses. Some scholarships may have restrictions on how the funding can be used, but others will be flexible and can be used for any qualifying education expense including housing costs. When doing your scholarship search, be sure to read the fine print so you understand if there are any restrictions up front.
Recommended: Guide to Unclaimed Scholarships
2. Decide on On-Campus or Off-Campus Housing
After outlining your budget it’s time to answer another big question: On-campus housing or off? This is a major consideration for many students and can be budget-dependent.
It can also be dependent on what year the student is as many colleges require students to live on campus during their freshman year. But, after that, it’s likely up to students.
Each choice has its merits and its pitfalls so weigh the pros and cons of on-campus vs. off-campus housing before deciding.
For those who want to live on-campus, there are likely a number of options available at their school. This can include residence or dorm halls. Think of these as apartment buildings, but smaller. Some dorms require students to share rooms with other students, and often only come with one bathroom per floor (though there are a lucky few who may be able to snag a private bath).
Dorms often do not come with private kitchens, though they may have a shared space. This often means students will likely also purchase a meal plan, so factor that in when budgeting.
Beyond dorms, students may also be able to live in on-campus apartments or in fraternity or sorority housing. These homes are typically maintained by private Greek organizations and admittance to the frat or sorority is usually required in order to live in the house. Room styles in Greek housing can vary greatly, along with availability, even as a member.
Note that some fraternity or sorority housing options are considered off-campus housing so you may need to check the housing program at your university.
Older students may also want to look into graduate housing, family housing, or co-op living on their university or college campus.
Off-campus housing may vary depending on where you go to school. The first option may be to just remain living at home with parents or guardians. Though this may not be the college dream for many, it can be one way to cut expenses in both housing and food.
If a student chooses to remain home he or she should sit down with their parents or guardians prior to the start of the school year to go over expectations on both sides. Have the tough conversations about curfews, chores, and anything else one would typically discuss with any other roommate.
Of course, college students may also look for off-campus housing by renting a nearby apartment or home either alone or with friends. Renting alone could be an option for those who like their space and quiet time for studying, but, this could also become prohibitively expensive as that person would also have to pay all the bills on their own.
By renting with friends a college student may gain a bit more independence while still being able to rely on others to split the cost of rent and other bills.
Note that student loans can be used to pay for both on- and off-campus living expenses.
Recommended: Using Student Loans for Living Expenses and Housing
3. Figure Out the Right Timeline
No matter which option a student chooses — on-campus or off — they must also follow the right timeline. Many colleges and universities have deadlines to declare the need for on-campus housing, while many college town rentals also follow a specific timeline for rentals.
Areas surrounding college campuses may be competitive for rentals. Some schools offer off-campus guides to get students started with their search. It may also help to do a bit of digging on your college community and ask friends who have moved off-campus in the past to see what the timeline is there.
4. Where to Look for Housing
For off-campus students, there are a plethora of options for looking for housing online. This includes websites like Zillow, Trulia, Apartments.com, Craigslist, and more. Each of these websites allows users to filter their searches by location, price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, or any other specific needs.
A student and their potential roommates may want to sit down together to list out their wants vs. needs in housing (for example, a big kitchen, study area, outdoor space, or pet-friendly) and begin their search from there.
5. Tour Housing Options
Prior to committing to housing, take a bit of time and tour the homes in person. This can help you get a feel for a place, open up the cabinets, test the water pressure, see if the street noise is too much, or anything else that may bother someone. On the tour, a student may find items not to their liking or may find things that will allow them to negotiate the rent down. Go in and take plenty of notes.
6. Look at the Fine Print
Don’t sign a lease (or anything for that matter) without reading the fine print. Before putting a name on the dotted line make sure to read each and every section in a lease and ask questions of the landlord.
Also, it’s important to note it’s not a one-way street — you too can add things to the lease. However, a landlord will have to agree before making any changes. But, if there’s something you want in there for your own legal protection, it doesn’t hurt to ask for it.
7. Consider Renter’s Insurance
Students living off-campus may want to consider renters insurance. Those living in a dorm may be covered by their parents’ home or renter insurance policy if you are listed as a dependent. Renters insurance may protect a person’s things if they are lost, damaged, or stolen from the home.
For example, if a pipe bursts while a student is in class and their home is flooded, renters insurance could cover the cost of replacing their damaged items. And, renters insurance could even cover temporary living expenses if their home becomes unlivable.
No matter where a student lives, things can most certainly get expensive. But, rather than stress about how they’ll pay for their newfound freedom, students should plan instead. And that begins by looking into all their financial options, including a SoFi private student loan.
Students, along with their parents or guardians, can apply for a private student loan with SoFi in minutes and get on their way to finding the perfect housing option for them. SoFi student loans have no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees.
Note that private student loans aren’t appropriate for every student, and are generally relied on after a student has explored other options including federal student aid and scholarships. Upon graduation, students can choose one of SoFi’s repayment options, paying back the loan on a timeline that works for them.
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