Students live off-campus for a variety of reasons, and it’s not always a personal choice. In fact, some universities don’t have enough housing for all students, so housing priority is with freshman and sophomores. Junior and senior college students may have to find off-campus housing. In other cases, students may prefer to live with parents or another relative, or they may prefer to share an apartment with a group of friends.
Understanding Room and Board in Financial Aid Packages
Before you can understand how living off-campus affects financial aid, it’s important to know how FAFSA and universities calculate Cost of Attendance (COA). When completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, you’ll be required to designate if you are living on-campus, off-campus in rented accommodation, or off-campus with parents. Since housing is a significant cost for most college students, your financial aid package is based in part on these answers.
How Universities Calculate Cost of Attendance (COA)
Your financial aid package will also be determined by how your university calculates the COA, which includes tuition, fees, books, and some personal expenses including room and board. For example, the room and board fees in Yale’s cost of attendance estimates are the same for students who live on-campus or off-campus. However, Johns Hopkins University has different COA estimates for on-campus and off-campus students. For example, In 2017, off-campus students received a standard $10,563 for housing expenses for the academic year (9 months), while on-campus students received up to $15,425. Students who live off-campus at Johns Hopkins received $4,862 less than those who live on-campus.
What if Your Housing Costs Exceed Your Financial Aid Package?
Many students calculate their cost of living only to find out that living off-campus does cost more than living on-campus. Rent, utilities, and grocery expenses may exceed what you would pay on campus for a meal plan and a dorm room. If you find that your expenses exceed what you receive in your financial aid package, you cannot request additional financial aid in the middle of the school year. However, you may appeal your financial aid award prior to signing the MPN (Master Promissory Note) if you feel the award is not enough based on your income and estimated expenses.
Other Factors to Consider About Financial Aid and Off-Campus Housing
In addition to receiving less financial aid for off-campus housing, many students also overlook the following.
If you live with your parents…
If you indicate that you plan to live with your parents during the academic year, room and board will not be factored into your COA on the FAFSA. It’s assumed that you won’t need to pay rent and will pay little to nothing for food. If your parents plan to charge you rent while living at home during college, you may need a part-time job.
If your lease is longer than 9 months…
The standard contract for most off-campus apartments is 12 months. However, your financial aid package only covers 9 months of expenses. In college towns, some landlords offer 9-month lease agreements, but most do not. You must be prepared to pay the rent for the full lease term by finding a subletter or getting a part-time job once the academic year is complete.
If you are leasing an apartment before the start of the school year…
Be prepared to pay your security deposit and rent as an out-of-pocket expense. In most cases, you cannot receive financial aid to cover expenses until after it has been applied to tuition and fees. Your school’s financial aid office will receive your financial aid funding. If you live on-campus, financial aid will be applied towards your room and board after paying tuition and fees.
However, if you live off-campus, once tuition and fees are paid, you’ll receive a check with the remaining money allotted for that semester to pay rent, purchase food, and buy other items. In most cases the earliest you will receive this funding is the first week of school, so you must be prepared to pay your rent with personal funds or make an arrangement with your landlord if rent is due before you will receive your financial aid check.
Do You Get More Financial Aid If You Live Off-Campus?
The truth is that most students do not receive more financial aid if they live off-campus. In fact, in many cases, they will receive less financial aid. Ultimately, the amount of aid you receive is determined by the university’s estimates for on-campus and off-campus housing. In most cases, it is possible to find affordable housing within the university’s estimated budget for off-campus housing. To make off-campus housing more affordable, it’s better to find a roommate, make a college budget, start early, and do your research.
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