Whether you’re ready to move off campus or your school only offers on-campus housing to freshman, it’s time to navigate apartment shopping and payments as a college student. Before you go dreaming too big, you need to start with some research and budgeting to figure out where and how you should begin your apartment search.
First, you need to know what an average off-campus apartment costs in your area. You can check out sites like Zillow and Trulia, but should also talk to fellow students who have been through this process. Remember to include an estimate on utilities and WiFi.
If you don’t plan to live in your college town year-round, you will also need to ensure that your future apartment allows either a month-to-month or nine-month lease. You don’t want to be saddled with apartment payments in the summer when you’re home with your folks.
In their annual survey of colleges, College Board found that the average 2018-19 annual on-campus room and board costs for students attending a public four-year college was $11,140 and $12,680 for the non-profit private four-year school. Hopefully, with living off campus, you will find yourself with lower numbers.
Once you have these answers and numbers, create your budget.
Can you afford your estimated costs for rent, utilities and food plus some wiggle room for any unexpected fees and expenses? If the answer is yes, great. If not, let’s explore some ways to make living off campus more affordable:
1. Finding the right apartment. Consider staying in a private home instead of a big apartment complex. Private rentals aren’t as strict about income requirements as large company-owned buildings and rent might be negotiable. We know you want to live in the best apartment in the best neighborhood, but you will have to make compromises to fit your budget. Now is not the time to live outside your means and select the luxury condo on the edge of campus. Your money will be better spent elsewhere.
2. Live with people. More roommates equals less expensive rent. Better still, find someone who already has an apartment and move in with them. This will mean that most of the startup costs like furnishing and deposits were already taken care of.
3. Get a job. Start with your school’s employment office. If you are eligible for work-study, they will help ensure you a job on campus. If you weren’t awarded work-study, there might still be opportunities through the school of which you can take advantage. On-campus jobs are great, because your priorities of being a student first is already understood. The more hours you are comfortable fitting into your schedule, the more comfortable you will be with your monthly rent payments.
4. Be frugal. For one, cook a lot more than you eat out or get delivery. Many places around your school will probably offer student discounts. Make it a point to shop at these places for groceries and other needs.
5. Use your loans (if you must). Your federal aid can be used toward room and board expenses. Even if you are not taking your school’s room and board, you should still be able to use that money for off-campus housing. Try not to take out more loans for your housing needs. Loans add up and if you have to take out private loans, those repayment plans are more strict and more expensive than federal loans.
Get Approved for Your Apartment
Just knowing yourself that you have enough money to cover housing doesn’t mean that landlords or subletters know you do. In most situations outside of college, landlords require proof of income (usually pay stubs) to ensure that you can pay your monthly rent. Even if you plan to work during the school year, you probably won’t have proof of income before you need to move in.
If you can, get a cosigner. This could be your mom or dad. Their names would also be put on your lease. This tells the landlord that if you are unable to make your monthly rent payments, your parents will cover the cost.
Many parents will refuse to be cosigners, as it is a lot of money and responsibility put on them as well. Other options for apartment approval are mentioned above. 1) Move in with someone who is already living in an apartment or 2) look for private homes where you can negotiate with a landlord. For example, you might be able to offer to put more money up front to show that you can pay for the apartment.
If you’re living close to campus, chances are that there are a number of landlords and houses that have students move in every year. They are familiar with student tenants, so understand the need for a nine-month lease and that most students won’t have a traditional proof of income. Talk to upperclassmen around your school about off-campus housing patterns.