The hardest part is over – you got into college! - but finding a place that feels like home to you and your textbooks is also an important decision, and it can change from year to year. Whether living in a cramped dorm room, a spacious apartment or a cluttered frat house, be sure to choose a living space that is safe, not stressful and, of course, allows you to study!
The majority of college campuses require full-time first-year students to live on campus, often in university residences. See if your college has a policy requiring freshman to live in the dorm their first year. If so, your college will probably provide you with a housing form, which will ask you about your living habits and preferences. These questions help determine where and with whom you will be living. Here is an example of a housing form from Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.
Dorm life can be a huge adjustment, from living away from home for the first time to living with strangers to eating every meal in a cafeteria. Because there is often little privacy, some students feel stressed, distracted or confined. Be sure to find a place of your own where you can relax, talk on the phone or study, and establish good communication with the people you live with so that what limited space you may have is respected. Check out this article for more on dorm life and roommates. Keep in mind that life in the dorms can be incredibly fun and rewarding and that many people you meet there will become lifelong friends.
For more help deciding, watch this video about where to live at college from Harlan Cohen, advice columnist and author of the book, The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College. Cohen gives advice on where to live, what to bring, the advantages and disadvantages of living in a co-ed dorm, and more.
This article weighs the pros of cons of dorm vs. apartment living and can help guide your decision on whether to move into an apartment when you are no longer required to live in the dorm.
The First Apartment
After one or two years in the dorm, many students decide to move into a house or an apartment with friends. Deciding where to live will depend on the layout of your campus. It's best to stick to areas that are safe and close to your classes, especially if your campus is such that most people commute by foot. Think walking alone at night and trekking a mile to your 8 a.m. lecture in a snowstorm! Other important aspects to consider are:
- Cost - Determine how much you and your roommates are willing to spend before you even start looking for places. Be prepared to negotiate on price. And once you have signed a lease, be sure to make rental payments on time. Friendships are sometimes ruined over such money matters, not to mention the potential legal consequences of failing to adhere to a lease.
- Space - Will a two-bedroom apartment accommodate you and your roommates, or do you need to rent a house? Do you want your own room or are you willing to share? Is it worth it to everyone to pay more for that huge living room? Do you plan to cook – how is the kitchen? Are there enough bathrooms for everyone to get ready in the morning?
- Things to look for – Most of the time when you browse a house or apartment, it's a whirlwind experience, and you may have to base your decision on where to live on a quick three-minute tour. When you view a place, really try to take in the environment, and take photos or video if allowable to help you remember details. Observe the space carefully: Does it look lived-in? Is it well-kept? Is it clean? Given the nature of the student real estate market, most places you check out will have current residents. Ask them how they like living there and if they have had any problems with the space or the landlord.
Read this article from Suite 101 for more on how to decide on an apartment, and check out these helpful sites to start your search:
Because college is often the first time that many students search and sign a lease for a place of their own, landlords and rental companies can often see students as vulnerable and may try to take advantage of their inexperience. Still, there are many good and honest landlords and companies, so hopefully this is something you will never have to deal with. However, it is up to you to carefully read the terms of your lease before signing and to know your rights as a tenant. Be prepared to negotiate rent, and pay attention to important details that may influence your decision on a place: Is parking included? Are utilities free? Is there on-site laundry? Once you do decide on a place, note that if your landlord or rental company is unresponsive, negligent or breaches your lease, you may consider seeking legal action.
Some parents decide to purchase a place for their child to live while he/she is at campus – typically a condo or town house - with the idea that the extra space can be rented out at a profit. Read this article from MSN Money to see if this is a good idea for your family.
Fraternity and Sorority Housing
Joined a frat or sorority? Check out the articles below to see if living there is a good choice for you.
- As this article from About.com points out "joining the house was one choice; living there is an entirely different question."
- This Suite 101 article outlines the advantages and disadvantages to Greek housing, such as financial, academic, space and social considerations, as well as quality of housing.
- For a first-person perspective on what it's like to live in a frat house, read this op-ed from a former student at Miami University in Ohio. "The biggest life lesson that I have learned from living in a fraternity house for the past three years is that you need to rely on help from others if you ever want to get anything done," the writer says.
The Post-College Apartment
Just graduated? Congratulations! Need help deciding where to live? Whether you're moving across the country or just moving out of the dorm, check out these tips from GradSpot.com about what to consider when looking for a new place, from cost to neighborhood to transportation.