Leaving the dorms for off-campus housing can be an intimidating move, but if you really research all your options and choose your roommates carefully, renting an apartment can give you the privacy, space, and freedom you’ve been craving. Finally!
Start your research
Renting an off-campus apartment isn’t as simple as finding a place and signing a lease. You must research apartments ahead of time to make sure they’ll meet your housing needs. Are you looking for a furnished or unfurnished apartment? If have pets, do they allow them? Where will you and your guests park? Do you need to pay a security deposit? How long is the commute to campus? What’s the neighborhood around the complex like? Will the lease require a co-signer?
More important than those basic questions are the things you simply can’t know about an apartment without living there first, which is why you should try to read as many apartment reviews online as possible. Apartmentratings.com is a good place to start. Just be aware of “filler” ratings submitted by apartment complexes to bolster their reputations.
Distance from campus
How far away you live from campus is an important consideration in your apartment selection. Is there public transportation available to bring you to and from campus? If so, what’s the schedule like? How long would it take to get to class? How much would a pass cost? If there isn’t any transportation, is it feasible to bike or walk to campus? Is it a safe enough neighborhood to travel in at night? Are there grocery stores or other needed amenities nearby?
If you have a car, keep in mind that parking on most college campuses is an expensive option. It’s a good idea to consider every transportation possibility when you’re picking an apartment so you know you’ll have backup transportation in case of a car malfunction or a late bus.
In addition to accessibility, consider isolation from the campus community as another factor. According to Brittany Ballantyne in “New housing policy keeps sophomores on campus,” Keene State College in New Hampshire has instituted a new policy that keeps sophomores on campus so that they are closer to the support facilities of the campus until their third year at which point they will have access to advisement on off-campus housing options.
Choose your roommate(s) wisely. It can get quite expensive (and a little lonely) living by yourself, so you’ll need to select reliable, responsible, stable roommates to maintain a livable environment. Think carefully about whether you’d be able to live with your friends—sometimes the best roommates are the quiet acquaintances in your life who pay the rent on time and respect your personal space. As Ron Leshnower wrote in “3 Steps to finding the perfect roommate” on About.com, “It’s more about compatibility than likeability. When roommate relationships don’t work out, it’s usually because the two people realize that they’re not compatible with each other.”
What you’ll need
If you’ve found your dream apartment and are ready to sign a lease, make sure you bring a photo ID, Social Security card, and/or a passport (if necessary), your checkbook (and enough money in your bank account), a list of references, and your co-signer (if necessary). Don’t forget to bring a list of questions for the landlord or leasing officers about the rules and regulations of the apartment. If you’re getting an apartment with roommates, be sure to sign the lease with everyone present, instead of signing it individually. In the off chance that one of them backs out, you will know before signing anything.
If you don’t need a co-signer, the apartment complex will likely complete a background check on you, which may require an additional fee. If you don’t have the best credit in the world, you might not be able to sign the lease without a guarantor. Consider building good credit early by applying for a credit card and making small purchases that you can pay off immediately. This may not sound like much, but it can go a long way to helping you get a decent credit score and a great apartment.