College Apartments

Okay, so you are going to live in off campus housing? First time on your own. Some things may be different until you become an experienced renter.

As a College Admissions Specialist, I hope you lived in campus dorms for at least a year. You will meet more people, and be more involved in campus life.

Apartment dwellers are usually not freshmen, the people with whom you will be spending the next four years. People living in college apartments may be married students, grad students, non-students, sometimes faculty, or juniors and senior undergrads.

Meantime, now that you are in, or thinking about apartments: First things first:

Living off campus - Pro and Con

The first thing to do before deciding to live off-campus is to consider how you live and study. An apartment or house living will involve some trade-offs. For example, the money you save by sharing a dwelling might be balanced out by the extra money you spend commuting to campus.

Here are some things to consider:


  • Rent for college apartments can be cheaper than university housing, but figure in other costs. (See below.)

  • You'll probably have more independence, freedom, privacy, and space.

  • Private apartments are usually quieter and have fewer distractions, and therefore, are better for studying.

  • Having a rental history will make it easier to get a place after you graduate.

  • Plus, you'll have "real world" experience.

  • You can make your own meals. (The bad thing? You have to make your own meals. Or, you can buy a meal ticket at the college cafeteria. Good idea unless you love to cook.)

  • No more shared bathrooms (or at least not shared by as many).


  • Living off-campus can actually be more expensive. You've got security deposit, first and last month's rent, utilities, furniture, furnishings, appliances, cleaning supplies, groceries, transportation, etc.

  • You're on your own for phone, Internet and cable TV connections.

  • You'll have chores: renters usually spend more time grocery-shopping, preparing meals, cleaning, and commuting than dorm dwellers.

  • You may be more isolated from campus and other students.

  • You'll probably have more responsibilities and liabilities.

  • Security can be an issue. With a few exceptions, campus police to not patrol non-campus areas.

  • For year-long leases, you may need to find someone to sublet your place during the summer.

  • Think about what's important to you and put together your own pros and cons list. You might also want to do a side-by-side comparison of all of the expenses involved with living on- vs. off-campus.

    How to Hunt for Housing: Best do it before school starts

    Suggestions from the CollegeBoard:

    Finding housing that matches your needs will require much patience and persistence, and a little research helps too. The good news is that you have plenty of resources at your fingertips to help you search:

    Where to Find Listings

  • Your College's Off-Campus Housing Office

  • Go to your college's off-campus housing office where you can get housing, landlord, management company, and roommate listings.

    Note: most off-campus housing offices do not inspect the housing options they list -- that is the responsibility of the potential tenants.

    The office could also give you advice about topics such as:

  • the best time to conduct your search
  • what to do if you encounter discrimination in your housing search
  • how to resolve differences with your landlord or fellow tenants.
  • Real Estate Agents

  • If you don't have the time to seek out and deal with landlords directly, a real estate agent can be a real convenience.

    Be aware that the fees can be considerable (a month's rent or more). Your college's off-campus housing office may have arrangements with local real estate agents for reduced fees for students.

    Search the Web

  • Use a search engine to find online real estate listings, and places to live in the vicinity of your college.

  • Students or landlords will often put out signs in the neighborhoods surrounding campus.

  • Check local newspapers, bulletin boards, and apartment guides.

    National listings -Search in your Area

    Apartment Guide

    Yahoo Real Estate Search

    Search Tips

    Expect plenty of competition for choice apartments before the semester begins. The better prepared you are, the better your chances of landing what you want.

  • Start your search as early as possible -- up to four weeks before the start of the semester. While you're looking, consider staying with friends or family, or in a hotel or short-term residence.

  • Be prepared to put a deposit down on the spot (make sure to get a receipt).

  • You and your guarantor should be ready to provide the following documentation:

    • last year's tax return
    • recent pay stubs
    • personal and business references
    • contact information for previous landlords
    • photo identification
  • College Board info for Renters

    Carefully Check out the Apartment that Interests You

  • Make sure to have all the information for filling out a lease (references, banking information, etc)

  • Dress and act presentably – show the landlord that you are dependable

  • Be wary of verbal agreements when renting. Make sure it is all written down
  • The College Apartment (things to keep in mind):

  • Sturdiness of front door, is there a dead bolt, is it a solid door, or one with glass that can be broken? (etc.)

  • Are the walls dirty? Is the paint chipping away?

  • Check electrical outlets to see if there are enough and if they are in working condition

  • If the apartment is not furnished you should have a pretty good idea of what furniture you want in your apartment and where you want it to go.

  • While examining the apartment keep this in mind:

    • Tiling in bathroom and kitchen – is it moldy? chipped?

    • Are there enough windows? Is there enough natural light?

    • Test the lighting; is it sufficient?

    • Test the windows to see if they work

    • Check for wear and tear, stains, etc, on carpets. On floorboards, check for rotted wood

    • If you will be sharing an apartment with other people it is a good idea to examine the thickness of the walls. This may be an issue for when you are trying to sleep/study while someone is another room playing music, etc

    • Check for cockroaches, bugs, etc – Check behind/under furniture, along baseboard, around corners, in cupboards, and under the sinks for evidence.

    • Consider how old the wiring is. If there aren’t many sockets or if they are two-pronged, there is a good chance the wiring is old
  • Kitchen:

  • Check cupboard for mouse droppings, rotting wood, etc. You may think mice are cute, but rodents carry the Hanta Virus, and other diseases.

  • Does the kitchen have enough space for you? Are there enough electrical outlets, etc.

  • Is the stove a gas stove? If so, is it in good condition?

  • Test out the sink, see if the enamel is scratched away

  • Are appliances included? All the appliances you want/need?
  • Bathroom:

  • Test out the sink, shower, etc. see if the enamel is scratched away

  • Flush the toilet to see if it works; listen for weird sounds

  • Look around the toilet for mold or moisture condensation

  • Check the cupboard underneath the sink for condensation or rotting wood

  • Do water heaters and boilers look safe? Is there a safety relieve valve and is it piped close to the floor?

  • Do the pipes drip of leak? Rust stains are a good indication of this.
  • Bedroom:

  • Is it the right size?

  • Will all your furniture fit?

  • Look in the closets – Will all your clothes fit?
  • Questions for Landlord:

    • Are utilities included on the lease? Which utilities? If not, how much extra will they cost?

    • Do smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors work?

    • If the paint on the walls is in bad condition is the landlord willing to have it repainted?

    • Will the place will be cleaned before you move in?

    • Is the front door locked? At all times? Are there security cameras?

    • Are there, or were there rats or mice?

    • What is the minimum term of the lease?

    • Who are the neighbors? What are they like?

    • Is the landlord around often?

    • Are pets allowed?*(See notes below)

    • Is the property well insulated? Check the windows for drafts, possible water leakage, and rotting that prohibits safe operation.

    • Are there signs of insect and/or rodent problems? Shine a flashlight in cabinets and closets looking for insects or droppings.

    • Are the floors, walls, and ceilings in good condition and free of holes? Are there stains that indicate leaks? Check for evidence of mold -it's toxic, an allergen, dangerous.

    • Operate furnaces and other provided ventilation equipment. Ask when it was last professionally serviceWho is responsible for maintenance of the residence? Are you required to make normal repairs? Who is responsible for exterior or yard maintenance?

      (Copyright©2003 The College of William and Mary)

      Note from Everything-about-college: Do the world, animals and the animal shelters a favor, and do not take on a pet unless you intend to keep it for the rest of its life. When college ends for the year, shelters are innundated with abandoned animals students have adopted to keep them company for the school year. Its tragic.

      Students either turn them in to the shelter, or abandon them outright to roam around the apartment complex hoping for food.

      In addition, students frequently do not have kittens spayed or neutered, so then there are kittens or puppies to be abandoned as well.

      Sometimes these animals are picked up and given or sold to the animal research facility at the college, and thus spend the remainder of their lives as the subject of horrible cruelty in the name of research. Others are put to death at the shelter, and still others live short lives trying to exist in the wild.

      The Lease

      The College Apartment Lease - Look and learn before you lease

      Pay special attention to the info on "Some things to be aware of before you sign." if you are renting a place to live.

      Signing a Lease

      A lease is a binding, legal contract between you and your landlord. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties. It's essential that you and your parents read it carefully and understand and agree to everything before signing. Staff at your college's off-campus housing office may also be able to review your lease and give you advice. Remember you are mostly on your own when renting an apartment not affiliated with your school.

      Get It in Writing

      Don't be afraid to negotiate any part of the lease with your landlord. Remember, your landlord is only obligated to provide services explicitly stated in your lease and under the housing laws.

    • Since, frequently, parents pay for housing, show it to them and let them look it over.

      So if you want it -- get it in writing.

      Here are some additional lease tips to remember:

    • Pay special attention to any riders attached to your lease, as these are just as binding as anything in your lease.

    • Make sure you understand the exact terms of renewing or terminating your lease, receiving your security deposit, subletting your apartment, etc.

    • If you are renting with a group of people, is everyone named in the lease? Can each tenant sign separate leases?

    • Do you understand what kinds of repairs your landlord is responsible for? Find out what types of improvements you are allowed to make.

    • If you have questions about rent guidelines, maintenance codes, or your rights and responsibilities, contact your state attorney general's office.

      Living off Campus

      Quick Tips for college living:

    • Unless you love to cook, and have time, stick with a cafeteria food plan.

    • Before the school year starts, set up ground rules with your roommate(s).

      • bills

      • Cleaning

      • privacy

      • guests

      • all the mundane stuff that comes up when living together

        Coed Roommates:

      • This is a special category. Don't take on an opposite sex room mate without a through background check. And even then, it is not a great idea. Don't enter into any such arrangement without careful thought.

      • Do you feel like like letting a guy/girl see you when you look horrible?

        Learn about campus safety, security, and federal laws that try to keep you safe

        Supplies for Dorms and Apartments

        Save Money in College

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