Though it is more complicated than getting housing on-campus, and offers less support and protection, many students prefer to live off-campus. Some may want more privacy; others may want to escape a noisy campus. Many see living off-campus as a chance to live in the “real world” while they are abroad, instead of being isolated and sheltered at school.
Should I live on or off campus? Whatever your reasons are, remember that you are choosing to take complete responsibility for yourself when you live off-campus. If you don’t do something, it won’t get done. So keep reading, and find out how to succeed during this adventure!
Types of Housing
Several types of housing are available for rental on a monthly basis. Often, utilities such as gas and electricity are not included in the rent, so that you must pay for them separately. Telephone service is never included in the rent, and so you will have to get phone service yourself.
Rentals will almost always have heaters, ovens, and usually refrigerators. In some areas, refrigerators are not always included, so be sure to find out ahead of time. Some rentals will include furniture, but most do not. Also, do not forget about your health insurance for the time of college.
An apartment complex is made up of several units, (or apartments) and every unit includes a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. If you are willing to pay more, you can get a larger unit with additional bedrooms or bathrooms, a separate living room, and amenities such as air conditioning or a dishwasher.
Nicer complexes may have shared facilities like a laundry room, fitness center, or a pool and a jacuzzi. Some complexes may have security features like cameras, locking gates, or a night-time patrol.
After you have decided what kind of place you want, check local rental guides (which you can find at grocery and convenience stores) local newspapers’ classified ads, or on-line rental search engines (for example, Rent.Net) for what’s available in your local area.
Leases and Housing Contracts:
In order to rent a property, you must agree to a contract, either a lease or a housing contract, (sometimes called a “rental agreement”) which is provided by the property manager.
The main difference between a lease and a housing contract is that a lease requires you to live in the property for a certain period of time while a housing contract allows you to move out whenever you want. If you sign a 6-month lease, for example, you are legally bound to pay your rent for the next 6 months, regardless of whether or not you actually live there.
Apart from this difference, a lease and a housing contract are similar. They are usually lengthy, complicated, and full of legal terms that are difficult to understand.
Here are some basic things that are usually mentioned in the lease or housing contract:
- Move-Out Notice:
Usually, you must give one month’s notice to the manager before you move out of your apartment, and sometimes you are required to move out on or near the first of the month.
- Security Deposit:
The housing contract almost always requires a security deposit, which may be as much as one or two months’ rent. This deposit is fully refundable after you move out, as long as you have complied with the terms of your rental contract, such as keeping your place clean and in good repair.
For example, you may be penalized for leaving nail holes in the walls. If there is a problem while you are living there – for example, if the faucet leaks, or if any insects are present – inform your manager and they should take care of the problem right away.
Also read: Community colleges vs Universities
By informing the manager immediately, you protect yourself from being accused of damaging your apartment through neglect.
- Grace Period:
Normally, you must pay your rent, in full and on time. “On time” means on or before the due date, which is usually the first of the month.
Otherwise, you might have to pay late fees, or other penalties. In the worst-case scenario, you might be evicted.
Sometimes there is a 3-5 day grace period after the due date, during which you can pay your rent late without any penalty. If there is, your lease or rental agreement will say so; if it doesn’t say that there is a grace period, you should assume that there isn’t one.
- Other Rules:
Depending on your contract, you may have to follow certain rules such as keeping quiet during late night and early morning hours, not having large parties or illegal drugs on the premises, not having pets, or only parking in certain areas.
Failure to obey these regulations could also result in eviction.
Benefits of Off-Campus Housing:
- A quiet environment;
- Separation of academic and home life;
- More comfortable surroundings;
- Wider choice of locations;
- Better kitchen facilities.
Drawbacks of Off-Campus Housing:
- Probably farther from campus (Think about transportation);
- Usually, higher rent and expenses;
- Separation from campus life and student events;
- Potentially, having to deal with a difficult manager.
Benefits of On-campus Housing
Dormitories (“the dorms”) are housing facilities provided by your school. They are always located on-campus, or within walking distance. If transportation is a problem for you, this is probably your best choice. In a dorm, you usually share your room with one or more roommates. There are often little or no facilities for preparing food.
Your school may offer meal plans, where you are entitled to freely use on-campus cafeterias for a fixed cost per semester. In many cases, students living in dorms are required to purchase a meal plan, but there may be many plans to choose from. Sometimes, meals may be included in the cost of your dorm room. Contact your school’s housing office for details.
Benefits of Staying in the Dorm:
- Close to campus
- Safe and supportive environment
- Utilities are free
- Fully experience campus life
- Learn English more easily, through daily contact with American roommates and neighbors
- Learn American youth culture first-hand
- Easy access to campus facilities – the library, gym, computer lab, clinic, etc.
- Possibly, free internet access.
Drawbacks of Staying in the Dorm:
- Can (and will!) be noisy and chaotic
- (Maybe that’s a benefit?)
- Might be lower quality than off-campus housing
- Sometimes kitchen facilities are not available
- You will have to follow campus and dorm rules