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Opinion

Off-campus living: Tips, advice for finding your own starter bungalow

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October 28, 2011

Moving off campus is a huge decision that requires a lot of preparation to be successfully done. You must meet the University’s eligibility requirements, begin your search early, consider basic factors like location and expense, choose your roommates, and create a list of questions for your potential landlord. With the completion of these steps, moving from the dorms to an apartment should go smoothly.

First, make sure you meet the eligibility requirements set by the University. You must hold a junior standing (60 plus credits) or receive special approval from the Dean. Once you know if you qualify, begin your research immediately. Many places allow students to sign leases several months before the contract begins, so you want to browse through the options before they have all been filled.

Next, reflect on the basic factors and make a pros versus cons list to ensure that living off-campus is the right decision for you. When looking at apartments or houses, consider the full financial cost of your decision. For example, any financial aid you receive may decline in amount because you no longer pay housing and meal fees to the campus.

Once you know whether living off campus is a viable and suitable decision, choose your roommates. Use a similar selection process as you did when choosing a roommate on campus. Even though you may not share a bedroom, you still share common areas; your roommates’ decisions affect your living situation. Have a discussion about what you expect from each other in terms of property sharing, chores, study versus fun time, and guest policies. If you are on the same page for the bigger issues, exact details can be worked out closer to move in time.

Upon choosing potential roommates, begin the search for your new home. While locations further from campus often have lower price tags, think of your willingness to walk a mile or more to class each day or the additional expense of driving. Also take note of rent, food, and any extra service costs. Next, consider the type of environment in which the apartment or house is located by looking at the surrounding neighborhood. If the apartments you choose to look at house primarily senior citizens, expect plenty of quiet time for homework, but know there will probably be a low tolerance for loud noise. On the other hand, apartments full of college students provide great chances to meet new people and be social, but may be less conducive to quiet time for studying. Once you determine the type of environment you would like to live in, find appropriate apartments or houses and call to set up meetings with the landlords.

Before meeting with a landlord, come up with an extensive list of questions. Some considerations to learn about include: rent (amount, due date, penalties for late payments, the situation if someone moves out, which utilities are included, the average cost of utilities not included, any needed installation fees, whether laundry is free or coin-operated and whether parking is included), lease (length, dates, penalty for breaking lease, and whether all the roommates need to sign), deposit (amount and when it is refunded), miscellaneous policies (partying, fines, pets), the maximum number of roommates, alterations like painting and hanging pictures, and how maintenance concerns are handled. Do not be afraid to ask too many questions; you are the one signing a legal document agreeing that you know all the conditions. Finally, request a copy of the contract to bring home to read thoroughly before signing.

Remember, if you are considering taking the next step in your life by living off-campus, consider all the factors involved. This includes checking with the University, searching proactively, choosing good roommates, and knowing all the details of your contract. By following these steps, you ensure yourself the smoothest and most enjoyable transition possible.

Jaime Haines is an exuberant puppy-lover and “House” addict and plans to use her psychology degree to encourage activism and well-being through counseling, workshops, speeches, and the written word.