College offers a chance to meet new people, expand your knowledge and perspective, become more independent, and develop important life skills. Choosing the right living arrangement can help you accomplish all of those things. In part one, we talked about living on your college campus. This week, we’ll explore the pros and cons of living off-campus.
Off-campus living falls into two main categories:
- Living at home (with parents, guardians, or extended family, for example)
- Renting an apartment or house – you pay the owner of the property (your landlord) money every month in exchange for being able to live there for a set period of time
Now let’s dive deeper into the off-campus experience…
Benefits of Living Off-Campus
Living off-campus requires you to learn independence from day one, especially if you are renting instead of living at home. For example, students who rent will…
Re-think grocery shopping! It may sound simple, but if you’ve never had to plan, prepare, and pay for your own meals every day, it can be tricky! If grocery shopping isn’t your cup of tea (pun intended), it’s worth investigating if your school offers meal plans for off-campus students.
Learn the responsibilities that come with a lease. A lease is the contract you sign with your landlord. A lease outlines things like how much you have to pay every month and how long you will be able to live on the property (most leases last a year, and many have the option to renew at the end of the lease). Reading and understanding legal documents is a big part of adulthood, and understanding your lease is a good place to start.
Understand how to budget money and schedule payments. Living away from home and campus helps students learn to plan for repeating costs, like rent and utilities (the money you owe for running water, electricity, trash collection, and so on) as well as emergency costs. This is a great way to learn how to be consistent and responsible with your budget.
You’ll have flexibility in your living choices. Some quick tips…
- Location, location, location! Maybe you want to live halfway between work and school. Maybe being close to parks or hiking trails is important to you. When you live off campus, you have the freedom to choose your neighborhood. Choose wisely!
- If you want access to a yard, you might want to consider renting a house. If you want access to covered parking or a swimming pool, you might want to look at apartment complexes. The combinations are almost endless! Just keep in mind, the fancier the features, the more they will likely cost you.
- Living off-campus gives you the freedom to choose whether or not you want roommates. If you do choose to live with roommates, try to find people who are reliable and who will create help a good living environment and respect your personal space.
Potential Challenges of Living Off-Campus
Cost: Unless you live at home (and your parents are generous enough not to charge you!), the cost of living off campus can be high. Consider the following costs when researching where you will live:
- Availability of help. Scholarships will sometimes pay for on-campus room and board, but fewer of them offer help with off-campus living.
- Travel. The cost of commuting between home and campus can really add up, but some schools (like Salt Lake Community College, the University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University and Weber State University) offer ways to help you afford your commute.
- Additional costs. Renting may involve fees such as security and cleaning deposits, first and last month’s rent due when you move in, and more.
Securing housing: Living on campus means you have to meet application deadlines or run the risk of getting put on a wait list, but you’re only competing with other students for a good place to live. As a renter, you’re competing with every other renter in your city’s housing market to find the perfect spot. Even if you find a place you love, most landlords have to pick from many applicants, and some might look at things like your credit history to make their decision.
Maintenance: Colleges usually have a whole staff dedicated to making sure your housing experience is great. But off-campus, you might have a harder time finding a solution to your problems. For example, the city might be slower to remove snow from your road because they are responsible for many neighborhoods. Or your landlord may not be immediately available to fix a busted pipe or a broken air conditioner.
Whether you decide to live on-campus or off-campus, it is important to do your research to make sure you are making the decision that best fits your budget and lifestyle and will help you succeed in school. Hopefully this information makes that research a little bit easier for you. And while you shouldn’t make these decisions lightly, you should be excited about the awesome journey ahead of you!
By Katie Wornek, Outreach Officer and Financial Aid Expert – March 9, 2017 – Katie is an Outreach Officer with UHEAA and StepUpUtah. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Political Science from the University of Utah and previously worked as a tutor with the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) college preparatory program. You can follow her for professional advice about preparing and paying for college on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (@StepUpKatie).