Are you already counting down the days until the end of the semester? Probably. While Spring Break might have given you a brief reprieve, now you don’t have anything to look forward to until summer. But with all that scurrying to finish your Spring Break homework, it’s also time to consider another issue: where are you going to live next year?
You might think you have plenty of time to figure that out, but college towns have a unique renting situation. Since they are often empty for those summer months, students usually attempt to line up their living situation well in advance, and you should follow suit. This allows you to avoid stressing during the summer, as well as attempting to find a place to live when you can’t physically view the property yourself.You’ve probably already got an idea of where you want to live next year, but here’s a checklist to see where you best fit:
What’s Your Budget?
College is already expensive enough. The exact numbers will vary depending on your university and the town, the reality is that tuition is only going to go up. When factoring the cost of other expenses, you've got to learn how to be thrifty. Where you decide to live has the most impact on your overall budget.
Don’t just compare the price of your dorm versus rent. Living on-campus typically requires or comes with a meal plan and your utilities are included in that price. When you’re living off-campus, that’s not the case. Make sure that you read the fine print on any legal document, as there may be hidden fees. It’s usually less expensive to live on campus, barring a couple of exceptions. The more roommates you can recruit, the lower your overall cost will be. If you can get your monthly groceries to add up to less than a meal plan, there’s another money-saving opportunity. Save coupons, stock up at your parents' house, and keep an eye out for events on campus! Lots of events feature free food or other amenities that you can take advantage of.
Location, Location, Location
Do you like to sleep in to the last possible moment, then dash to class five minutes before it starts? Or do you want to be equal distance from both work and class? Or do you not mind the extra morning walk? These are the sort of questions that you need to ask yourself and consider how important location is in relation to cost. While it might feel like you live at the library at times, no one on campus has that central of a location. Besides work, you might frequent a gym, a park, or a restaurant, and you should those into consideration as well. While it's probably good for your studies to be close to campus, you need to remember to have fun too. Being close to somewhere you can relax and pursue other interests besides school is important as well.It’s crucial at this stage to consider your mode of transportation. If you have a car, then a “reasonable distance” is different than if you’re only relying on your own two feet to get you around. Additionally, check to see if your college town is bike-friendly. If so, you can get around farther for cheaper, and this will open up your range of options.
Alright, this is where some real lines get drawn. How much are you willing (or need) to socialize with people? Maybe you’ve lived a year in the dorms and couldn’t stand living in close quarters with another person. Maybe you’ve realized that not everybody can handle living with their best friend. Some people are just more introverted and need more alone time. Others just need a quiet environment to focus on their studies, and since you will likely be doing most of your homework at home… Well, it might not be the best idea to live next to a frat house if that’s the case.
On the other hand, if you’ve committed to living with roommates, then you’ll also have to take into account their personal preferences. If they have a car but you don’t, for example, you can see where your priorities might differ. Make sure to have a discussion with them well before you sign any leases or agree to anything binding, and try to make a compromise that’s fair for all parties involved. Understand that living together is a difficult situation, no matter which way you cut it, so if you want too different things, then it’s probably a better idea to find another roommate.
Don’t limit yourself to only the traditional apartment as your only off-campus option. Look into mobile homes or RVs- while this might sound crazy, plenty of cities have college-based RV parks. This allows students to leave cheaply and have an asset to sell after college if need be. It's definitely a smaller space than an apartment, but maybe not by that much once you factor in that you'd be splitting that space with roommates.
On the other hand, this requires more up-front funds, whereas with an apartment you usually pay a portion of the rent monthly. While you will eventually see a return on that money, it'll be a long time before you can reap the benefits. If you don't have that type of cash on hand to start with, that can make an RV-sized investment impossible. Obviously, this is can be a big investment for a college student, so make sure that you’re prepared. This isn't the type of commitment to take on lightly, just like college itself.
Some people even get their room for free! You could try to find a family nearby to nanny for, or figure out another way to leverage your time and skill for a reduced rent. In Portland, Maine, a nursing home doubles as a free college dorm. Be on the lookout for opportunities like this (like continuing to live with Mom and Dad)! However, none of these options offer the traditional college experience. If that is important to you, this might not be the best way to go.
It can be so easy to get tunnel vision and only focus on the end of this semester, what with end-of-the-year events, summer plans, and, oh yeah, finals. However, it’s important to plan ahead for next semester, even though it seems forever away. Take a moment and access where you fall in these four categories, so you can be sure that you’re making the right call. You'll be happy you took the extra time to think this out, trust me.