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Housing & Residential Life

The Smart Off-Campus Housing Search


Though it may seem early to be thinking about next year’s housing, many college towns start pre-leasing in the fall and it can be a competitive process.

If your student will move off campus next year, they should be keeping tabs on available leases and on the lookout for next year’s roommate(s). Help them pin down what they have in mind: How many roommates (i.e. how many beds/bathrooms)? Apartment or house? Do they need a parking spot? Bike storage? How close to campus would they like to be? Are there safety concerns?

Next, encourage them to utilize local student housing support services. The college housing office may have information about off-campus life. Some property management firms specialize in student rentals and can be a helpful place to start. During the pandemic, most leasing companies have been quick to implement virtual tours and diligent about providing prospective tenants with as many resources as possible.

It’s so important that your student and their roommate(s) end up with a safe, clean, convenient and affordable place, and they’re much more likely to have a successful housing search if they go about it the right way.

Here is essential advice to share.

1. Begin with a Budget

Before your student starts looking, have a family conversation to determine what you can afford to pay for rent.

Things that will factor in:

  • Does your student hope to rent a one-bedroom or studio or will they need/want to share with roommates?
  • What are typical utility costs in the area? (electricity/gas/water)
  • How about “extras” like cable/internet?
  • Will there be transportation costs to get to campus?
  • Will your student need to purchase furniture and appliances?
  • Will you need to rent a moving truck, buy boxes, pay for a storage unit over
    the summer?
  • What will food costs total? (Students can save money cooking for themselves, but it can be convenient, and healthier, to keep a partial meal plan.)

2. Meet the Landlord and See the Rental in Person (if Possible)

Some leasing companies or landlords can be difficult to work with, especially as a student. Have your student read reviews (if they can find them) to get an idea of a company’s management style — be sure to check on how management deals with tenant issues. Calling the leasing companies to schedule virtual tours is another way to get an impression of management.

  • Your student should include a friend or prospective roommate when meeting (virtually or otherwise) the landlord or property manager.
  • They should be sure to view the room/unit/house they will actually rent (not a model) and confirm that the property is as advertised.
  • Remind your student to have questions ready, such as: What are typical utility costs? Is subletting allowed and on what terms?
  • They should also check security features of the unit, the condition of appliances, storage space and parking availability.

3. Study the Lease

This may be the first legal document your student has encountered and it’s important for them to review it carefully. Parents and guardians should take a close look, too (even if you are not required to co-sign).

Be clear about the following:

  • What’s required up front in addition to a security deposit? First and last months’ rent?
  • What are the conditions for getting the full security deposit back?
  • What dates does the lease cover?
  • What utilities are provided (heat, water, garbage collection, etc.)?
  • What are tenants’ responsibilities for upkeep (lawn mowing, landscape maintenance, snow removal, minor indoor repairs, etc.)?

4. When It’s Time to Move In

Your student and their roommate(s) should document the condition of the rental during the walk-through that typically takes place prior to moving in. Don’t forget to purchase renters/content insurance to cover their belongings, and talk to them about being a good tenant and neighbor. Learn more — visit the “Housing” category on

5. It’s Worth Taking the Time to Get It Right

Housing searches can be frustrating, and your student may find themselves feeling discouraged. While it can be tempting to settle for something easy, this is likely to be at least a year-long commitment. It’s important to start early, but don’t try to do it all in one day or week!

If your student views some places that aren’t right, take time to recharge and reflect before jumping back into the search. And remember that, although it’s key to be flexible, it’s also important not to compromise on things your student needs to thrive in their future off-campus home.

Bonus Tip: Paying Rent with a 529 College Savings Account

If you’re using 529 funds to pay for all or part of your student’s higher education expenses, good news. If they’re enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program, you can use 529 funds for off-campus housing expenses (though not necessarily the full amount). The college or university determines the allowable off-campus-room-and-board figure for federal financial aid purposes; contact the Financial Aid office to find out what it is.

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