My College:
Housing

Moving Off Campus — How to Help Your Student Do This Well

Deborah Porter


There comes a time when living in a 180-square-foot room with another person and all of your earthly belongings just doesn't cut it. Your college student is ready to move off campus.

It’s a big decision, and as their parent or guardian, there are several things to know before they cajole you into co-signing a lease. What are the university’s rules concerning residential arrangements? Some require students to live on campus beyond the first year. Additionally, moving off campus too soon can hamper your student’s ability to form connections and friendships.

And it's not just a simple question of paying rent. There will be loads of new things for your student to worry about: additional expenses (like utilities and transportation), food, security and summer arrangements, to name a few.

If your student is considering living off campus, or will make the move this summer, here's what to discuss!

Cost

According to educationdata.org, the annual price of room and board at four-year institutions ranges from $9,669 to $11,823. It sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that the sum is all-inclusive and covers a student's room, internet, water, heat and usually at least two meals a day.

The cost of off-campus housing varies greatly depending on the real estate market in the area, the type of housing (apartment, fraternity/sorority house), typical utility costs, and the number of roommates. All of these variables should be considered if the goal is to save money by moving off campus.

Meals

This was a big one when two of our three children wanted to move off campus. When we were paying for room and board on campus, they didn’t have to think about meals. What would meals look like in this new scenario? Would they cook, could they get an abbreviated meal plan, or would they be ordering Uber Eats every night (yikes!)?

Here’s how it worked out for us. Our daughter enjoyed cooking and I had more pots, pans and kitchen utensils than I would ever use. So we packed up some of my overflow and provided her with a grocery store gift card every month for food. The cost for rent and groceries was much less than what room and board would’ve been at her university.

For our oldest son, who was not looking forward to being his own chef, we paid for a commuter student meal plan. At the end of the day, it didn’t save us money but it wasn’t much more than the cost of room and board. He bought his own cereal and other quick breakfast foods as well as easy-to-prepare lunch options. The commuter plan filled in the rest quite nicely.

Location/Safety

Attending a school doesn’t mean your college student is aware of the surrounding neighborhoods’ crime statistics. As a former probation officer, I still know those numbers from some of the neighborhoods where our kids were looking. So it might be wise to employ Google and check those stats with your student. The old adage is often true: “You get what you pay for.”

Additionally, how far are the new digs from campus? Does your student have a car? How much is a campus parking permit? If they’ll need public transportation, is it readily available?

I'd be remiss not to address safety issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know what fall ’21 will look like, but many schools will require students to be vaccinated and/or will continue to make COVID testing available to both on- and off-campus students. Monitoring behavior (the choices students make about socializing, activities, travel, etc.) is another matter. So talk about personal and communal responsibility with your off-campus student. They should understand their school’s expectations around COVID safety and continue to follow the student code of conduct.

Roommates

The chance to live with your BFF definitely starts out in the honeymoon phase. However, being friends and living as roommates are two very different things.

Does your student's skill set include the ability to have difficult conversations? The roommates will need to talk about:

  • Sharing expenses for common supplies
  • Managing chores like cleaning, trash removal and yard care
  • Splitting the bills (garbage collection, utilities, etc.)
  • Will they respect quiet hours on certain days to allow each person the atmosphere needed to study?
  • Are overnight guests permitted, and if so how many and for how long?

Our children both lived with friends when they moved off campus. To protect the innocent, I’ll simply say that one had a better experience than the other. Living with your BFF can be an added pressure to the relationship. Communication is key.

Leases/Sub-Leases

Most lease agreements are for twelve months. But here’s the thing — most university academic calendars are nine months. So what happens to the remaining three months? I’m glad you asked.

Each of my kids signed a 12-month lease. My oldest planned to stay in her college town that summer so the math worked out. However, our son wasn't staying for the summer but assured us that subleasing would be easy. “Everyone does it, Mom — it won’t be a problem!”

Well, everyone may do it but it was a problem (i.e., not permitted in the terms of his lease) and so we had to eat three months of rent. Signing (or co-signing) that lease puts you on the hook for whatever the contract says, period. After hearing horror stories from students who did sublease and the damage that was left behind, I guess we made out okay. But lesson learned.

If your student will be taking over the lease from an existing tenant, the fine print matters. Read it! (Primarily to make sure sub-leasing is allowed.)

For our kids, living off campus their senior year was a reward for a job well done during their first three years. It also gave them a taste of budgeting, grocery shopping and early adulting. So have the conversation, agree that you'll both be open to hearing the other, and remember — one year goes by quickly. There's sure to be another lease around the corner.

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Deborah Porter is a Home/Life Balance Coach for dedicated moms who need home management systems and a routine self-care regimen that goes beyond a good mani/pedi. She believes that the woman you were before having kids still matters. Deborah is a regular contributor to Virginia This Morning on WTVR. She and her husband have three adult children. Download her free ebook, "7 Habits of Confident Moms," at bit.ly/confidentmomebook or email her, [email protected]

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