While there are obviously differences between living in the comfort of turnkey university-sponsored housing and moving outside the campus confines into – the horror! – a local neighborhood, if you’re prepared correctly, your new life of freedom and independence is waiting.
Leaving the dorm life behind
It’s your junior or senior year at your particular university and you’re tired of quiet hours, RA’s, communal bathrooms and sleeping 10 feet from some rando’s butt – or worse. You’ve decided to budget your beer money and take that life-changing next step in your life: the off-campus apartment.
So what are you to expect from your new dorm-away-from-dorm? Well, if you’ve recently been binging “Friends” reruns on Netflix, let’s temper those apartment expectations.
The costs of living off-campus
What exactly are you sacrificing for that little slice of freedom? Well, primarily money. Yes, of course, dorm living and a meal plan cost a good deal of money. But depending where you matriculate, your personal thriftiness and how many buds you decide to room with, living off campus may mean some savings.
Most apartments near college campuses are chiefly targeted to and filled by students, and therefore, the rents are frequently cheap (often at the sacrifice of the condition of the property or amenities). But don’t forget to budget for unseen expenses you didn’t have in your dorm such as water, power, cable, internet, trash, parking or transportation, decorating, furniture and food.
Ah yes, food. If you’re living with three or four housemates off campus, you’re going to have to decide together the best food strategy. Dining hall meals are easy with no prep or cleanup, but meal plans can be costly and a campus dining hall might now be very far away or inconvenient. But you need to weigh that cost and convenience over chipping in the cash to keep a kitchen stocked, plus going grocery shopping and doing your own cooking, even if you’re binging ramen for every meal.
Privacy and security
Dorms are populated by dozens of strangers packed together in a communal space, sharing bathrooms, common areas and study rooms. It can be hard to find privacy and alone time, especially if you’re relegated to an open-concept room where you and your roommate literally share one space. However, in an apartment, you might have your own room and very few people competing for common space, but be sure to have a plan for quiet hours and parties so everyone is happy. And if you have (or plan to have) a significant other, be sure to discuss sleepover rules with your new housemates.
And now you most likely also have actual adult neighbors. You will need to learn to respect your neighbors’ personal spaces, property lines and noise tolerance. That includes keeping noise levels down after reasonable hours or risk having the cops called on you. And if your off-campus apartment is a standalone house, you will need to discuss the upkeep of the exterior of your property, including maintaining the lawn, snow removal and appropriate exterior decorating. If you don’t take care of these items, you may be cited and fined by your city or have a disgruntled neighbor knocking on your door.
On most campuses, dorm security is very tight. You often need to show or swipe an I.D., and campus security does regular rounds. You forgo that off campus. Have the talk with your housemates about security, who has access to the house, locking the front door and emergency procedures.
Changes you may not have considered
Dorms are usually relatively close to campus. That might change drastically when living in an off-campus apartment. Evaluate how that affects your daily life. How far is the walk to campus, and is it reasonable for getting to class on time, especially in bad weather? If you have a car, do you have somewhere to park at home? What is the street parking calendar? Do you need to purchase a lot permit if you’ll drive to campus? And if you’re taking public transportation, does that schedule work with your class schedule? Will the bus or subway cost you money?
When living in a dorm, you have group bathrooms and common areas you aren’t responsible for cleaning. That convenience goes down the drain. Make sure you and your new housemates have a (written!) plan for who is accountable for cleaning what, or you will surely find yourselves arguing about dirty kitchens and bathrooms. Make a job wheel or chart. And you’re going to have to take personal responsibility.
And now that you are out from under the wing of the university, you will have a landlord to answer to. Before you sign a lease, be sure to go over any questions you have about responsibilities (such as repairs) with your potential new landlord, as well as questions about rent payment, what voids a security deposit and move in and move out procedures.
Hit up the apartment listings
While living in a dorm certainly didn’t seem like the being-away-from-home dreams you had in high school, dorms have a ton of benefits. But so does apartment living. If you’re ready to scrap lottery-assigned roommates and 4 a.m. fire alarms in favor of nosey neighbors, chores that take priority over studying and partying and sharing a bathroom with your housemate’s girlfriend, start the apartment finding process in the listings with the same vigor and thoroughness with which you pick your classes. Because once you sign that off-campus apartment lease, you’re committed.