Finding Housing at Your New School


Our Undergraduate Transfer Scholars and other high-achieving community college transfer students find plenty of academic challenges when they first transition to a four-year campus in the fall.  But those same students usually face a different kind of challenge after they enroll, which can affect their college experiences and their odds for success: housing.

Most colleges and universities have fantastic residence halls for incoming first-years, but for transfers coming in as upperclassmen there can be very different options, and different ways to save money.  Usually there is something available for students of every stripe, even if it seems overwhelming at first. You’ll get many different opinions, but here’s the “30,000-foot view” of college housing:


Your On-Campus Options

1. Residence Halls: Small, Medium, or Large?

Most (though not all) four-year institutions have at least some on-campus options.  You may be surprised to learn about the breadth of options available to you, beginning with size.  Some campuses have small units that may be home to a half-dozen or so students, or large facilities that house several hundred.  Amenities can vary greatly, with some residence halls styled after modern apartment complexes with pools, gyms, and game rooms, and others limited to more traditional spaces like study lounges.


2. Living & Learning Communities

Many schools today have residence halls where students with common personal or academic interests can live together. These communities not only make adjusting to campus life easier, but also have the potential to boost your performance in the classroom. 

Some are organized around an academic discipline, such as a residence hall housing mostly pre-med majors, or perhaps one for students major in any STEM field. Others bring together students with similar extracurricular interests or talents, like athletes or musicians. And still others might be arranged according to lifestyle or values, like spiritual communities, international groups, or LGBTQ-friendly alliances.


3.Transfer Communities

A significant number of schools (such as the University of VirginiaUniversity of California, Los Angeles, or Georgetown University, to name just a few) have residence halls specifically intended to house transfer students to help them transition to their new school.


4. Student-Family Housing

Often a college or university has housing intended for non-traditional students and their spouses, domestic partners, or families. It’s a great balance between enjoying the on-campus experience while also maintaining an adult lifestyle.


Your Off-Campus Options

1. Rent an Apartment or Room Near Campus

In most college towns, the real estate market is heavily influenced by the school. It is not uncommon to find entire apartment complexes that cater almost exclusively to students. You’ll also find numerous houses close to campus that are shared by several students, and renting a single room can be quite cost-effective. However, it is critical to keep a strict budget when renting off campus.


2. Host Families

There are also a number of people in the community who open their doors to students away from home, especially students studying abroad. American students studying domestically may also find willing hosts associated with certain religious organizations or charities, or even just by placing ads online or in newspapers. Typically host families do not expect large financial contributions, and they can be a great support system to help you adjust to your new school.

Be aware that it is not unusual for host families or program administrators to limit their guests to single semester or academic year; however, it can be a great short-term option to acclimate yourself to your new campus and community.


3. Stay Where You Are

If you don’t live too far from campus, staying at your current residence may be a practical option.  But don’t discount the time and cost of traveling, buying parking passes, and the on-campus activities and resources you may be missing out on.


Now that we’ve covered the various options available to you, here are some additional suggestions to help guide your housing decision: 


Whom to Ask

1. Residence Directors/Student Affairs

Nearly every school has an entire division dedicated to campus life, including administering on-campus housing.  They typically are willing to direct you to off-campus options as well.


2. Advertisements

Online ads, billboards, free circulars and brochures, flyers on bulletin boards, ads in newspapers (especially your school’s student-run newspaper) can all offer great leads to find a new place. However, sorting through it all can be time-consuming.


3. Real Estate Agents

There is a misconception that real estate agents are only for use when buying a house, but they can also be helpful with exploring rentals. An agent can help you understand an area’s market and show you a lot of different options. Many are happy just to help and build a relationship with you as a future customer.


4. Community Leaders

If you belong to a religious community, volunteer for a non-profit organization with local chapters, or work for a business with franchises or branches nearby, these can be wonderful, trustworthy resources to help you in your search.


5. Current Students

Current students may be the single best resource, yet incoming students often overlook them.  These are the people who can give you the lay of the land and give you the brutal truth about your options because they aren’t invested in your choices.  They know their school’s housing situation best, and it’s also just a great excuse to introduce yourself and meet someone new.


Key Considerations

1. Lifestyle

You must think about your needs.  Are you an early riser?  How often will you be home? Do you have a family?  How important is privacy or alone time?


2. Cost

Obviously this is an important factor, perhaps even the deciding factor for many of you.  In addition to rent, consider costs like furniture, transportation, utilities, and food (see below). Thrift stores should be your top shopping destination. Will you need a deposit?

Keep in mind that student loans can be applied to off-campus housing, but do so wisely as you will be paying for your housing for years to come. If you run into unexpected financial troubles, there are even emergency financial aid options.


3. Meals

On-campus housing usually requires purchasing a meal plan, which can be an expensive or wasteful option for some students.  On the other hand, how expensive or time consuming would it be to prepare your own meals, especially if you live alone


4. Flexibility

It’s always difficult to know what to expect once you’ve signed on the dotted line: Noisy neighbors? Inattentive landlord? Bad plumbing?  Until you live there, these may be potential deal-breakers you won’t know about. The great thing about on-campus housing is you can always choose to move out, and sometimes you can even move to another location on campus.  Many rentals near colleges and universities will offer single-semester or month-to-month leases, but this typically comes at a higher cost.


5. Social Benefits

Finally, the benefits to living with or near other students are immeasurable.  You need to have friends and fun things to do in order to de-stress sometimes.  You can find study buddies, tutors, and build career connections.  There’s a reason campus life was conceived, and it has to do with getting an education not only in the classroom, but out of it.  No matter who you are, you may benefit tremendously from living on or near campus.