The College Housing Survival Guide How to Find the Best Residence Hall, the Right Apartment and Solid Roommates Both On- and Off-Campus

Meet the Expert

Tosh Patterson

Tosh Patterson has a Masters in Higher Education coupled with 15+ years of full-time experience working with college students. After leaving campus she became the CEO & Founder of Healthinista Living™, a proven system that helps busy women discover how to eat more, weigh-less, and be happy.

In many cases, college is the first time students will live away from their parents or family. Making the right decision about where to live and the type of housing to move into is a crucial step in ensuring a successful college transition. With so many options both on and off-campus, the process of finding the perfect place can be daunting. The comprehensive information below can help equip students and their families with the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision on where to live during college.

San Diego
State University
students who live on campus their first two years have a continuation rate of 90 percent, while those who move off-campus after one year have a rate of 70 percent. 58 percent of students who never live on campus continue their studies.

At numerous universities, many students live on campus all four years of their undergraduate degree. At Harvard University, 99 percent of all undergraduates live on campus.

College Data
reports that the average cost of room and board for 2014-2015 was $9,804 at public schools and $11,188 at private schools.

According to a report by the
U.S. Census Bureau,
between 2009-2011 approximately 63 percent of students lived with their families while undertaking postsecondary education, while 25 percent lived off-campus but not with relatives. Overall, 12 percent of students live in residence halls or group quarters.

Pros and Cons: Should You Live On-Campus or Off?

Deciding where to live is one of the most significant choices a student can make during their college years. While most schools require students to live on-campus their freshman year, the decision of whether to continue in university accommodation or move into private housing requires great thought and weighing the pros and cons of each. Ultimately, the individual needs of a student will most likely be the deciding factor. The following information is designed to help students think through ramifications of each to make an informed decision.

Choosing to Live On-Campus

Living on campus can be an incredibly beneficial and positive experience for students. Whether engaging in student activities, making friends in residence halls or apartments, taking advantage of programming, or not worrying about getting to and from school, campus accommodation can remove much stress and allow students to focus on their studies. There can also be downsides, however, such as lack of privacy and higher costs. Review our list of pros and cons to get an insider look at campus housing.


All expenses are included

A spirit of camaraderie often exists; making new friends is typically easier

Eases the transition to college as everyone is going through the same things together

Promotes healthy study habits

Generally a shorter commute to classes, libraries, cafeterias and student centers

Scholarship funds can sometimes be used to cover university housing costs

Living on-campus generally includes a meal plan, meaning students won’t have to worry as much about feeding themselves in the midst of completing schoolwork

Residence halls and campus apartments are regularly patrolled by campus security, creating a safe environment for all

There are frequently extra-curricular activities and leadership opportunities taking place in on-campus housing

Students can apply to be Resident Advisors after their first year, meaning their housing costs could be covered by the school in exchange for their work


Typically more expensive than off-campus housing

Rent for the entire semester is due in one lump sum

In some cases, especially underclassmen accommodations, can mean sharing a room or facilities with others with limited opportunities for privacy

Depending on the institution, students may have to follow certain school policies

Given the social nature of on-campus housing, grades could suffer

In most cases, residence hall rooms are much smaller than private accommodation, meaning students may not be able to bring many belongings

Although there will be some diversity amongst students, they will all be at similar stages of life

It can be difficult to truly feel at home in a residence hall as the options for customizing the space are limited

Residence halls and campus apartments frequently shut down over any extended breaks, including holidays and summer. If students wish to stay in the same city, they will have to search out a short-term lease elsewhere

For international students, they may miss being able to cook foods from their own countries and live according to their own cultures and customs

The Off-Campus Decision

Off-campus accommodation provides many benefits for students, including increased independence, lower costs, greater freedom and more space. Whether living alone or with friends or family, some students find it is beneficial to leave campus each day and unwind away from school pressures, while others want to be as connected as possible. The table below shares pros and cons of making the move off campus.


Extra costs tend to be less, as they are actual rather than fixed

Teaches responsibility, as students will be responsible for paying bills, cleaning and purchasing and cooking their food

Students will have more privacy, both to unwind and to make sure they get their homework completed on-time

Many of the rules established in on-campus housing to protect overall security don’t apply in off-campus housing

Students can begin building a rental history, making it easier to find other places to live if they are good tenants

If students are taking summer classes, it can be beneficial to have a year-round housing option provided by off-campus rentals

Living in off-campus housing means students will have a variety of neighbors from all walks of life, creating a sense of diversity

Students can more easily invite fellow students or friends to their place without worrying about roommates

If the student likes their apartment, they can stay for an extended period rather than having to move at the end of each academic year

While campus roommate assignments can be random, students can choose to live with their friends


Extra costs such as WiFi, utilities, garbage removal, etc.

May take longer to get in touch with landlord if something needs attention

Can take longer to get to/from campus

Most likely, students will need their own transportation to get to and from campus unless they are in a large metropolitan area

Depending on the distance from campus, students may not be as involved in school activities

Most off-campus housing options require renters to sign a 12-month lease, making the summer months problematic if students wish to be elsewhere

Students will often have to seek out roommates as they most likely cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment at this stage

Depending on their financial status, off-campus housing may not be as new or modern as on-campus offerings

There are no Resident Assistants around to counsel and provide assistance as needed

If it doesn’t line up to live with someone they know, students could end up with a roommate completely disconnected from their school

A Closer Look at On-Campus Options

After reviewing the information above, students opting to take advantage of on-campus housing typically have numerous options available to them. Students may choose from on-campus options like single rooms, a shared residence, a suite-style apartment or Greek-affiliated housing. Examples of common on-campus housing options include:

Residence Halls


In most cases, students will spend their first year in residence hall-style accommodations. These spaces are often shared with at least one other student and may include suite-style bathroom facilities shared with an adjoining room, or may involve communal facilities for a portion of the floor. Because these quarters rarely have kitchens, most first-year students are required to have a meal plan alongside their accommodation. In addition to living areas, residence halls will often have numerous resources housed in the building to help first-year students transition, including academic advising centers, resident advisor offices and computer areas. Typically, students are assigned a random roommate unless they are coming to school with an existing friend.

Graduate Student Living Options


Living on campus as a graduate student can be an attractive option, as oftentimes students either already know people in the program and can choose to room together, or can live together in a block with students enrolled in their specific program. These spaces are available fully furnished, taking off some of the pressure of getting set up while simultaneously trying to focus on studies. Graduate students are not monitored as closely as freshman, allowing them to feel independent while also taking advantage of amenities such as in-house catering, computer labs, tutors and proximity to campus.

Greek Housing


For students electing to join a sorority or fraternity, Greek houses are typically privately maintained by Greek organizations near campus. While availability varies by school, most Greek members can apply to live in this housing in their sophomore or junior year. Because membership often exceeds the number of spots available, it’s best to have a backup option prepared as well. Though students in these houses maintain individual schedules, they all come together for weekly meetings and chapter events. Room styles vary greatly, with some sharing spaces and others having single rooms.

Family Living Options


For students attending college who are either married or have legal custody of a child, special family accommodations are available at many schools. These are often apartment-style, with options ranging from one to three bedrooms. Amenities may include special programming, a community center, or a play area. Often, these are more self-reliant in nature, with full kitchens and other amenities to allow students to live independently.

Living Co-ops


These living spaces may take on various forms, depending on the school setting. Living Learning Communities, such as the one offered by the University of Nevada, provide students with a specialized educational and social environment where they can gather and share similar academic and professional interests. These students take one or more classes together and actively participate in joint learning topics. Cooperatives at UC Davis are self-operating spaces that are governed by students and created to develop responsibility and sustainable living. Students learn how to work together, make decisions and build community.

Summer Options


Students who wish to stay on campus during the summers, whether to take a class or work, may worry about their schools closing over the long break. Numerous schools have recognized this trend and begun offering either year-round or short-term housing options for these months. More information about these offerings can be found in our Homeless Student Guide. Cornell University’s program is also a great example of summer housing options available to students.

Finding Housing Off-Campus

Sometimes, living on-campus isn’t a possibility for new or returning students. When this is the case, students are faced with deciding which of the many off-campus housing options is right for them. Factors such as cost, student maturity level (as off-campus living typically comes with much more responsibility) and lifestyle all play big factors in this decision. When choosing to live off-campus, there are many options available to students:

Living With Parents/Family

Students electing to attend a postsecondary institution near their parents or other family members may consider living with them to save money on campus or private accommodation. While many successfully navigate this decision, there are considerations to take into account. College is frequently seen as the first step towards independence: following your own schedule without a curfew, making new friends and experiencing new activities, and learning how to take care of yourself are all by-products of attending college. Students also experience growing pains as they are exposed to new ideas, theories and people – often necessary for personal growth and maturity. While living at home can be very grounding during this transitory time, students can also feel like they aren’t getting the full “college experience.”

Renting Alone

For students who are very focused on their studies or who need quiet time away from the hustle and bustle, living alone can be a very attractive option. Given that most students are living on a budget, however, it can also be an expensive one. Privacy can be very important to some students, especially after sharing a residence hall room during their first year, but this also means being responsible for all household duties such as cleaning and paying the bills, rather than splitting them with someone else. It allows students to worry less about having friends or study partners over, but it can also be lonely at times. Living alone can be a wonderful option for students with a good social group or busy schedule, but students should consider all of the above options before taking the plunge.

Renting a Room

Students who want to move off-campus but don’t have the funds to live alone – or don’t want to potentially compromise friendships by living together – often find a room in an existing house. Whether choosing to move in with a family who has an attic apartment or a group of students outside of their friend group, this option has a number of benefits. Similar to living alone, room rentals typically involve less interaction with others in the house, providing a sense of solitude. Similar to renting with roommates, the cost is much lower. The key to renting a room is finding a space where you feel comfortable. Although students will have their own room, common areas will still need to be shared.

Renting with Roommates

After living on campus for a year, students have met people from classes or extra-curricular activities and may want to live with them rather than being randomly assigned a roommate. Getting a place off-campus with friends or acquaintances can be a great first step into adulthood. While there will be more factors to consider than when living in a residence hall, such as utility bills, recycling, garbage pickup and being considerate of common areas, it’s a safe space to learn responsibility and enjoy living with people who have similar interests. It is also frequently cheaper than living on campus or renting alone.


Students who want to save money may elect to find a situation where their services can be exchanged for rent, such as a live-in nanny or personal assistant. This can be a great option for being in a family environment without feeling the same restrictions that can come with living with parents. Students choosing this option must be very clear about expectations, hours they are able to devote to providing services, and how long they plan to stay in the housing. In these cases, it’s best to have some type of written agreement laying out expectations from both sides to ensure everyone is happy throughout the rental period.

Off-Campus Services Provided by Colleges and Universities

Many schools, such as the University of Maryland, provide resources to help students hoping to move off campus. Whether offering a database of available housing or providing a roommate forum to seek out other students also looking to move off-campus, students should reach out to their Office of Residential Affairs to see if they can provide similar information.

What Every Student-Renter Needs to Know

Renting off-campus can be a great option for students who are ready to take on more responsibility and independence. If it is your first time renting, the process can seem overwhelming. From finding an apartment to choosing roommates to signing a lease, there are many considerations.

1 Finding an Apartment or House

Students should begin searching for housing well in advance of their decision to move off-campus. Those looking to be off-campus at the start of a new academic year should begin looking before the end of the previous academic year, as many options will be rented out during this time. Students should consider proximity to campus, if the neighborhood is safe, how many roommates they want, and what their budget is (including utilities!). Universities can frequently help students search for accommodation, while websites such as Craigslist, College Rentals and Rent are great options – when used wisely.

2 Choosing Roommates

Choosing a roommate is an important decision and requires great thought. While students will most likely have already experienced living with a roommate in a residence hall, living off-campus presents new challenges such as paying bills, dividing rent, signing leases and sharing responsibility for the space. Whether electing to live with a best friend or an acquaintance, students should be very up-front about what they’re looking for in a living situation. If one person is very focused on their studies and the other tends to be more social, it may be best to find more like-minded roommates to preserve the friendship. While it can be fun to live with friends, some students find living together may provide too much time together and instead choose to live with people they get along with but don’t necessarily share a friend group.

3 Avoiding Scams

Unfortunately, there are individuals and companies that prey on students renting off-campus for the first time with a variety of scams. The best way to avoid these situations is to be aware of common tactics. If you find an apartment online and it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many individuals posing as landlords will post fake properties and scam people out of deposits. Make sure you have visited the apartment or house, seen it in person, and met the landlord. Others may try to sublet their space illegally, resulting in issues with the owner of the property. When possible, it’s best to go through a rental agency or management group rather than dealing with individuals, as there will be proper contracts and procedures in place.

4 Insurance

Many students may elect to take out Renter’s Insurance when moving off-campus. Though not required, this type of insurance can protect the contents of their rooms in the case of theft or fire. Monthly costs are generally minimal but can make all the difference should the unthinkable occur.

5 Renting Basics

Once students have found the perfect off-campus accommodation, lined up roommates, and ensured it isn’t a scam, it’s time to seal the deal. It’s very important to review terms of the lease agreement to make sure everyone living in the space understands what they are agreeing to do. While students may have grown accustomed to housing offered on a semester-basis, off-campus housing typically requires a 12-month lease. Are all roommates clear on their responsibility to pay for a whole year? If not, does the lease allow for sublets during the summer months? If students are not financially independent, some lessees will require a parent or guardian to co-sign, ensuring the rent is paid in the case of the student having insufficient funds. It’s also important to make sure a property inspection is completed at the beginning and end of the rental agreement to ensure students are not charged for any preexisting problems with the house. Once the lease is signed, students should keep it in a safe place if they need to refer back to contractual obligations during their time in the space.

Learn More About Renting

Looking for more information about renting responsibly? These websites provide trustworthy and helpful information:

  • For Rent University

    This website helps students find apartments and houses near their school.

  • Moving Off Campus

    Students can search for apartments and houses by university, city and size of accommodation.

  • Rent

    Students can search by location or university and specify their budget needs.

  • Renter’s Insurance

    A review of insurance for college students provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners

  • Student Housing

    Another great resource for finding accommodation near a university or college.

  • Understanding a Rental Lease

    Oregon State University provides an exhaustive review of leases, what to look for and what to avoid.

10 Keys to Roommate Success

Living with a roommate for the first time – especially someone you likely didn’t know before starting school – can be a tough transition, to say the least. While first year students typically are assigned a random roommate, the tips listed below can help navigate any roommate relationship and make the experience an enjoyable one.

Talk beforehand

If possible, try to correspond with your new roommate before you move in together. This will help you get to know them, and you can talk about what each of you is bringing so you don’t end up with doubles of everything when space is at a premium

In the first few weeks, try to do things together

Rearrange the room, attend welcome activities, or make it a point to hit the cafeteria at the same time. These will provide low-pressure ways to get to know each other.

Keep your space clean and organized

No matter how busy you are, try to put things away, sweep or vacuum, and make sure you don’t leave food out.

Respect your roommates’ belongings

This may involve not wearing their clothes without asking, eating their food, or moving things around while they aren’t there. Think about how it would make you feel.

Develop a schedule for cleaning common areas

Maybe one of you loves vacuuming and the other loves washing dishes and you split chores by task, or perhaps you both dislike each of these activities and take turns doing them. Whatever the case, developing a list of responsibilities will help alleviate frustrations from the outset.

Be thoughtful about guests.

Especially during busy study periods or late at night, be respectful of the other person’s schedule and needs and make sure it’s okay with them first.


Some of the biggest roommate issues come from pent-up frustrations and passive aggressive behavior. If something is bothering you, try to address it in a constructive and kind way to find resolution.

Lock the windows and doors.

If your room or apartment is ever broken into, you want to be certain is was through no fault of your own. It’s also part of respecting each other’s possessions.

Be open to new things

Living with a roommate can be a great experience if you really click: getting to know their friends, sharing hobbies and interests, and having someone to spend downtime with can be great if you’re open to stepping outside your comfort zone.

Follow the Golden Rule

In all roommate interactions, try to remember to treat them how you want to be treated. If you’re both following this rule, chances are you’ll have an enjoyable experience.

On Campus vs. Off Campus:

Housing Tips from Tosh Patterson
What are three ways to save on housing in college that students may not know about?

1. If you don’t need it, ask to have your campus meal plan removed

2. Request to live in a triple or quad room to get a 10-20% discount (may vary by college)

3. Work as Resident Assistant (RA) for room and board compensation

What are the pros and cons of living on campus?

  • 24/7 access to trained RAs and professional staff who live-on campus to respond to emergencies, mediate conflicts, or assist with serious incidents you need help navigating
  • Conveniently located and close to resources such as libraries, dining halls, and classes, as well as student events that are hosted on campus
  • It can be easier to create valuable connections and friendships with other young people experiencing college life for the first time
  • Easy access to faculty beyond the classroom and study groups often meet at night in residence hall lounges
  • Quick response to facilities issues such as broken showers, sinks, etc.
  • Utilities such as water, electricity, and internet are fully covered
  • Safe and secure environment that is monitored and/or protected by local or campus police most, if not all, hours of the day and night
  • Many students find the cost of a dining plan high and food selection lacking
  • On campus housing may be costly for some students
  • More introverted students may not enjoy the social aspect of living on campus

What are the pros and cons of living off campus?

  • No need to purchase a dining plan, so college costs may be lower
  • Ability to truly live like a “real-world” adult, something that many college students need to be exposed to and have the opportunity to do so
  • Lower living cost, depending on the type of off campus housing you chose; rent close to campus tends to be higher, while locations further away are often cheaper
  • Ability to choose your own roommates (or live alone)
  • Ability to choose the type of housing you’d like to live in and where
  • No “safety net”, e.g. no access to live on staff such as RAs for help or assistance
  • Comes with more responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, and paying bills
  • May be further away from the heart of campus, so some students may feel isolated
  • Need to pay for utilities such as water, electricity, and internet
  • Student may need a car to commute to campus if a bus route isn’t nearby

What factors should students consider when making the decision to live on or off campus?

I recommend that students really think about the type of college experience they want to have. Living off campus comes with more responsibility, but also allows for more personal freedom. On the other hand, living on campus allows the reverse scenario to be true. I also recommend that students carefully look at their budget and determine what’s really affordable for them. For instance, do they get financial aid? Those living off campus should keep in mind that financial aid checks are usually disbursed once a semester, so it will take some thoughtful planning and discipline to figure out how to use financial aid funds to pay rent (and any necessary utilities) on-time every month.

Additional Student Housing Resources

Looking for more information about on of off-campus housing considerations? The resources listed below provide answers to common questions and concerns.