International students studying in the United States have plenty to think about when planning their arrival. In addition to preparing visa paperwork and handling onboarding with their new school, the prospect of finding housing in a new place is a burden most would rather not carry. That’s why campus housing, no matter what the cost, is often the preferred option for new students.
But while some college campuses continue to offer housing between semesters and quarters, there’s many reasons why you may prefer off-campus housing while school is out of session. The first thing to consider is location. Most campuses are located in smaller towns and cities that can accommodate a massive campus at their heart. Consequently, the campus and the surrounding area will be quite slow-paced and perhaps totally empty when school is out of session. This can be, quite simply, very boring. If you’re from out of town or out of the country, you may prefer to explore the nearest city center. Depending on your location, rents may be cheaper than what your school is charging and the cultural experience will be priceless.
Many students experiment with off-campus housing and prefer the freedom and cultural diversity of the experience. If you’re considering off-campus accommodations for short or long term housing, here’s five things to keep in mind:
Arrive in the US before classes start to seek housing off-campus. Looking for a new place to live can be a time-consuming and challenging experience. It’s comparable to a full-time job. You’ll be exchanging lots of emails and phone calls, meeting in-person, driving long distances to new places (and getting lost), and facing rejections. Even if you have the money and have found a place that you love, the market for renters can be quite competitive. Make yourself easily available and meet owners as soon as possible. If someone gets there sooner, they may accept an offer without waiting for you.
Consider Your Costs
Monthly rent may not cover all of your living expenses. Utilities like water, electricity, trash collection, and gas are often separate. What about parking? If you have a car and your new apartment or house does not have easily available street parking, you may have to pay for a garage or parking spot if one is not included in your rent. If your home is far from campus, you will have pay for public transportation or gas for your car. There’s also upfront costs like a security deposit. This is usually equal to one or two months’ rent (sometimes more) and is to be returned to you (plus interest) when you move out. If you have credit, you will want to share this with your landlord as well as any bank statements or paychecks that reflect your income (this includes money you may be receiving from your family).
Know Your Neighborhoods
Think about where you’ll be living—is it near what you need? Is there food and shopping nearby that will be useful to you on a daily basis? You may need to sacrifice some of these things for a more affordable home. However, make sure you can tolerate your area and it suits your personality and comfort level. If you’re seriously considering a new place, spend time in the neighborhood. Look it up online to find any nearby places of interest. Two more important things to consider: safety and volume. If you feel safe (especially at night) and the noise level from neighbors is tolerable, you may have found your perfect place!
You probably have an image in your head of the kind of place you’d like: a garage, a washer and dryer, wood floors, a nice view, restaurants and bars within walking distance. But when you look around, you may not find everything you’re looking for in a new place. Be flexible. Ask yourself what you really need and what you can live without. Set yourself a limit by making a list of qualities you are seeking in a new home and decide how many of these you can do without. The key is to be flexible but stay happy.
Check Your Lease
Look for places with month-to-month leases. You can cancel these at any time, a perfect situation for a student who may have to return to their country due to visa issues or other emergencies. If you are stuck in a yearly lease, you may have to pay rent for months when you’re not in the US or find a subletter. If you don’t have credit or a job, you may need a cosigner on your lease. This person will be financially responsible for you while you live in your apartment so make sure you maintain your budget and pay your rent on time every month.