If you are an incoming international freshman, it is likely that you don’t have to worry about where to live – at least for a year, since U.S. colleges typically offer guaranteed housing for freshmen. Some even offer it for all four years of college.
But international students should be aware that at many schools, students will not live on campus for all four years. Guaranteed housing means that the university will make sure students have a room in university-owned housing, such as dorms, to live in while you study there. As a transfer student, I had to find alternatives.
For me, living off campus was quite a journey. On one hand, looking for housing made me feel grown up and responsible – I could live like a real adult, who has to pay rent and clean up after herself. On the other hand, however, I sometimes wish I never had to find off-campus housing again, as all the research can be time consuming.
However, I am still thankful for the opportunity, as it has enriched my American college experience. International students considering moving off campus should keep the following things in mind during their search.
[Learn about on-campus housing options for international students.]
1. Start early: If you want to live off campus next year, you should probably start looking for apartments now – kudos to you if you have already started.
If you live in an area with a large population of college students, it can be important to plan ahead. The demand for apartments can increase exponentially as it gets later in the school year.
Now, some agencies or landlords may tell you it is too early to determine the availability of apartments for the next school year, but it is still crucial to leave your information with them. That may allow them to notify you early once they know there are vacancies coming up.
Another thing international students should know is that leases are generally for one year, so it can be convenient if you decide to go home for summer yet still want someplace to put your belongings. However, you may not want to pay the full rent while you are away.
If that is the case, then maybe you should start thinking about subletting your room during the summer – which takes some extra time as well. Not all landlords allow their tenants to sublet their apartments, so factor that in when you look for apartments.
2. Team up: As much as I enjoy the idea of living alone, I find it helpful to team up with friends. It is hard to gather all the information and research by yourself, so ask around to see if you have any friends who are still searching for a roommate.
Even if you elect to live alone, for safety reasons you should have someone accompany you whenever you go see apartments.
[Get tips for international students about saving money at college.]
3. Be picky: As an international student, you may not be as familiar with the local area as your American peers. Instead of researching solely on your computer, you should walk around and see the neighborhood for yourself.
Talk with other students who are currently living off campus to find out the good and the bad of their neighborhoods and their experiences. Don’t make compromises on things you value, such as safety, location and convenience. Be extra choosy now so that you don’t have to suffer the pain of moving again in a year.
One particularly important thing to look into is transportation. I rented a place pretty far from campus because we have a good public transportation system here in Pittsburgh.
However, if you live in a place where buses are rare, it may be the best to stick to housing around campus. Many schools offer shuttle buses around the area, so be sure to take advantage of that as well.
[Find sources of support for international students at U.S. colleges.]
4. Keep calm: I work at the student government board office in my school, and a big part of my job is to make appointments for students who wish to consult with a lawyer.
Landlord issues make up a large number of the consultations, and I have seen a lot of cases where international students had problems. If your school offers similar access to legal services, make sure to consult with them before signing a lease or paying deposits.