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Living Off-Campus? Stay On Track with These Tips

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If you’ve decided that you’re just not cut out for dorm life, you’re not alone. Despite the media’s portrayal of on-campus housing as the default living arrangement for college students, recent statistics reveal that nearly 70% of those who currently attend U.S. universities have chosen to live off-campus.

Maybe the thought of being cooped up in a dorm with roommates you can’t stand and a boatload of rules and regulations was just too much for you to bear. Or perhaps, like many other college students, the high price of on-campus housing plans has put dorm life out of reach for you.

Regardless of the reason you’ve chosen this path, living off-campus can be a great way to experience college. But unlike the spoon-fed responsibilities that come along with dorm life, the process of finding and maintaining a place off-campus can feel like being plunged head-first into the icy waters of adult reality. If you want to make it work, it’s imperative to start making plans months in advance.

Find a Place to Call Your Own

If you’re going to be looking for an off-campus house or apartment in a busy college town, you may need to start your search well ahead of time. If you’ve already got some friends on campus, ask around to find out about the best apartment complexes or great neighborhoods that are within walking distance to campus.

If you’re a first-year student, don’t worry – there are lots of resources available to help newbies find off-campus housing. First, talk to the housing department of your university. They should be able to provide you with lists of properties available for rent to college students.

The Internet is a great resource for students seeking out off-campus housing. Craigslist has tons of rental listings, and property owners are usually upfront about their willingness to rent to college students. If you’re more interested in an apartment complex, there are many complex-centric search sites available online – just Google your town name and ‘apartments’ to get some preliminary ideas.

If all else fails, you can take your search to the local level. Check out local newspapers and community bulletin boards – or just cruise around your favorite neighborhoods looking for “For Rent” signs.

Read the Fine Print

Once you’ve found a suitable rental and you’re ready to make it official, it’s time to sign the lease. For a generation that’s used to skimming through online user agreements and just checking the “I agree to the terms and conditions. . .” box, it can be mighty tempting to fast-forward through those tiny lines of text on your lease.

Don’t make that mistake. Force yourself to read every last word before you sign, and ask questions if you come across anything you don’t understand. A lease is a legal – and legally-binding – document and you could be lining yourself up for months, if not years, of trouble if you put your John Hancock on something unreasonable.

Believe it or not, there are unscrupulous landlords out there who prey on inexperienced student renters. When in doubt, have a more experienced friend or even (shudder) a parent look over the lease to make sure everything’s kosher before you sign.

Face Problems Head On

Many new college students find it difficult to deal with problems that pop up in an assertive way. In high school, you might have gotten away with avoidant coping techniques. In college – and especially, when you’re living off-campus – avoiding or ignoring problems is just going to make things worse. If a financial snafu is going to force you to pay your rent a week late, be upfront about it. If your roof is leaking, talk to your landlord right away.

If you’re sharing your rental with roommates, the same principle should be applied to in-house communication. Try to predict potential problems before they rear their ugly head, and work out possible snags before they become major issues. For example, it’s always best to clearly lay out agreements on sharing housework, buying groceries, having guests or hosting get-togethers before misunderstandings can create unnecessary drama in the household.

How about you? Do you plan to live off-campus? What’s driving your decision? Are there any potential problems you’re going to keep an eye out for? Let us know in the comments.

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