This is a guest post from Stuart Nachbar, President of EducatedQuest.com. Check out his website for great in-depth articles that will help you in your college search.
Some schools group first-year students in freshmen-only halls, while others mix incoming freshmen with returning upperclassmen. Some schools place freshmen into a hall with classmates in a first-semester seminar while others invite new students to become a member of a living-learning community. Some halls are single sex while others are co-ed by alternating floors or rooms. How and where you live during the first two semesters has an impact on the rest of your college experience, especially the friends you’re likely to make.
But what about after the freshman year? What are the options?
At small liberal arts colleges there is usually a commitment to provide students with housing for all four years. Apartment living is even a possible option. These schools depend on maintaining community; they want everyone to live on campus, or very close to campus. Even the fraternity and sorority houses are on campus or very close by.
If you are choosing between two or more liberal arts schools it is important not only to see the first-year housing, but also the options that are available to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Sometimes students may move from traditional “corridor-style” halls–several rooms off a hallway sharing a common lounge and bathroom–to “suite-style” arrangements where small groups of students, hopefully friends, share a common lounge and bath. Sometimes they move to on-campus apartments where each person has their own bedroom. Be careful to check prices for all of these arrangements.
At larger schools, especially big state universities, it’s often a different story. Most do not require students to live on campus after the freshman year, and they do not provide housing for every student. It’s a rare state university that can provide spaces in residence halls and apartments for more than half of its undergraduate student body. At some schools, there is a sizable fraternity or sorority community that welcomes students beginning sophomore year. Choosing a Greek organization is much like choosing a college. You’re looking for friendships and fit.
At other schools students will be forced into the local housing market. Here, especially if your school is in a large city or popular college town, you must grab every apartment rental circular you can find and compare costs of living options near campus as well as those that require access to a car or public transportation. You must compare price and convenience as well as incentives. Landlords who manage apartment complexes in large college towns want to collect leasing commitments as early as possible. They know when students must sign contracts for university-owned housing; they offer students incentives to commit earlier. Another question to investigate: How easy or hard are apartments to sublet? A school that has far fewer students in the summer and welcome students from other colleges for summer classes is a “buyers market” for student housing. Students who come from other schools will try to pay the lowest price they can to find a home for the summer. Students who chose apartments further from campus are often out of look when they try to sublet. They face competition not only from the apartments closer to campus, but also Greek organizations that rent out their rooms when most of the brothers or sisters have gone home.
This does not mean that every big school boots students out of on-campus housing. Some schools such as Indiana, UConn, Purdue and Rutgers-New Brunswick provide numerous options to all students freshmen through seniors. The communities surrounding Indiana and Purdue also have “co-op” housing. Students who want to live in co-op housing “rush” as they would to pledge a fraternity or sorority, though there are no pledge ceremonies. They share the obligations to cook and maintain the house, but do not usually host parties or sponsor community service programs. However, co-ops provide the least expensive living option.
Colleges and universities that operate many residence halls and apartment buildings will post room and meal plan rates for all of their housing options. Sometimes your costs may rise–especially if your school is in a high-cost urban area–and sometimes they go down, if you can manage to eat right after you drop the meal plan. It’s very useful to know what those housing options and costs will be before you commit to a college.
Stuart Nachbar is President of EducatedQuest.com, a guide to strategic college admissions planning and the best values in higher education.