Moving Off Campus: Finding Your First College Apartment

Last Updated on January 24, 2017

female college student with hand holding up first apartment keys
What do you want in an apartment?

Before you even start the search, it’s important to narrow down what you’re searching for. Not with the budget (oh, the budget…) but in terms of what you want from the apartment itself. You can’t have everything you want, but if you’re clever, you can have most of it. The trick is to prioritize what categories matter the most to you for the proper price.

First, think about what you’re most willing to sacrifice. “Sacrifice” isn’t a pretty word, but if you decide on what you’re willing to compromise on, the rest of the process won’t be nearly as scary. Try to think about your personal style. If you spend most of your time outside of the apartment, you can sacrifice on size pretty easily. Same thing for if you’re a creative type, or if you spend a lot of times on screens. I’m a writer, and all I need is a desk and a laptop to be happy at home; I compromised on space, and I’m happy as can be.

If, on the other hand, you’re living with a large group, consider sacrificing location. Living in an emerging area is a great way to save money, and especially if you like hosting, you’ll need the space; after all, you’ll have guests crashing on couches and parties to be throwing. If you’re living with a large group, you won’t be walking back alone at night; you’ll be walking with friends, finding late-night tacos. Location is nice, but with a large group, don’t sweat it too much. With all your friends, wherever you are is a location already.

Next, think about what you bring to the table. Do you live in a spread-out campus? Think hard about what places should be most convenient. Now might be the time to decide between the library or the campus bar as your go to (I’d pick the bar to be near; you can always drive to the library, but driving to the bar is a drag.) Similarly, it’s important to factor in weather. In Boston, you aren’t walking for half the year. Seriously. So if you’re at a North-east school, really think about what a “ten minute walk” is going to mean in December.

So, now that you’ve narrowed it down- you have the general location in mind, and you know what you’re willing to sacrifice- you’re ready to begin the search for your first college apartment.

I highly recommend a site like where I work (woah, what a coincidence) to help the sorting process out. But regardless of what sites you use, there are a few golden rules.

  1. Google the address of the apartment you’re given. Ask for the direct address. See on Google Maps exactly how far it is from the train. The internet lets you measure everything now, and you should not take a random posting at its word about the neighborhood or distance.
  2. If something sounds too good to be true, it is.
  3. If there are no pictures, ask yourself; would you go on a date with somebody that didn’t put up any pictures? It’s 2013. Even our phones are cameras. Don’t visit a place without a picture.
  4. Are there only a few pictures at a very specific angle? The dating metaphor applies; they’re trying to highlight their best asset, and might not be as good as they seem. Depending on that asset, though, it might be worth a look.
  5. Plug the address in on Yelp and see what businesses are around. If you see late restaurants, grocery stores, a bar, a tattoo parlor, and a yoga studio, you are in a really cool area. If you see banks, chain restaurants and retail stores, it’s a nice but corporate spot. If all you see is a review for a guy named Vinnie, beware.

There are some other rules, too- a “cozy” apartment, for example, is a nicer word for “cramped”- but those are all the important ones for a search. Once you’ve gotten yourself into the zone for the search to start, you can follow those five guidelines to success. And, if can help you with that further, we’d be delighted as well.

In the meantime, don’t sign any MUST BUY APARTMENTS!!!! without pictures.

About the Author:
Lev Novak is the Creative Director at uCribs, and a writer in New York city. He's currently shopping his first novel, Beyond Average, and he thinks Drake, if anything, is under-rated.

Scroll to Top