Living Off-Campus

Exploring the pros and cons for students opting to reside outside their U.S. university campus.

There is no right answer when it comes to choosing between living on or outside the campus during your college years, as both options have their pluses and minuses. However, if you decide to live off-campus, there are several factors to consider.

Living off-campus affords more privacy, more room to study and relax and, often, better integration into the community of the town or city where students attend college. However, it brings more responsibilities, as students need to look for accommodation, sign a lease, deal with utilities, groceries, cleaning and so on, all by themselves or with roommates. Even though learning to manage these issues may be a good skill to acquire, students living on campus don’t really have to deal with them. Hence, it is an important factor to consider while choosing between living on or off-campus. Also, while living on campus brings you closer to your classrooms and campus events, living off-campus provides a refuge from being solely immersed in college life.

If you think that living off-campus suits you better, you will have some work to do before you can settle into your new apartment. Thankfully, you will not be alone in this process. Most U.S. universities provide services for students who wish to live off-campus. Often, on-campus housing is reserved for incoming freshmen and there’s limited space for other students, especially graduate students. But, universities go out of their way to make sure everyone finds appropriate housing. They have offices which help with apartment searching and lease signing, usually called Off-Campus Housing or Off-Campus Living, or under the umbrella of Housing or Housing and Food Services.

Freshmen and sophomore students are usually more inclined to live on campus, while junior and senior students as well as graduate students tend to live off-campus.

At Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, for instance, many students prefer off-campus housing: about 52 percent of undergraduates and 94 percent of all graduate students.

The office of Off-Campus Living at the university helps students, staff and faculty find appropriate housing in Ithaca by providing housing assistance, education and referral services. “We manage a listing website that we direct students to as well as a very active closed Facebook group, where people post listings for housing, sublets and roommates,” says a staff member of the office of Off-Campus Living at Cornell University.

Once students find their ideal housing option, the staff or peer advisers at the office continue to guide them through the rental process. “We also guide them through the lease signing process, informing them of their rights and providing them with checklists and other resources to ensure that their off-campus living experience will be a smooth one.”

If students wish to live off-campus, but do not want to live alone in an apartment, there are many other options, like seeking a roommate or living in a cooperative housing.

The office of Off-Campus Living at Cornell University is available to students even before they arrive in the United States. “We are easily accessible via phone and email for any questions students may have. And, our website contains a wealth of information that students can use to find appropriate housing,” adds the staff member.

At the State University of New York at Albany, also known as the University at Albany, students interested in off-campus housing are invited to use The Housing Registry. “To assist students with finding
off-campus housing, the Neighborhood Life Office works with a third party vendor, The Housing Registry, to aid in the housing and roommate search. The Housing Registry search features are only available to the University at Albany community through the use of their university email,” states the university website.

It is essentially a database of information about apartments and room rentals in Albany, as well as a roommate registry. Although it is open to non-university community members to post rental information, it requires them to follow the university guidelines.

At Southern New Hampshire University, students seeking off-campus housing in Manchester or the Hooksett area are advised to search in the local newspapers. According to the university’s website, “There are many ways for students to find housing off campus. One of the best ways to begin your search for off-campus housing is through the local newspapers. Landlords often advertise open apartments in the ‘Classified Ads’ section of the newspaper.” Some newspapers students may want to check out include Union Leader, Manchester City Guide, Nashua Telegraph and Concord Monitor. The website also offers off-campus housing tips to incoming students before they begin their apartment hunt.

International Student Services at U.S. colleges and universities are also a good resource for students looking for off-campus housing in a town or city. Although the offices might not help with apartment search, they might be able to provide temporary housing while students search for an apartment, or pair with another student willing to help with housing. International Student Services, like that of Southern New Hampshire University, also maintain a list to help students find suitable roommates.

Using common knowledge in these matters is always a good idea. If incoming students know people who live in the town or city where they plan to study, then they should get in touch with them, as they might be more informed about places available to rent. Local businesses in college towns or campuses often offer flyers advertising available housing.

Before starting a house hunt, it would be a good idea to consult Off-Campus Services and, if applicable, the Office of International Students. They will provide guidelines on where to look for housing, map out the surrounding neighborhoods and advise about their community and off-campus living.


Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.