Get an Early Education about On and Off-campus Housing

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

College-bound high school students and transfer applicants from community colleges usually consider the academics as well as the likelihood of admission when they make their college lists. However, they should also consider housing costs through the duration of their education.

Post-pandemic rent increases have made future housing costs a serious concern. Students who attended college in major cities such as Boston and New York faced double-digit rent increases after in-person classes resumed on campus. So did students who attended school in college towns such as State College, Pennsylvania.

Most small colleges can house everyone on campus. However, larger public and private universities in big cities and college towns cannot. It is common for freshmen to look for off-campus housing for their sophomore year during their first semester or quarter in college, or for transfer students to scramble to find a place to live during the spring or summer before they start classes at a new school.

So, students and parents are wise to get an early education about on and off-campus housing and to research the following:

Room and board charges. Students who live in residence halls are expected to carry a meal plan, though there are options for the numbers of meals they must eat in the dining hall as well as “dining dollars” that can be spent at the student center food court or dining places off campus. Less expensive, and more flexible, dining options may be available after freshman year.

How target schools handled past housing crunches. Word gets out quickly on social media whenever a college over-enrolls a freshman class. So do the ways that the housing office solved the problem. A college might put three beds into a room meant for two, convert lounges into living spaces, relocate students into hotels off campus, or ask students to commute or find off-campus housing.

Availability of housing after freshman year. Some large schools such as Ohio State and Michigan State have two-year residency requirements. Freshmen should have no problem finding housing for sophomore year. But it’s wise to take a look at the selection of on-campus upper-class living options such as suite-style residence halls and apartments.

Guides and listings in the off-campus housing office if the school has one. Compare rents against charges for on-campus housing. Become familiar with local laws about leases and subleases and see how close you can live to campus. Some college towns limit the number of students who can share an apartment or a house. Local market conditions may force students to lease for 12 months, the summer before as well as the summer after the coming school year. Parking charges and mass transit fares must be considered if rents are more affordable further from your classes.

Rental market information online. Sites such as and will show not only rental charges; they also map the proximity of housing to campus.

Renters’ insurance. Renters must provide proof of insurance to cover damage to an apartment or house or losses of personal property at their expense.

Depending on local market conditions as well as the demand for on-campus housing, student housing expenses may rise or fall over four years of college. It’s wise to plan for these expenses early.