Unless you plan to live at home, you’re going to need a place to live. A good rule of thumb is that, if you need to spend more than 30-45 minutes travelling to school, you should move. Since that’s a minimum of 60-90 minutes that could be spent studying, working, or enjoying time with your classmates. This guide will advocate for getting out of your parents’ house slowly, but deliberately.
You’re in a transition from living with your family to independence and self-reliance. You’ll want a place where you feel comfortable and at home but where the atmosphere is supportive and friendly. The change between high school and college can be tough. So you’ll definitely want to be living with people who are like minded.
Some colleges, however, do not give you a choice. Many state and private schools require that you live in the dorms for at least your first year, ensuring that you become immersed in the college environment.
Typically, after your freshman year, you’ll be able to choose where you want to live. At that time, many people choose to live with friends. Keep in mind that when choosing roommates, it is important to look for compatible sleeping and studying habits.
If you want or have to find an apartment, college towns often recommend a few specific neighborhoods with multiple student housing options available. Visit the campus beforehand to pick an affordable apartment you like and put in an early bid so you can be assured of getting what you want. Fill out more than one rental application so as not to put all your eggs in one housing basket.
Remember: student housing goes fast. Apartments are typically available a minimum of three months prior to the start of the semester. After that, good housing gets harder to find. Student housing is usually cheap and close to campus, though both factors can vary. Make sure you know what you’re getting and that you can afford the rent with whatever bills––food, utilities, etc––you’re going to have. Keep in mind that affordability and comfort are the main factors in being happy with any arrangement.
This philosophy extends to your dining. Most college food is made by an outside vendor, and sold at a significant markup, either a la carte or through a meal plan. Dining halls cook for a significant number of students and, as such, don’t always offer choice ingredients; what you’ll get if you’re on a school-sponsored meal plan is probably enough to fill you up, but may not be nutritious or varied. If you have food restrictions, preferences, or allergies, you will want to investigate your school’s offerings to ensure you have the options you require.
If you live near campus, it might be best to try to buy your own meals. You might want to bring food from home or buy the cooking equipment you’ll need and shop at local grocery stores. This will give you ample practice at cooking for yourself, if this is a skill you have not already acquired. Living in dorms, however, often means living without a kitchen. Shopping at the grocery store for wholesome food may be difficult if all you have is a mini-fridge and a microwave.
During your freshmen year, the college may require you to eat on campus––the idea being that you’ll mingle with classmates, teaching assistants, and even professors, depending on the school. Luckily, many grocery stores and local business (especially in big college towns like Buffalo, NY) also allow you to use campus dollars at their off-campus stores.
Of course, living away from home can be extremely stressful. Most reputable colleges offer mental health crisis centers or other built-in plans that can help you cope with the transition or send you home, if that is your best option. It may be that the school you chose is a poor match and transferring to a different place, possibly with an adjustment period, will be better. It may also be that, with the right counselor and/or a break, you’ll be ready to face the pressures of college life again.
If you’re having mental/psychological issues from the strain of school or from being away from your family, don’t be embarrassed––get help. It’s much better to get counseling at an early stage than suffer later on and it’s well-established that younger people tend to rebound faster than older ones. Statistics show that, beyond this, you are far from alone: 1 in 3 people experience depression at some point in their lives. In addition to whatever counseling your school or family provides, it is important that you surround yourself with like-minded, supportive friends and peers who can help you through the recovery process.
Student or off-campus organizations can be a great way to find friends and have an active social life. It is best to join a group based on a strong reputation of scholastic achievement and seriousness, not on partying. Some organizations can foster great connections within an industry, push you to greater academic heights, and provide crucial leadership positions. Others may just waste your time, so choose wisely.
It is most important to find a housing arrangement that you can both live with and afford, preferably in student housing that is easily accessible to campus, school activities, and friends. Another factor is easy access to cheap, preferably decent, food. Always look for bargains and make sure you know where all the good grocery stores are. These are things you may have to experiment with, but they are not hard to figure out and you can learn a lot just by word-of-mouth.