Housing Options For Students

The largest expense while in school, for me anyway and I am sure lots of others is the cost of housing. Tuition is the other really big one, but housing is variable, while paying what the school says you have to pay is necessary. Try paying less for tuition and you won’t be a student at that school very long. Having a roof over your head is a privilege that a lot of people in the world do not have, so it is important to keep perspective and realize how lucky we are. But that doesn’t change the fact that student housing is expensive.

There are a different options, and they all have their appeal. Living on campus in a dorm, renting a house or apartment or staying at home and commuting are the popular viable solutions. Any one of these may or may not be right for you.

First Year

My first year I placed more value on the university experience than saving a few bucks. I always thought that living in a small room, meeting new people and always having people around would be a lot of fun. Turns out I was right.

I loved living in the dorms on campus. I lived in an all male residence, which nobody is happy about when they first hear it but after living there you come to love it. My roommate was awesome, I made some good friends on my floor and it was great to always have people down the hall to get food with, go out on the weekends, whatever. I do not have enough good things to say about dorm life.

But it was a little on the expensive side. If you were simply trying to spend the least amount of money, living in a dorm might not be your best option. Living in residence cost me almost $5,000 for the room. That was among the cheaper rooms compared to larger dorms or apartment style rooms. But because I lived in a dorm style room, I was required to purchase a meal plan. Kiss goodbye to another $3,300.

That leads me to another little piece of advice: always get the smallest meal plan you can if you need to have one. I was left with almost $1,000 on my $1,800 meal plan last semester. I was able to go to the meal plan’s office and get it reduced a lot for this semester, saving myself $300. I thought it would be better to have extra and buy lots of food at the end of the semester, but the smallest meal plan is more than sufficient if you use it wisely.

Anyway, the cost of living on campus my first year totaled almost $8,500. This includes the great environment of your building and the luxury of a thirty second walk to class. But there are also some freedoms you don’t get when you have a university employee living down the hall from you at all times in the form of a don or residence assistant. There are building quiet hours, you can only have beer in cans (got caught for this one) and it can be tough to get some shut eye or silence to study.

All things considered, every university student should live in a dorm their first year. It is an incredible experience that everyone should get to have. The cost is negligible to the fun you will have and the relationships you will build.

Second Year

I procrastinated in finding living accommodations for second year. I thought I had plans to rent a house with two of my friends from high school, which would have been great. That would have been a lot of fun and I am regretful it did not come to fruition. But alas, one of my friends could not afford it. He decided to become a don (very inexpensive). So those plans were busted. By the time we determined this it was late and most people had already decided and made arrangements.

A couple of guys on my floor were looking for one more roommate. This was lucky for me, but not ideal. Because I was last on board I had no say over my roommates. One person of the 3 roommates I have never met and one of the other two lived on my floor but I do not know him well. Only one of them I had much experience with. And the matter of roommates was not the only issue with which I was stuck.

When I found out I was going to have to find a place I tried looking for the cheapest place. I found basement rented out by families that were quite a ways from campus and were very cheap. I knew I could live with the responsibility of having a family live right above me, and was willing to bus it to and from school each day. But none of the listings I tried to contact ever got back to me.

The room I am in though is right across the street from school, almost a shorter walk than this year, and is freshly renovated. And with that convenience comes a not so convenient price. The apartment costs $570 plus utilities and internet. This will easily add up to more than $600 for 12 months. Some of the cost is offset by being able to sublet it during the summer months, but I can’t get back the full rent and it is only for four months.

I can’t yet vouch for the experience of living in an apartment during school, but I can state that the price tag is painful. The advice I can give on this subject is that it is never too early to start planning your place for the next year. do not procrastinate and be left in the lurch with a hefty ding to the wallet and a less than perfect place to live.

Alternatives

Commuting – One thing lots of students consider is living at home with their parents and driving to school each day. This seems like a good idea on the surface: free place to stay (or cheap if your parents want to teach you a lesson) and free food. But the cost of commuting is likely higher than you think. Check out this article by Mr. Money Mustache, where the costs are explained very in depth. He explains that the IRS figures the cost of running a car to be 51 cents per mile, which would be about 32 cents per kilometer. A student is likely to have expensive insurance, and gas is not getting any cheaper. As you can see the costs quickly add up. Unless you live very close to school in the first place, I do not believe that commuting to school will truly save as much as one might think.

Don/R.A – I am not sure the terminology your school uses, but at Laurier, the student who lives in a dorm and “polices” a floor is called the don. My friend chose to become a don in order to save money. While it kind of screwed me over, I can’t blame him. He will have his room paid for and he gets a free meal plan. In exchange he has to stay up late on duty twice a week and tell everybody to turn their music down. I considered this because it is like having a part time job with very few hours but a lot of pay. Ultimately however I did not want to get caught having my duty shifts coincide with an exam the next day, and I really did not want to be the bad guy who ends up ruining some good times. If you think you are okay with doing this it is a great way to live at school and save money.

Buying A House – I do know a group who bought a house their first year at school and are now trying to sell their house at a profit now that they are in their last year. This is a very interesting option to me. I want to get involved in investing in real estate, and this seems like an unconventional but effective way to do so. Another way to do it, one that I have heard pondered, is to buy the house or have your parent buy it, then have friends pay you rent.

This is something I have missed the boat on for this year but I might consider next year. But each year there is less and less profit to be made. Having friends pay you rent should cover the mortgage and then some, so you live without costs and you get paid a little bit. At the end of your degree you have the option of using the equity built on the house to sell at a profit or keep it and keep renting it to students. I live in a student centered city, so there will always be a market for rentals, so I really want to look into this. I have just been told that the hassle of being a landlord is not worth it. This would especially be true with university or college students, who I can only imagine are rougher on a house than a small family.

If there is anybody who used this method while in school I would love to hear from you.

Those are the options that I have thought of or have heard from others. Any other suggestions from anybody are very welcomed.

The main thing I can tell students are to not wait to think about housing. The longer you wait the worse off you will be.


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