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Last updated: September 13, 2021 • Education Advice

Student Accommodation: Dorm, Rent or Buy?

If you’re a student that just got accepted to college: first of all, congratulations! We are all really proud of you! Second: you (or your parents) might be scratching your head with so many decisions you need to make right now, right? Spoiler alert: it won’t get any better. However, concerning your decision regarding student accommodation – staying at the university dorm, renting an apartment alone or with roommates or even buying a home – there’s nothing to worry about, as our team at has compiled some real estate tips to hopefully make your decision process painless. And we even did it in a lingo that people under 25 mos def will understand, amirite? It’s lit! On fleek!

But before we get to the pros and cons and prices of each, there’s one thing that might make you just skip ahead all of the information below: are you fully paying for your tuition or will you get some sort of scholarship? In most cases, scholarships do cover student housing costs, so, naturally, with college getting increasingly high, you would do whatever they tell you to do. So, further investigate if your scholarship covers student accommodation. If not, or if you want to see other aspects besides the financial breakdown, read on:

Student Dorm

An empty student dorm hallway

Ah, the student dorm. The most classic and common type of student housing for college students. Even for those that never went to college, just by watching movies and TV shows, we can all relate to the wonders of it. However, not everything related to college apartments (the so-called student dorms) is gold. From a financial standpoint, college apartments are viewed as the less expensive. But that’s only half-true. Globally, yes, college apartment is cheaper – if you think that you won’t have to spend money on transportation (as you are already inside the campus) and you will have the wonderful facilities of the university (like gyms, pools, track field) and its cultural life (with discounted – and sometimes free – movie/theater/music activities).

However, there are some financial cons for college apartments as your choice of student accommodation too.

The meal plan can be good for your pocket, but bad for your health. Most of the time, college meal plans are as lacking of healthy options as the high school meal plans. It gets old fast, as it’s not very inventive on their meal choices; not to mention if you have religious or allergic restrictions to dairy, meat, peanut and other popular ingredients.

And the most important financial aspect you should consider is that, if halfway through the semester something happens and you decide to change college or drop out, you could face costly penalties for breaking the student housing contract of your college apartment. Even if you plan to come back in the next semester.

Moreover, aside from the financial standpoint, many students choose universities away from home claiming one of the factors in their decision is to experience living independently. But, if that’s a sincere desire, let us say that college apartments won’t exactly produce this outcome.

You won’t have to deal with bills, as they are all included in your rent (that’s actually a good thing, but we’re calling you out on the “I want to be independent” claim) and you are still having to report to someone. Yes, you will still have a mom when living in a college apartment; he or she just goes by a different name: Resident Advisor or RA. Ok, maybe an older annoying sibling is a better comparison because they don’t have the authority to penalize you; but they can still snitch on you to the powers above. The residential advisor will be following you closely for any mischief and reporting to their bosses (college authority) who’ll enforce applicable penalties against you. So, think about that next time you think “My mom is so mean to me”. At least she made you cookies; we bet your Resident Advisor won’t.

To us here at, aside obviously from the convenience of being inside the campus with everything set for you – truthfully: all you need to do is study! The rest is taken care of –  the greatest benefit of student accommodation in a college apartment is the connections you’ll make. You’re exposed to people from other areas of study and from different cultures (different states; even different countries) and that is a really rich experience. Not only to make you grow as a person but also professionally. Some of the people you meet in college – even if not from your area of study – later on, can become valuable connections to your own professional area. And making that many friends when living off campus is harder.

TL;DR version
(or Too Long Didn’t Read version for the parents out there)
Pros: Aside from being the least expensive, dorm life be cray, homey! (Don’t they talk like that in college anymore?)
Cons: Dorm life actually be full of rules, homey. And it gets tiresome after a while #truestory #jomo
Price: usually something like 9k/year, but it really depends on where you’re going

Renting an Apartment

 A sign reads apartment for rent outside in the curb

How about trying a short-term lease renting an apartment (or even a house!) as your student accommodation? You can rent it just for you, but even better if you share it with roommates. For a number of reasons: the price will lower, the supply will likely be better and you will hopefully make friends for life.

Or enemies.

So beware: choosing your roommates is the key aspect here. When you don’t like the roommate they assign to you at college apartments you can just ask to change it and they will find a better match. However, when renting an apartment together is not that simple. You need to deal with that person every day, so a few things you should look for when renting an apartment as your student accommodation:

  • Make sure you and your roommate(s) have privacy. Separate bathrooms for every roommate will raise the price of the venture, but it might be instrumental to everyone’s sanity (and health).
  • Make a contract between you and your roommate predicting all pitfalls scenarios (you – or the roommate – need to bail, you – or the roommate – is late on rent payment, you – or the roommate – broke something etc.). Landlord-Tenant’s rights are complicated as it is; when you add co-tenancy to the mix… better have everything in writing when a dispute comes, and they always do when renting.
  • Get Renters Insurance. Especially Personal Property insurance coverage. Your roommate might have people over, people might stumble on your things and break it or even steal it. You won’t be able to control that and you won’t have time to worry about that. Better be safe than sorry.

Aside from the “shared life”, another thing to keep in mind regarding renting an apartment is that you probably won’t be able to wake up 5 minutes before class. With all the partying studying until the wee hours, that’s not a trivial benefit from living in a college apartment instead of renting.

But there’s a ton of benefits renting an apartment instead of living in college apartments: if you like pets, you can have them. No bunker bed, no all-rooms-look-alike: you will have your privacy and you can look for a place that fits your tastes. Love a balcony? Get one. Hate carpet? Look for a rental with hardwood floors! And you don’t have to worry about cafeteria hours; whenever you have the munchies you can cook whatever you want. Loud music? Well, you still have to worry about neighbors, but there’s no Resident Advisor to bother you. Plus: dorms are really small; renting your own place – even if you share it with someone – will give you extra-space with which you can do a lot: a workshop? A chemistry lab? A study area?

And freedom! You will have no one cleaning after you, you will have to pay the bills on your own, you will have no one keeping track of the time you came or went home. It’s a great feeling!

TL;DR version
Pros: Freedom! Getting a place just the way you want. Pets! Extra Space!
Cons: With freedom comes responsibilities, and if you share with someone it can turn into a nightmare as fast as beer kegs are emptied at fraternities.
Price: it depends on where you’re going, the type of apartment you’ll rent and how many people will be sharing with you…

Buying an Apartment

Hand holding a key after buying an apartment

This one is not a very common one when looking for student accommodations. Parents must be reading this and thinking “I’m already spending top Dollars on this kid and now is telling me to buy an apartment?! Do they think money grows on trees?!” But actually, that’s the main reason for someone to do it: as an investment!

Of course: this is not a good idea if your kid is going to NYU, Columbia, or any college inside a saturated and expensive residential real estate market. However, most colleges are in its own town, where the whole economic ecosystem circles around the university, so it makes too much sense; think about it: your kid is not the only genius attending that university, right? Every year, hundreds of students are approved and attend their classes. A great way to start recovering your money is buying an apartment (also known as Condo) or a house and becoming yourself the provider of student accommodations: your kid can live there for the years he/she goes to college, with another student as roommates. It’s the best of both worlds scenario; you will have a Tenant paying for part of the rent, helping you amortize the mortgage, and your kid will have the responsibility of taking care of the investment, making sure the roommate keeps the property in good condition – plus we guarantee he/she will love this and it will be a great kick-start for a new grownup relationship between you and him/her.

Whenever his/her study ends, the apartment or house will still be a good investment, as students will still come and go. Plus: the student’s long-term commitment to the university can give you good leverage of contract as Landlord. Avoid the short-term lease: try doing 2-year rental agreements, even 4! If/when the area appreciates, you can even sell and make a lot of money out of it! But even if you break even we call that a win: your kid went to college and, in the end, you paid “nothing” for student accommodations.

And who knows? Maybe your kid makes his/her life in that city? Now you don’t even need to get a wedding present! Just transfer the title of the property!

TL;DR Version

Pros: New Parent-Kid dynamic, option of recovering student housing real estate investment, freedom just like rent.
Cons: A lot of money on top of a lot of money. But in the long run is a good investment.
Price: You kidding me? Find a real estate agent and ask him/her that question… It’s just too many variables – house or apartment? How many bedrooms? Where is this residential market? – only a local real estate agent can give you that precise answer and help you find the best student accommodation outside the college apartments.

We hope you have enjoyed this student accommodations guide and, once more, congratulations from all of us on this great step of your lives!


One Response to " Student Accommodation: Dorm, Rent or Buy? "

  1. Millie Hue says:

    It really helped when you said that you should start first by checking if the scholarship you are getting would cover the accommodation. I will share this with my cousin because she is not looking for student apartments that she needs to move into next school year. It will help her find a place to stay that she can afford or even get for free, since I know that she can be a scholar if she applies for it.

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