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Articles / Applying to College / Is It Time to Consider an Off-Campus Housing Option?

Is It Time to Consider an Off-Campus Housing Option?

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | July 2, 2020
Is It Time to Consider an Off-Campus Housing Option?


Campus housing issues for Fall 2020 can be confusing. If you're going to be returning to campus this fall, you may want to consider living off campus.

At this point, in the early days of July, many colleges are in the process of figuring out their housing policies and protocols to meet the needs of returning students residing on and off campus. A few examples:

Boston College: "… administrators are continuing to refine plans and policies for the resumption of on-campus life this fall."

Elon University: "… Students will be given a move-in appointment time and students are encouraged to only bring one or two family members for move-in. All students, faculty and staff will be expected to complete their own daily self-checkup to help monitor their own health."

Harvard University: "… 'Our goal is to bring our students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows and staff to campus as quickly as possible,' Harvard Provost Alan Garber wrote in an open letter … 'but because most projections suggest that COVID-19 will remain a serious threat during the coming months, we cannot be certain that it will be safe to resume all usual activities on campus by then …'"

Indiana University: "… Most residence hall rooms on Indiana University campuses will be single occupancy and intensive cleaning protocols will be enforced."

Radford University: "… Full operations are expected for on-campus housing, dining services and in-person instruction beginning on August 24 …"

University of South Florida: "… Residence halls and dining options will remain open after Thanksgiving break for students who need access until the end of the fall semester."

University of South Carolina: "… The university is also expanding its online course offerings to accommodate those who choose to remain off-campus …"

University of Pittsburgh: "… In the coming weeks, the university will be announcing measures they are taking to de-densify campus — including residence halls, dining halls and classrooms, and modifications to restrict these spaces and other campus facilities."

Online Instruction Still an Option

Returning students who wish to live off campus will have the option of using online instruction, such as noted by the University of South Carolina. Whether colleges will offer off-campus students the flexibility of taking some courses online while attending other classes in person remains to be seen. The situation, even at this late date, is still quite fluid at many schools.

Incidentally, if you would like to examine the various scenarios available to colleges for Fall 2020, check Inside Higher Ed's 15 Fall Scenarios. There you will see everything from the fantasy-like "Back to Normal" to this past spring's "Fully Remote," with a baker's dozen variations in between.

If you are returning to campus this fall but are concerned about the safety considerations of dorm life and not required to live on campus, then you may want to investigate finding a place to live off campus. If so, then I highly recommend Fastweb's A Student Guide to Finding & Leasing Off-Campus Housing as a resource to guide your decision making. "Fastweb has you covered with this all-inclusive college housing and apartment guide to help you through the process, from start to finish." Here are some key points to keep in mind:

The Washington Post reports, American University is cutting the availability of campus beds from 4,300 to 2,300, and Frostburg State University is eliminating the two-person roommate accommodation to keep students safe.

Here's What to Consider When Moving off Campus

If you will be looking for off-campus housing, here are some key questions to ask prospective landlords:

- What's included in the rent?

- What's the typical monthly cost of each of the utilities?

- Are pets allowed? If so, is there an additional fee?

- Does the house/apartment have air conditioning?

- Is WifF included in rent?

- What is the laundry situation? Where are the machines located?

- Is there a cost to use them? If so, what is the cost?

- Is the cost for both the washer and the dryer?

- Is parking or covered parking available? If yes, is there an additional cost?

When you do a walkthrough:

- Is there good natural light? Your electrical bill shouldn't be sky-high!

- Do the locks work properly? Would you feel safe being alone at night?

- Are the windows old or drafty?

- Do the toilet and faucets work properly?

- Does the shower provide enough water pressure?

- Is the carpeting/flooring clean?

- Are the appliances up to date?

- Do all outlets work?

- Test the air conditioning and heating systems.

- Do the neighbors seem friendly, courteous, and easy to get along with?

- What are your initial impressions of the landlord?

There's much more excellent advice in this Fastweb article. Consider it a prime resource for off-campus living.

Some Colleges Are Still Creating Plans

I mentioned the fluidity of colleges' plans for Fall semester, especially for their housing plans. In some cases, students who will be returning to campus don't yet have housing assignments, which can cause considerable uncertainty. For example, Tufts University has published a Frequently Asked Questions page where administrators attempt to answer questions related to housing. Here's an example of how Tufts responds to students who have don't yet have confirmed campus housing:

Question: I want to return to Tufts for in person classes, but I do not currently have a housing assignment. What can I do to receive housing?

Tufts answers: Students requesting housing for the fall semester should do so as part of the Fall 2020 Intent Form. Housing applications and updates will be collected through the Housing Portal on SIS.

Once we know the number of students who wish to retain on-campus housing for the fall, the Office of Residential Life and Learning will determine whether we can accommodate individuals on the housing waitlist or other applicants. We recognize the importance of housing decisions, which is why completing the Fall 2020 Intent Form by July 7 is critical. Incoming first-year students and transfer students can access the form through their new student checklist

Using Tufts as an example of other schools that also have yet to confirm their on-campus housing, we see the critical phrase: "Once we know the number of students who wish to retain on-campus housing for the fall, the Office of Residential Life and Learning will determine whether we can accommodate individuals on the housing waitlist or other applicants," which contains the keywords whether we can accommodate.

It appears that some Tufts (and likely other colleges') students may not be able to acquire on-campus housing for fall because of de-densification and other safety concerns. Tufts may not know who can or cannot be accommodated until at least mid-July for a planned September 8 start of classes. This would leave just over a month for students unable to live on campus to find off-campus housing.

Consider Creating a "Plan B"

If you are a returning student with currently unconfirmed on-campus housing, you must do two things right now: (1) press to get a "go" or "no go" decision from your college as soon as possible, and (2) begin a search for your off-campus fallback option, using the Fastweb guide cited above. This is where things may become tricky, though, depending on the responsiveness of your college's housing office.

I estimate that you'll need at least a month before the start of classes to secure an off-campus room, apartment or house. You may luck out and be able to land one with less lead time. The wildcard in all of this, of course, is COVID-19, with all its unknowns and unpredictability. It's on offense; colleges are on defense. Thus, your mission is to get a housing decision quickly and, if needed, pursue a Plan B.

Fall semester 2020 will be unlike any other in the past. Be proactive, focused and flexible. You're definitely living in interesting times!

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Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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