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Everything You Need to Know About Renting an Apartment in College

Planning to live off campus next year? Here’s everything you need to know about renting an apartment while you’re in college!

I still remember September of 2016 when AnnMarie told me she was helping her son find an apartment for when he moved off campus the following year…



She had just moved him into his freshman dorm a month earlier!

My jaw might have hit the table…

And yet, it’s true.

Most apartments in college towns begin leasing for the following school year by October 1.

Will you be able to still get off campus housing if you wait to sign a lease?


But will you be able to get housing with the roommates you want?

In the apartment complex you want?

With the floor plan you want?

Let’s just say the odds will not be in your favor…

My son lived in his fraternity house his sophomore year, so he handled getting his apartment situation figured out on his own.

But my daughters will be living in off campus apartments their sophomore year.

At this point there’s a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, so my husband and I are giving them a little help to guide them to find the best place for them to live.

Apartment brochures with pricing and floorplans and a printed map with their locations

Now that AnnMarie and I have both navigated finding college student rentals a few times, we’ve come up with some tips to make the process go smoothly.

And of course we’re gonna share what we’ve learned with you!

These tips will help you whether you’re a student looking for your first college apartment, or if you’re moms like us.

You can forward this information to your student and feel comfortable they’re asking the right questions.

We’ve even put together a worksheet to help compare different options.

So let’s dive in and take a look at all the things to consider before signing a lease for a college apartment.

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When to Start Looking for a College Apartment

Most apartment complexes begin accepting applications for the next school year by October 1st.

If your college doesn’t guarantee housing after the first year, you should begin looking for a college apartment right around the time you move in.

Crazy, right?

College apartment buildings under construction

You probably don’t even know who you want to live with at this point!

A lot of apartment complexes will let you fill the other bedrooms in your apartment later in the year.

But they’ll give priority for choosing a floorplan to the students who’ve signed a lease first.

This is one of the questions to ask while you’re looking for an apartment.

How to Find Off Campus Housing Options

A great place to start when you’re looking for off campus housing is your college.

Depending upon the size of your school, there may even be an off campus housing office!

The student services office should be able to direct you to a resource to help you narrow down your choices.

Another amazing resource is the parent page for the college on Facebook.

You may want to consider working with a Realtor to find the best place to live.

Most Realtor’s offices have agents who specialize in rental properties.

They’ll be able to help you to find somewhere more quickly that fits in your budget and meets other criteria that are important to you.

Father and two teenage daughters walking into the rental office and clubhouse of a college apartment complex

You can also rely on the internet to do searches for college-friendly apartments.

There are sites like Apartment Finder and Apartment Guide that can help you narrow down your search.

Once you move on campus, you can also ask older students where they recommend.

After you’ve narrowed down your search, be sure to visit all the options and tour their facilities and models.

It’s impossible to tell from online pictures whether you’ll feel comfortable living somewhere!

What to Consider When Searching for a College Apartment

There are a lot of different factors to thing about when you look for the best place to live when you move off campus.

Let’s break those questions down into a few big categories.

Location, Location, Location

This shouldn’t really come as a shock, but the most important question is about location.

Here are a few things to consider about an apartment’s location.

  1. How close is the apartment to the campus?
  2. Will you be close enough that you can walk to classes or will you need to ride a bike, drive, or use a shuttle bus?
  3. Is there bike parking available if you’ll be riding a bike?
  4. If you’ll need to drive, is a parking spot included with your rent?
  5. Is parking covered or uncovered?
  6. Are there any parking fees?
  7. How much will it cost to get a parking permit for the school’s commuter parking lots?
  8. If you’ll be using a shuttle bus or public transportation, how close is the closest pickup spot and what is the bus schedule?
  9. What are the costs for public transportation?
  10. How close is the complex to grocery stores or other places you might go to often (coffee shops, etc.)?
Teenage girl walking into the rental office of The Hub apartments in Blacksburg

Another important aspect of location is safety.

You can use a service like Area Vibes to get information about crime rates in the area where the apartment is located.

Be sure to ask the rental agent about security measures for the apartments.

  1. Does each bedroom have its own key if you’ll be living with people you don’t know?
  2. How well-lit are the parking areas?
  3. Is there any kind of security patrol if the complex is large?

Rent, Leasing, and Fees

There are all kinds of questions to ask when it comes to money!

You may want to get some of this information before visiting possible apartments to rule out complexes that won’t fit with your budget.

The first question is pretty obvious: How much is rent for each floor plan?

Then, there are some follow up questions:

  1. Is the rent the amount for each individual bedroom, or is it the amount for the whole apartment?
  2. Will you need a co-signer to lease the apartment?
  3. Do you need to have all your apartment mates figured out before signing the lease?
  4. If you sign a lease without having all your apartment mates yet, when do you need to have them finalized to ensure you’ll all be in the same apartment?
  5. How are roommates assigned by the complex if you don’t find enough roommates for all the bedrooms in the floorplan you’ve chosen?
  6. If rent is based by the bedroom, what happens if one renter is evicted for nonpayment? Does the apartment complex fill that spot? What are their policies for filling that spot? Will you have any input about who may be placed in the apartment with you?
  7. Does the complex offer furnished and unfurnished options? What is the difference in rent for furnished or unfurnished?


  1. Does rent include utilites?
  2. If so, which utilities?
  3. What is the typical amount for any utilities not included?
  4. How does the complex divide utility charges between roommates?
  5. Is there a cap on the amount charged for utilities?
  6. Will you need to set up your own account with the utility company? Or does the apartment complex handle those accounts?
Teenage girl touring a furnished apartment model at college.


  1. How much is the application fee?
  2. Are there any hidden fees?
  3. Does the complex allow pets? If so, what are the fees related to pets?
  4. Is there a security deposit?
  5. What types of charges are there for damages (e.g. nail holes, painting, etc.)?
Teenage girl standing in a bedroom of a furnished college apartment model with ceiling fan, macrame wall hanging, and string lights.

Leasing Policies

  1. What is the typical lease cycle? Do all new leases begin in August?
  2. How does the complex handle lease renewals?
  3. How long is the lease?
  4. When is rent due?
  5. Is subletting allowed during the summer or for study abroad?
  6. Are there fees for subletting?
  7. What are the policies for subletting to make sure someone isn’t living in the apartment you’re not comfortable with?

Miscellaneous Questions

  1. How do you submit maintenance requests?
  2. How quickly are maintenance issues resolved?
  3. What kind of routine maintenance is included?
  4. What’s the laundry situation?
Two teenage girls wearing large t-shirts and running shorts looking at a desk in a furnished college apartment model
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Many complexes around colleges and universities offer a variety of amenities!

Is there a clubhouse for hanging out or having meetings?

Does the complex sponsor social activities throughout the year?

Apartment clubhouse with fireplace, couches, and a large screen television

Is there a gym or workout area?

What are the policies for using the amenities?

When are the amenities open for use?

Fitness room with treadmills along a wall of windows and elliptical machines along the opposite wall.

Are there small meeting rooms or individual study rooms in the complex?

Is there a process for reserving these rooms, or are they first come first served?

Are the rooms open 24/7?

Is there somewhere in the study rooms or in the clubhouse to print papers or will students need to bring a printer?

Once you’ve visited the complexes at the top of your list, it’s time to fill out that application!

Do NOT pay any money up front until you’ve decided you want to live somewhere.

No reputable landlord will require you to pay anything besides an application fee before signing a lease.

Be sure you’ve confirmed that you can afford the rent with whoever is paying for college.

Most financial aid packages include an allowance for room and board expenses but be sure to double check with the financial aid office.

Be sure to carefully read the lease before signing it, or have someone you trust read over it first.

Teenage girl standing next to a large statue of a Hokie Bird wearing a football jersey outside of an apartment complex in Blacksburg, VA

If you ask all the questions in advance, you should be off to a great start for your first college apartment!

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If you have any questions or suggestions, contact me or leave a comment below!

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