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How To Afford An Apartment In College

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Ossiana Tepfenhart

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When you consider tuition fees, textbooks, transportation, and food, being able to afford an apartment in college may seem out of reach. However, there are more resources and options available to college students than you may realize.
College is expensive. Not only are you paying thousands of dollars in tuition, but also books, meal plans, and on-campus living. However, not all schools offer on-campus living, especially for those about to graduate. If this is the case, then you have to find yourself an off-campus apartment. But how can you afford an apartment on top of all the costs of college?
While it may seem overwhelming at first, there are ways to afford an apartment while attending school. Keep reading to learn more about financial options (and alternatives) available to help you afford an apartment in college.

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How to afford an apartment in college

There are several different ways to get an apartment in college. These include both on- and off-campus opportunities, some of which may be even cheaper than apartment living.
To keep the number of housing options from becoming overwhelming, first consider what you’re looking for. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Do I want to live close to or on campus?
  • Am I interested in joining a fraternity or sorority?
  • Do I have the time to have a part-time job, like working as an RA or nanny?
  • Would I prefer to live alone or with roommates?
  • Do I like the sense of college community?
  • What are my student loan options?
  • How much apartment can I afford?
While there are plenty of other questions to consider, answering these questions may give you a better idea of the living situation you’re looking for.

On-campus vs off-campus housing vs living at home

On average there isn’t much of a cost difference between renting a room or apartment off or on-campus. Of course, your experience may be very different depending on where you live and the college you attend.
As you can see from the graph above, staying at home while going to college can save you more than $10K a year. Living with your folks may not be the “college lifestyle” you dreamt of, but count the cost before using student loans to pay for an apartment when staying at home is an option.


On-campus housing is generally the most sought-after type of housing for college students. It’s safe, conveniently located right next to campus, and it’s easier to make the time to socialize and study with your friends.
In smaller colleges, this can mean that housing is guaranteed for every student. However, larger colleges don’t have much housing. For example, colleges as large as NYU simply don’t have the space to house all 20,000 of their students on campus.
As a result, dorms often have preference given to out-of-state students. Those that don’t have a priority structure often will use lotteries to determine who gets housing. For these situations, it’s best to have a backup plan.

What are my on-campus housing options?

Depending on your school or seniority, you may not have many on-campus housing options available. However, if you do have the opportunity to compare choices, here are some to keep in mind.
  • Sorority or fraternity house. Most college sororities and fraternities have chapter houses on campus for members. While you may have to wait until you are properly initiated, they often offer student housing at a discount.
  • Private and federal loans. Since on-campus housing is an educational expense, you can use your federal or private student loan for housing. Students attending college, especially from out-of-state, need funds for living expenses.
  • Financial aid. If you’re still struggling to find the funds for on-campus housing, talk to your campus’s financial aid assistant. They may be able to help you find a scholarship or grant that can help make other monthly expenses easier on you. You can start with SuperMoney’s financial literacy scholarship.
  • Gap housing. Between semesters, most dorms close since the majority of students are with family. However, some colleges will allow you to use your housing allowance during summer and early fall if you have nowhere to go.
  • Resident assistant. Resident assistants ensure students feel welcomed and act as a liaison for undergraduate students. In addition to answering student questions, RAs foster a sense of community among dorm residents and enforce residential policies. Since this is basically a part-time job, RAs live in dorms for free or at a steep discount.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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Off-campus housing

Off-campus housing can be very hit-or-miss. In many cases, off-campus housing can be a bargain. This is particularly true if you’ve decided to rent a home with several friends from your school.
However, living alone off-campus as a college student can be difficult. You may feel isolated from your fellow students, and at times, your housing may not be as stable as it would be on campus. If you go for off-campus housing, try to rent from a reputable landlord and get good roommates. Yes, I know. Easier said than done.

What are my off-campus housing options?

Off-campus housing can be hard, but this doesn’t always have to be the case. These tips can help you get more bang for your buck.
  • College-affiliated apartments. Some larger institutions work with apartment landlords that are close to campus. These buildings are familiar with students’ needs and may offer student discounts on their apartments.
  • Private home. Apartments are by far the most popular option for off-campus housing, but they’re not the only choice. Many private homeowners and private rentals can be tailored to the school year, so you don’t have to stay the whole year if you don’t want to.
If your school doesn’t directly work with an apartment landlord or private renter, your financial aid office may still have some helpful information. Some schools may post physical listings in the office or have a list of nearby properties where students have previously lived.

What should I know about off-campus housing?

Not all housing is created equal. Before signing your lease agreement, make sure to consider these points carefully. You don’t want to get locked into an agreement you can’t afford or get out of.
  • Get roommates. Not only will it keep you from feeling isolated, but you’ll also save money on rent and other monthly payments, including utilities, groceries, and the security deposit.
  • Get a cosigner. Many college students don’t have a steady source of income, which can make apartment hunting difficult. A cosigner can help you get an apartment if your monthly income doesn’t meet the income requirements.
  • Read the rental agreement carefully. You don’t want to rent a place that comes with unexpected fees or requires a steady source of income above your (or your cosigner’s) pay grade. The rental agreement will also tell you about the landlord’s pet policy, quiet hours, and when and where to pay rent.

Pro Tip

If you’re relying on federal aid for your off-campus housing, keep an eye on when the funds get deposited into your account. If the funds aren’t deposited in time to pay rent, make sure you have a backup plan with your lenders.

How much apartment can you afford?

Before you can start your apartment search, you need to be realistic about how much you can afford. Here’s what you need to know:
  • Don’t live on your own. Most college students are broke, and around 54% of all college students don’t live on their own. They live with roommates or their family members instead. Though this is not always an option, it is highly recommended.
  • Use student loan funds. You can use a portion of your student loan funds to pay for your apartment. This is not ideal because you may still have to pay out of pocket for your first month’s rent and deposit, depending on the student loan disbursement schedule. However, if you have trouble finding another way to come up with rent, this is an option.
  • Consider rent carefully. Traditional advice says you shouldn’t spend more on rent than your annual income divided by 40. This puts you in the realm of affordability. So, if you make $80,000 per year, you can afford a $2,000 apartment. If you make $30,000 a year, then you can afford a $750 apartment.

Pro Tip

Assume that you do not make as much money as you currently do when calculating your budget. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to estimates.

Alternative housing options

Private apartment living and dorm life are both fairly common, but they’re not the only options. If these living situations aren’t for you, here are some alternatives to living off campus.
  • Nanny or housekeeper. Many websites make it easy to find a way to pair you with a family in need of a nanny. In addition to earning a steady income and having a place to stay, most clients offering this option understand that school is your top priority.
  • Military status. The GI bill allows veterans and enlisted military (who have served at least two years) to get free tuition, and can also help you have your essential needs covered.
  • Government programs. If you have very low income, then you may be able to fund your living space through Uncle Sam. There are several different programs that can help you when student loans fail. Some include Section 42 housing, Cal Grant B, or the TEACH program. However, keep in mind that they may limit how much you spend on rent or offer low cost housing.
  • Be a superintendent. Almost every property management company will have a need for an on-site super who can fix toilets, unclog pipes, and patch up walls. Most students with plumbing and management skills can get these jobs, and they’ll give you low-cost or even free housing. Some even pay you on top of that.
  • Charity programs. If you’re completely out of options, there are several non-profit organizations or charities that help people find stable housing. Catholic Charities, for example, has been known to house people facing extreme adversity in life. Even if they just cover utility bills, it’s something to consider.

Groups that offer housing assistance

If you are hard up for cash, low on student loans, and can’t live with family, call these groups in your locality. They can help:

How to get the cheapest apartments near campus

Everyone who’s worried about housing tends to wonder how some people score the best deals off campus. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy. The best way to do it is to search for cheap apartments as soon as you get your approval letter. Don’t be afraid to network with other students and ask around for the best deals.
If you live in or near an expensive city, you may be able to get a larger apartment and therefore more roommates, as long as you’re okay with housing two people in a room. In places like New York City, that’s basically the way most students afford an apartment.


Is it better to get a dorm or an apartment in college?

It can often be too close to call, especially when it comes to the cost of living. Most people find dorms to be affordable and convenient, along with a built-in community. They also have fewer upfront costs.
However, not every school can offer on-campus housing to every student, and some university dorms are worse than others.

How can I live for free in college?

The best way to live for free in college is to have a job that comes with built-in housing. Working as a student RA is a good move here, and is often the most popular decision. This is a smart way to avoid extra student loan debt, too.

Why are apartments better than dorms?

Apartments aren’t always better than dorms, but they have their perks. They generally offer more privacy for the rent you pay, which is a primary reason why people prefer an off-campus apartment. Apartment living also means more freedom in general, including who you room with.

Key Takeaways

  • There are several ways to afford on-campus housing, including sorority or fraternity houses, working as an RA, and using your federal and private student loans.
  • Off-campus housing can be a great alternative for those who can’t or don’t want to live on campus, but it can be expensive.
  • If you’re having trouble affording rent, you may want to look for roommates or investigate alternative housing options.
  • For those struggling to make ends meet while in school, multiple charities and non-profit organizations can also help prevent homelessness in college.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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