A Survivor’s Guide to College Apartment Living

apartmentI love college, and I love my apartment—I’ll be sad to leave. That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t have my share of rough spots along the way.

Before moving out of my freshman dorm I had never lived apart from my parents before, much less found my own apartment, chosen my own roommates, or paid my own bills. The learning curve was steep.

Three years later, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • While apartment hunting, find a balance between high rent and comfortable living. Stay within your budget because college is expensive, but if at all possible don’t sacrifice your happiness and peace of mind; college can be hard and stressful, and often the thing you’ll want most is a comfortable room to retreat to when the going gets tough. The deciding questions to ask aren’t whether you really like high ceilings or whether you just have to have a gas stove instead of an electric one. Instead, check whether the walls are insulated, whether appliances are clean (or cleanable) and functional, and whether you’re sure you can afford it. If you’re living with roommates: Do you have enough space to avoid living on top of one another? Do you feel safe in the area? If forced to choose, remember that budget and comfort come first, and that you’ll only be there at most for a few years.
  • Consider subletting. It’s more short term, but it’s probably cheaper and it’s a great way to meet new people.
  • Any room or apartment, no matter how small or old or dark, can be made a lot more livable with a little love and care. If you choose a less attractive room or apartment in order to cut costs, bring in lights, rugs, furniture, or other décor to brighten it up. Room décor doesn’t need to be expensive (think Ikea or secondhand stores), and a few well-chosen items can do wonders. It’s worth the fairly small investment to have a nice place to call home.
  • Choose your roommates wisely. Roommates are a great way to keep living costs down and to make great friends. However, roommates you don’t get along with can be worse than not having roommates at all. Before committing to spending a year or more sharing a room with someone, consider whether your personalities mesh well, whether one of you is messier than the other, whether he/she is financially stable enough to pay his/her part of the rent on time, etc.
  • Having less stuff will make both moving and living a lot easier. Clutter occupies the living space as well as mental space, even if you don’t notice it, and will affect your roommates as well. Throw away or donate things you don’t need and keep tidy in order to make a small space feel bigger and more comfortable.

Remember, you’ll want to find a place that is safe and quiet so that you can be successful in your studies and also balance your social life. Happy apartment hunting!

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Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.