Where are you living next year?


Graphic: Kyle Holcombe / Iowa State Daily

Where are you living next year?

Daily Staff

Deciding where to live may be one of the biggest financial decisions students make in a year. With leasing season for next year well underway nearly eight months before the school year begins, it can be a head-spinning decision. Here’s where to start. 

First: Decide what you can afford

Often, this means “living like a college student.” Doug Borkowski, director of the Financial Counseling Clinic on campus, said the key to saving money is smart budgeting and living within your means.

“The opportunity to save money by living off campus is there,” Borkowski said, “but students have to use that to their advantage by living like a college student.”

Creating a budget involves keeping track of all income and expenses — services such as Mint can help with this. After a few months of tracking, students can have a clearer picture of what is affordable for them.

Borkowski stressed that it’s more important to save money now and decrease student loans by sacrificing the upscale apartment with all the amenities and instead going with the cheaper option that may be a little less luxurious.

“Figure out what you need in an apartment and how much time you will actually be spending there,” Borkowski said. “There’s no need for a higher dollar amount with nice amenities if you’re never going to be there.”

He also reccomended paying rent for the entire year up front, if possible. This saves the anxiety of budgeting out rent every month and helps create more spending money or the possibility of saving up. 

“Save your money and have a rainy day fund in case a financial emergency pops up,” Borkwoski said.

“The opportunity to save money is there, but it’s up to the students to take it,” Borkowski said. “You really have to budget and understand what you can afford.”

All of the living options available to students have their own advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few:

On campus

One of the most commonly stated benefits of living on campus is the proximity to classes and other students.

“I wanted to live in the dorms because they are close to my classes, it is cheaper than living off campus and it is a great way to get to know new people,” said Tiffany Gummert, junior in animal ecology. “One thing I don’t like is that I have to share a bathroom with a lot of other girls and it sometimes gets pretty loud.”

According to the Registrar’s Office, “Students who live on campus have higher GPAs than those who live off campus, with an average GPA of 2.87 — which includes freshman (who usually have lower GPAs than upperclassmen).” One reason that these students receive higher GPAs is that they can more easily find classmates with whom they can study and learn.

Like apartment living, there are a wide variety of price points for on-campus housing. Rates for the 2011-2012 academic year ranged from around $3,700 to $7,500, and meal plans that are occasionally required can range from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. 

Off campus

Choosing to live in an apartment or house off campus is attractive to many students because it offers more independence. 

When comparing the price of off-campus housing, keep in mind that there are several factors to consider. A place that has a low ticket price might not actually be as cheap if costs such as utilities, Internet service or parking aren’t included. Some apartments offer additional amenities such as gym memberships. For example, living at the Grove includes access to a pool, basketball court, fire pit and sand volleyball court.

Choosing to live in a house may also come with more responsibilities — like mowing the lawn or shoveling snow. 

Dealing with pressures to sign leases early in the school year is a downside to apartment living.

“Students typically sign leases before or right after Christmas Break to get the building they want for the upcoming school year. Brickstone apartments were completely gone before Christmas Break,” said Clark Matthews, Campustown Property Management leasing agent.

Depending on the location, apartments also can be noisy. 

Finding the right mix of amenities, price and location is a balancing act, but it is possible. 

“I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” wrote Callie Blake, a sophomore in elementary education who lives in west Ames.

Factors that persuaded her included “the nice apartments, in-unit washer and dryer, free parking, close to Highway 30, a close bus stop, reasonable price, the swimming pool and free gym membership, and it’s the perfect distance away from campus.”

Greek living

Going greek is more than a place to live — it’s a commitment, one that often comes with leadership opportunities and lasting friendships.

From a purely housing standpoint, though, there are some additional benefits to going greek. Room and board is often competitively priced compared to residence halls. However, contract breaks can be expensive if the house doesn’t turn out to be a fit. 

“Most houses offer amenities that the dorms do not have, such as different places to study or movie rooms,” said Reghan Markert, vice president of finance for the Collegiate Panhellenic Council.

Greek houses also may offer amenities such as groceries provided, a cook or catering service, cleaning services, free laundry and printing and the option of parking spaces.

Daily reporters Mackenzie Nading, Morgan Shepherd, Meredith Keeler and Jenna Russell contributed to this story.