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Finding A College Apartment: Secrets of Apartment Hunting

Finding a college apartment can be very stressful, especially if it is your first time apartment hunting. It is something that we are often not equipped to do alone or have a lot of questions about. Unfortunately, I feel like there isn’t a lot of information out there to help college students find their first off-campus apartment. I worked as a leasing consultant for 3 years at an off-campus college apartment complex and learned a lot over the years.

So, I thought it would be helpful for me to create a complete guide to finding your first apartment. While my experience is with student apartment complexes with individual leasing, most of these tips are applicable to conventional housing (“grown up” apartments) as well.

There are a ton of things to consider when you are trying to find a college apartment.

This post is all about finding a college apartment

Decide On Your Apartment Must Haves

Before you even consider going to look at apartments in person, you should decide on what things you must have in your first college apartment. A common mistake that I have seen so many college students make when I have given them tours is that they have no idea what they want. Don’t get so excited to start the process that you are willing to say yes to the first apartment you see.

The best thing you can do is have a physical or mental list of what you absolutely have to have in your space before you start finding a college apartment. This list will be your guidelines for which apartments you actually look at in person as well as which apartment you decide to lease with.

Some examples of nonnegotiables are:

  • Distance from campus
  • Size of bedroom
  • Amount of storage
  • Pet policy
  • Number of bedrooms/Roommates

In addition to your must haves, you can create a second category of your “nice to haves” which include things that you can live with out but would like to have if possible. These could include a 24 hour gym or hot tub. You don’t need these things, but they would elevate your living experience.


Determine Your Budget

Again, before you even start looking at complexes in person on your college apartment hunt, you need to know how much you are able to spend. Most people say your rent should only be 30% of your monthly income. That means if you make $1,500 a month your rent should not exceed $450. In this 30% you should include any utilities and renter’s insurance as well.

Side note: Most off-campus student housing communities include some sort of utility allowance or inclusion policy in the rent. This is something you will need to ask on your tours (more on this later).

If you are looking at conventional apartments aka “grown up” complexes, you might want to consider having a roommate to split costs with. This may allow you to get more bang for your buck.

Create Apartment Tour List

Once you have created your must have list and determined your budget, you should create a list of apartments you want to visit. When creating your list, you can use an online apartment finder and search by your desired area. This is helpful because you can input your maximum rent amount that you determined in the budget section above.

If the complex does not have their prices listed online, feel free to call to get quotes. Most likely, they will try to get information from you so they can follow up with you. It is literally the leasing consultant’s job to get your contact info from you. However, don’t feel obligated to divulge this information unless you want countless calls and emails from them. You can politely inform them that you are simply interested in the rates and not ready to provide additional information to them. This will keep the process from becoming overwhelming for you as you avoid calls every few days from each complex.

The easiest way to keep track of all the complexes you are looking at including the prices and amenities they have (as they relate to your must have list) is in a spreadsheet. For your convenience I have added a tracking sheet to my FREE guide to finding a college apartment download.

At this point, you will only fill out the first few columns including the community name, number of rooms, and the monthly rent cost.

Touring Apartments

This section is the longest because this is when you are getting into the nitty gritty of finding a college apartment. I have broken it down into even more sections so that you are not getting overwhelmed by each step included in the touring process.

Schedule Your Tours

Most student complexes don’t require tours to be scheduled but it is always helpful. By calling ahead and asking to schedule a tour, you are making sure that they will have availability. This also allows you to establish one point of contact through your entire process of finding a college apartment. Student complexes often have 4-6 leasing consultants working at any given time. This can be overwhelming and lead to many miscommunications if you are dealing with multiple people. My advice would be to ask who you are speaking to and when they are available to give you a tour (if they seem knowledgable of course). That way you can ask for them specifically when you arrive for your tour!

Looking for a new home can be stressful. My biggest tip for scheduling your tours is to spread them out. Ideally, you would only have 2 tours a day. Scheduling more can be problematic because some might go longer than others (the average is about 30-45 minutes). Since it is a stressful process, if you schedule more than 2, you will be in information overload and all of the complexes will begin to blend together. Also make sure to schedule them far enough apart that you don’t feel rushed at either. And bring snacks if you get hangry 🙂

What To Bring

There are a few things that you need to bring to your tour to ensure it is as successful as possible.

  • Government Issued ID
  • Something to take notes – even your phone
  • Questions

I was always amazed at how many people showed up completely unprepared for their tour. Some people even had to leave and come back because they forgot a photo ID. Be prepared with these three items and the process will be seamless.

psssttttt: be sure to grab your free guide to finding a college apartment so you have questions and notes prepared 🙂

During The Tour

This is the exciting part as you get to start seeing places in person. Odds are the leasing consultant will be chatting with you the whole time. They will give you a lot of information and a rundown of the community features as well as show you a model home. As they are giving you information, don’t be afraid to ask questions that clarify what they are saying. This is your chance to get as many answers as possible to your questions. I also recommend taking pictures as you are on the tour. While you can always see pictures on their website, they are professionally done to present the complex in the best light. You want an idea of how the complex is maintained daily. Pictures will also help you reference size and layouts of the apartments you see.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you are not just looking to check off boxes. You want to pay attention to how you feel while on the tour. Can you see yourself living there? Do you feel at peace or anxious? What was the vibe when you walked into the office? All of these are clear indications of how your experience will be if you decide to live there.

Questions To Ask

Asking questions while you are on the tour is the best way to get direct answers to any uncertainties you have. I have created a short list of questions that are a good idea to ask if they are not answered by the end of the tour.

  1.  What is included in the rent price? Are utilities, internet, and cable included? Is it furnished?
  2.  Are there any additional costs with the monthly rent? (i.e trash fees)
  3.  What does the application process look like? How long does it take and what fees are required
  4.  Do you have any special offers or discounts been offered right now?
  5.  Is there an online resident portal to pay or make service requests?

For a much larger list of questions to choose from, be sure to grab your complete guide for finding a college apartment to make your hunt easier!

After The Tour

Okay now you have completed the tour and have seen what the complex has to offer. There are still a few more things I recommend doing before you make your decision. After you are done with your tour, I recommend adding more detailed notes and finishing your spreadsheet. Below is an example of what my spreadsheet looked like at the end of all my tours. Fill out each complex’s information and write your final impression while everything is fresh in your mind. Finally, before you leave the complex, take a lap around the property. Again this will allow you to see what condition the property is kept in. This will give you a good idea for how things like maintenance requests will be completed as well.

Deciding On The Apartment

Now that you have created your lists and toured the apartments, you are coming to an end of your college apartment hunt! Now is the fun (and possibly most stressful part) : choosing where you are going to live. You have done all the ground work so now all that’s left is comparing options. Going off of your spreadsheet, you want to look at which apartments you toured that meet the most criteria off of your “Must Haves” list. You can also add in your “nice to haves” criteria if you’d like. Once you have narrowed it down to one or two apartments you can deep dive into the pros and cons of each complex. At this time you should also call to get any other questions answered.

Applying For Your Apartment

Awesome, you have decided where you want to live. Now let’s make it official! This process is pretty quick and easy as long as you have everything prepared. If you are able to take care of everything on your end, the complex can get back to you quicker with a leasing decision. I was always surprised how long people took to complete their applications.

Know The Requirements

Every apartment has a different set of qualifying guidelines. During your tour, you should have been informed of what these are. Be sure that you meet the requirements to lease at the complex. Often times these requirements are based off credit and income for student housing complexes. If you do not have any credit or bad credit – you will probably need a guarantor. This means you have to have a co-signer that meets the rental criteria in order to be approved. Also be aware of the application fees and when they are due.


The application process is typically the easiest part of the entire college apartment hunt. At this point you will fill out the complex’s rental application either online or in person. This application includes things such as your social security number, current address, a roommate profile (for roommate matching or requests), and financial information. If you require a guarantor, you will need their information as well. Typically, this entire process should only take 15-20 minutes to complete.

After the application is complete, you will probably need to provide proof of income for yourself or your guarantor. It is best to have your two most recent (at the very least) prepared to drop off or email in. This keeps the process moving quickly.

Signing Your Lease

This is a legally binding document that you most definitely need to read carefully. This includes guidelines for cleaning violations, parking rules, and guest policies. The lease will inform you of different ways you could be charged if you break any of the rules and the costs of damages caused to your unit. Basically everything you need to know will be in the lease. Take your time to read it when you are signing it.

Once the lease is signed and you have done everything on your end, the rest is in the property’s hands. They will do their final screening to verify you meet the income and credit requirements. Additionally, most complexes have a background screening for criminal charges that could prevent an applicant from being approved. After the screening results come back, you will be notified if you have been approved or denied.

In addition to the lease document, if the complex informed you they were running a special or offering a discount, make sure you sign the incentive agreement. Most times the lease only includes the base rent (without the discount) and the special is offered in a separate document since the discount frequently changes. You want to make sure you secure the deal that you were informed of!

Now that you have secured your apartment: the fun part is planning out how you’re going to organize it!!


Make finding a college apartment super easy with this guide!

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