Everything You Need To Know About Student Housing in 2024

by Jalen & Sarah Bromley
Student housing complex

Most people think college is a time for living cheap and roughing it, but even so, life gets expensive. 20% of students struggle with housing insecurity, and affordability problems are a major culprit. There’s no magic bullet to guarantee you’ll have an easy ride when navigating student housing, but cluing yourself up helps.

This article will all the important aspects of finding student housing, including:

  • Accommodation types
  • Upfront and ongoing costs
  • The renting process
  • Roommates 
  • Budgeting as a student
  • Leases

The in’s and out’s of the renting process 

You can’t make good financial decisions about renting as a student until you know what to expect from your accommodation. 

Below are the main aspects you should familiarize yourself with.

On-campus vs off-campus housing

Students can find themselves living in various types of accommodation. One of the main distinctions is on-campus versus off-campus housing. 

On-campus accommodation, like dorms and Greek housing, is typically reserved for first-year students. However, there are exceptions — for instance, at Harvard University, 97% of students live on campus. 

To boost your chances of getting a place, submit your application as early as possible since places are often first come, first served.

After their first year, students typically move to renting a place on the private market. This could end up being a cheaper or more expensive option — some colleges subsidize the cost of their accommodation, but in other cases market prices are cheaper.

Types of accommodation

Another aspect to consider is whether you’ll live alone or have roommates. 

If you live on campus, you’ll often be sharing a room with others in a dorm. When living off campus, you can decide to share or to live alone. But choose wisely!

Having more roommates can lower costs considerably. For example, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York is $2,115. But a two-bedroom apartment is only slightly more ($2,233) — meaning that if you share it with a roommate, you’d be paying just over $1,050. You can often access even greater savings if you have more roommates.


Even when you’ve committed to going to a college in an area, you’ll have plenty of choice over which part of the town you live in (unless you opt for on-campus accommodation). 

It’s important to research what you should expect from the rental market and where the best and worst locations are. Cheaper isn’t always better if it means living somewhere dangerous, so you’ll likely have to weigh up various factors. 

Tenant rights

A lot of this article focuses on the costs and risks you’ll encounter when renting as a student. But it’s not all bad news — as a tenant, you’ll also have rights.

These include the following:

  • Fair Housing Act: Prevents landlords from discriminating against tenants.
  • Right to a Habitable Home: Gives you the right to live in safe conditions and to forfeit a lease if the accommodation doesn’t meet this criteria.
  • Right to Your Security Deposit: Allows you to receive your deposit back as long as you return the house to the same standards

Depending on your state, there may also be a law that specifies when landlords are allowed to evict you. Generally, you’ll have to breach the contract for an eviction to be lawful.

Cosigners and guarantors 

Often, students sign their rent contracts with guarantors or co-signers, who take on some responsibility for the rent (despite not renting the property). Since students generally have limited incomes and credit histories, landlords may want additional reassurance they’ll be able to make their rent payments consistently.

Cosigners and guarantors fulfill this role by agreeing to pay if the student fails to do so. The two terms are typically used interchangeably. However, a co-signer shares equal responsibility with the renter, while a landlord will only go to a guarantor if the renter fails to pay.

Credit check

Often, when you rent a house, the landlord or property management company will carry out a credit check to assess how likely you are to make your rent payments. This is usually a “hard inquiry,” meaning it could have a slight negative impact on your credit score.

Considerations for international college students 

Moving out and living independently for the first time is stressful enough for the average college student. Navigating this as an international student is even more complex.

Since international students generally don’t have a credit history in the US, they may need to provide a larger deposit or a US-based guarantor. Since this can be tricky, it’s a good idea to check what support your college has available. There are also guarantor services, which act as a guarantor for a fee.

International students may also need to prove their eligibility to rent, student status, and financial situation with documentation.

How much does student housing usually cost?

As with all properties, student housing costs vary depending on where you live and the kind of accommodation you choose.

A study from InMyArea analyzed the average monthly rent of renting a room in different college towns. Unsurprisingly, rural areas in the South and the Midwest were the most affordable locations. The cheapest of all was Morehead, KY (Morehead State University), with an average cost of just $257 per month for a room. 

In contrast, California tops the list of the most expensive locations. In Santa Clara (Santa Clara University), rent is an astonishing $1,829 for a single room.

State by state breakdown

These are the average prices for renting a bedroom in each state:

  • Alabama: $612
  • Alaska: $787
  • Arizona: $922
  • Arkansas: $491
  • California: $1,542
  • Colorado: $1,164
  • Connecticut: $1,358
  • Delaware: $755
  • Florida: $927
  • Georgia: $882
  • Hawaii: $1,037
  • Idaho: $741
  • Illinois: $1,297
  • Indiana: $619
  • Iowa: $583
  • Kansas: $501
  • Kentucky: $613
  • Louisiana: $637
  • Maine: $822
  • Maryland: $978
  • Massachusetts: $1,808
  • Michigan: $730
  • Minnesota: $982
  • Mississippi: $533
  • Missouri: $735
  • Montana: $811
  • Nebraska: $646
  • Nevada: $736
  • New Hampshire: $931
  • New Jersey: $1,327
  • New Mexico: $616
  • New York State: $2,040
  • North Carolina: $721
  • North Dakota: $496
  • Ohio: $724
  • Oklahoma: $505
  • Oregon: $1,033
  • Pennsylvania: $1,034
  • Rhode Island: $1,262
  • South Carolina: $711
  • South Dakota: $534
  • Tennessee: $884
  • Texas: $912
  • Utah: $710
  • Vermont: $1,244
  • Virginia: $858
  • Washington: $1,445
  • Washington DC: $1,638
  • West Virginia: $552
  • Wisconsin: $861
  • Wyoming: $471

Ways to find cheaper student housing

To increase your chances of securing accommodation at a bargain price, don’t just limit yourself to scouring the internet. It might be old-fashioned, but some schools still use physical message boards. 

You may also be able to find relevant social media groups where people advertise rooms or apartments. These can sometimes result in bargains!

If you want to go all-out with cutting your costs, consider working as a residence advisor (RA) at your college.  The role often comes with the perk of free accommodation.

Upfront costs when renting

As if the figures for rent listed above weren’t bad enough, student accommodation also comes with a range of upfront costs.

You’ll generally need to pay a deposit worth around one month of rent when you sign your accommodation contract. This acts as an insurance policy to the landlord — as long as the property is in good shape when you leave, you’ll get your money back.

You’ll also have to pay the first month’s rent upfront. Combined with the deposit, this can be a painful hit to your bank account.

In some cases, there’s also a fee for submitting your application.

Ongoing costs when renting

Unfortunately, rent isn’t the only accommodation-related expense that will eat into your budget.

Another big expense is utilities (electric, gas, water, and internet). On-campus housing tends to include utilities in the rental price, but you’ll have to set them up and pay them separately when you live off–campus.

You may also want to pay renters insurance. This covers you financially if you encounter issues at the property, such as losing your belongings in a robbery or breaking your window at a crazy house party. However, the landlord should have an insurance policy to cover emergencies like floods or fires.

On average, renters insurance costs between $14 and $25 a month.

Finally, there are some miscellaneous costs you could encounter. Some landlords charge pet fees. If you have a vehicle, you may need to pay for a parking pass or garage since not all student accommodation includes an assigned parking space.

Roommate considerations

Your roommates can make or break your student experience — we’ve all heard the horror stories of nightmare individuals who never wash their dishes or do karaoke in the early hours of the morning on weeknights.

The roommates you choose can also impact your wallet since they’re the people you’ll be sharing costs and responsibilities with. Making sure they share your attitude about taking care of the house can help you keep your deposit (as well as reducing the number of arguments)

Splitting costs

It’s a good idea to discuss how you intend to split costs ahead of time to avoid arguments. For instance, is everyone going to pay an equal share of rent? Or will people who have bigger rooms pay more?

Don’t forget about the extra costs you’ll be splitting with roommates, such as items like toilet paper, kitchen roll, washing-up liquid, and laundry detergent. 

Some housemates create a shared bank account to buy these items. Others opt for a physical pot of money that people can dip into. 

Budgeting for student housing

Even if you choose the cheapest accommodation option in the smallest midwest college town, you’ll probably still need a budget to keep your finances on track. Besides, starting a budget as a student is a good habit to build for the future.

There are a few approaches to budgeting, but the basics come down to this. Work out your income and your expenses, decide how much of your money to allocate to different expenses, and track your spending to ensure you stay on track. Some people use a spreadsheet for this, but apps like Mint or YNAB automate the process to make it even easier.

A common rule of thumb is that you should spend a maximum of 30% of your total income on rent — and if you can get that number lower, it’s even better.

Emergency fund

When you’re budgeting, don’t forget about an emergency fund: A pot of money you set aside for unexpected expenses. No matter how great your budgeting skills are, events that you didn’t prepare for are bound to come along. An emergency fund means you’re always prepared!

To build this fund as quickly as possible, take advantage of any financial assistance and work opportunities available. Scholarships and grants can make a big difference — and don’t forget about aid from private sources and employer sponsorship.

What to consider when signing a lease 

When presented with a wordy contact, you might be tempted to skip to the final page and sign without reading the details. But signing up blindly for a rental contract can be a disaster, so here’s what to look for.

Type of lease agreement

There are three main types of lease agreements: Fixed term, month-to-month, and sublets.

On a fixed term, the contract specifies exactly how long you can stay in your accommodation from the get-go. For example, you might sign the contract for a year. If you want to terminate it early, there are consequences — so check for an early termination clause.

A month-to-month lease is more flexible and only locks you into a contract for one month at a time. If you want to terminate the lease, you’ll generally need to give about a month’s notice.

Subletting is when you sign a contract with another renter and not the property owner. In other words, there’s a middleman involved.

Early termination clause

If you agree to rent a room for a fixed period, you can’t just tell your landlord that you’ve changed your mind one day. An early termination clause outlines the consequences of doing this. For instance, you may have to give up your deposit or have an obligation to find a replacement. 

Many students assume they’ll never end up in this situation, but we never know what’s around the corner. You might suddenly decide you want to study abroad for a semester or face financial difficulties, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for and prepare for all eventualities. 

Subletting clause

Students often want to sublet their accommodation to others when they’re away for their vacation. However, you can’t do this unless your contract allows it.


If you have a pet you want to take to college, you’ll need to discuss it with a landlord. Many houses approve of pets, but you can’t assume this will be the case. As mentioned already, you may need to pay extra for your pet.


Finally, beware of potential scams. 

Here are a few telltale signs that an advert for student accommodation might not be as legitimate as you hoped;

  • Prices that are too low 
  • Photos with watermarks from other sites
  • Requests for money too early in the process (especially through Western Union)
  • Minimal information about the landlord online
  • Requests for personal information 
  • Spelling and grammar errors

FAQs for Student Housing

To round things off, here are some answers to a few common queries.

What questions should I ask when renting a student house?

Always check what is included in the rent (e.g., utilities), the terms of the lease, and additional costs for parking or pets.

Can student loans hurt you when renting an apartment?

Sometimes, a high student loan debt can affect you when renting an apartment. However, landlords are generally okay with student loans as long as you haven’t defaulted or missed payments.

Who is a guarantor for renting an apartment as a college student?

A guarantor signs your rent contract with you and agrees to pay the rent if you miss it. This is typically a parent or guardian.

What does no co-signers mean for renting a house as a student?

“No cosigners” means the landlord doesn’t let other people sign the rent contract other than the individual(s) renting. This means that full responsibility lies with the renter.

What ID do international students need to rent a house?

Typically, international students need a passport, student visa, and proof of enrollment in a U.S. educational institution.

How can a college student afford rent in NYC?

While NYC is one of the most expensive places to be a student, there are ways to make it work for you. Pay close attention to your budget, look for ways to find cheaper accommodation, and try to increase your income through work or financial aid.

Next step, student housing success

Finding the right student housing is a lot more complex than just signing a contract for the first place you see. You’ll have to consider additional costs, the terms of your lease, how you’ll manage your finances with roommates, and more. It can be stressful, but don’t let it take away from the adventure of your time at college!

If you’re ready to take a holistic approach to mastering your student finances, why not stick around? The Frugal Student mailing list sends out regular advice to college students who want to be smart with their money, so sign up today if that sounds like you.

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