The first decision that you need to make regarding housing is whether you will be living on campus or off campus. Some small schools and some schools in large cities do not offer any on-campus housing. These are usually referred to as "commuter schools" because all students need to commute to school everyday. Both living on campus and off campus have benefits. Read the information below to determine which is best for you.
One major benefit of living on campus is you will have easy access to everything the school has to offer. You can go to the libraries, the sporting facilities, and computer centers at your convenience. All will be within walking (or at least cycling) distance. Another convenience is the school cafeteria. Most schools offer affordable meal plans to students who live on campus, since on-campus residences do not have kitchen facilities. On-campus housing can also be cheaper, depending on where the school is situated. If a school is located in a suburban area, it may be difficult to find apartments close by. And if the school is located in a large city, you will find that it can be competitive and expensive to find any apartments at all.
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Another benefit of on-campus housing is safety. College campuses are patrolled 24 hours a day by the schools' own security forces. Living alone in an area with which you are not familiar may not always be the safest choice. A final benefit is the relationships you will develop by living closely with your fellow students. Not only will you most likely have a roommate, but you will also be surrounded by hundreds of other students. You will never be lonely, making the transition to a new country much easier.
Most university housing consists of dormitories, also called "residence halls." Typically two students will share a room. There will be one or more bathroom and shower facilities on each floor that will be shared by all students living on that floor. Some universities offer residence halls that cater to specific interests, such as an "international house" for students who want to learn more about other cultures. Often there are also halls for first year students only, for graduate students only, and for women only.
Some universities offer living options in addition to the traditional dormitory. These include facilities that resemble apartment living, where perhaps four students will share two rooms and a bathroom, and facilities that resemble a house, where each student will have his own room and be given access to a bathroom and kitchen. Find out from your school which options are available before making a decision. Note that sometimes the options for first year students can be limited, because continuing students already made their housing arrangements before the end of the previous school year.
Some colleges and universities do not provide on-campus housing. Still others do provide housing, but it is not sufficient (and therefore not guaranteed) for all their students. Often there will be an off-campus housing office to assist students in finding an appropriate place to live. The office will help students find a compatible roommate to share expenses and will also provide information about the local neighborhoods, including what restaurants, shops, and public transportation are accessible.
Many international students, particularly graduate students, prefer the independence of living off campus. They feel that it also creates fewer distractions and gives them more privacy. Sometimes living off campus can be more affordable, particularly if you rent a house and find several roommates to share it with. You will also find that food costs may be lower, since you will be doing your own cooking. (Having access to a kitchen is an added benefit for students who miss their local dishes.) Don't forget to calculate what you will need to pay for transportation and utilities, such as electricity and local telephone service, when figuring the cost of living off campus.
If you decide to live off-campus, it is wise to wait until you arrive in America before making any commitments, like signing a lease and placing a monetary deposit. You will want to see the houses or apartments you are considering and also the neighborhoods where they are situated before making any final decisions. Once you find a suitable place, make sure that you carefully read the rental agreement, or lease, before you sign it. Understand your commitments and responsibilities, and also understand the landlord's responsibilities and obligations.