Updated September 6, 2022 • 6 Min Read

In many cases, becoming a college sophomore means more housing options are available to students — although some schools may not allow students to live off campus until they enter their junior year. In either case, students should know what their housing options are and how to handle off-campus life, if that's what they choose. This guide provides information to help students navigate housing after their freshman year and avoid common mistakes.

Life After the Freshman Dorm

After getting used to college life during freshman year, sophomores are sometimes ready to spread their wings and find what's out there besides the college dorm. The following are some housing options sophomores (or at some colleges, juniors) may have available to them.

Residence halls.

Continuing to live in a residence hall can be the easiest, most convenient choice for those advancing in their college careers. As students move into their sophomore and junior years, they may have more residence hall options, however. Some schools have living communities that students can choose based on their academic focus, culture, lifestyle or special interests.

Student co-ops.

Student co-ops are housing communities where students live together at a lower cost in exchange for participating in the cleaning and maintenance of the home. Students must meet certain criteria and be approved by the members of the co-op to move in.

Campus apartments.

Campus apartments combine the convenience of living close to campus with the independence of being outside of the residence hall environment. These apartment communities may have amenities like picnic areas, cafes and exercise facilities.

Fraternity or sorority houses.

Students who are members of a fraternity or sorority may want to immerse themselves in the group by living with their peers. These houses may have study facilities, exercise rooms and on-site laundry rooms.

Off-campus apartments.

Many students take the plunge of moving into their own apartments instead of choosing any type of on-campus housing. This decision provides more freedom and gives students the opportunity to get a real-world lesson in responsibility that will help them after graduation.

Living with parents.

Students who grew up close enough to their college may decide to move back home with their parents. Although it may seem counterintuitive, there are several benefits to doing this — not the least of which is saving money on expenses to keep college costs low. Another important benefit is that it's easier for students who live at home to focus on their studies, although the tradeoff is the arrangement can make it more difficult to participate in extracurricular activities and socialize with classmates.

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Avoid These 7 Housing Mistakes

Choosing different housing options can be exciting for students, but that enthusiasm can sometimes cause them to make the wrong decisions if they don't think everything through. The following are some common mistakes that students should avoid when making choices about housing.

  • Forgetting to create a complete monthly budget.

    Sometimes students who move off campus only think of budgeting in terms of paying their rent and utilities, but don't consider other monthly expenses they'll have. When creating a budget, students should remember to also factor in things like groceries, transportation and laundry to ensure that everything they need to pay for each month will be covered.

  • Moving off campus too soon.

    “Some people rush to move off campus the second they can because they think it's cooler or their friends want to. Students living on campus have higher GPAs and are more engaged. When you live on campus, most of your needs are taken care of and you don't have to waste time commuting, cooking and usually cleaning. It's also easier for you to get to campus resources like the library, your faculty, academic support, etc., so you're more likely to use them,” says Anne Brackett, former college residence life director and founder of coaching and training business Strengths University. “Maybe even more importantly, living on campus gives you access to know so many more people. As a freshman, I'm sure you made some friends, but as a sophomore you're just starting to come into your own. People's friend groups change over time. When you move off campus with one or two people, it becomes harder for you to meet other people.”

  • Not moving items out gradually.

    “A common mistake is not knowing when to take personal items home, in other words, moving out. We as humans always accumulate more items than we originally moved in with. To ensure that you're not overwhelmed with moving out at the end of an academic term, space out your moving,” says Theo Chunn, academic success counselor and coordinator of the Freshman Male Initiative at Winston-Salem State University. “Let spring break be the first start and continue to move items as you no longer need them, so when it's time to officially move out it won't be so overwhelming.”

  • Choosing the wrong location.

    While getting a good deal on an apartment is important, students must also factor in the location of their housing. If the location is too far from campus, the transportation costs may make the move too expensive. Also, students should make sure they feel comfortable where they live. Paying low rent will not make up for not feeling safe in their own home because they're in a bad neighborhood.

  • Not reading the lease.

    An apartment lease may be one of students' first exposures to contracts, and it's important for them to get used to reading these kinds of documents carefully. They should understand exactly what they're signing so they don't experience unpleasant surprises if problems arise during their tenancy. If there are items in a lease that students don't agree with, they should try to negotiate with their prospective landlord or find another place to live.

  • Choosing friendship over compatibility.

    “I have seen many students stop being friends when they discovered that while they loved each other, they just could not live together,” says Kathy Bush Hobgood, assistant vice president for student affairs and executive director of university housing and dining at Clemson University. “This can be avoided by being strategic about the choice of person and having good conversations up front.”

  • Living on credit cards and student loans.

    Although students can use loans and credit cards to help pay for their living expenses, this will have long-term consequences that don't make it worth the short-term benefits. In addition to paying interest that can make their future bills much higher, people may ruin their credit if they can't keep up with these larger payments on a regular basis.

Expert Q & A

It's important for college students to get as much information as possible to make the right housing decisions. To help students make an informed choice, we have asked the following experts to weigh in:

Anne Brackett, former college residence life director and founder of coaching and training business Strengths University.

Theo Chunn, academic success counselor and coordinator of the Freshman Male Initiative at Winston-Salem State University.

Kathy Bush Hobgood, assistant vice president for student affairs and executive director of university housing and dining at Clemson University.

Angie Strider, assistant director of business services for residence life, housing and dining services at Missouri State University.

What should students consider when deciding where to live during the school year?

Strider: They should consider what price point is right for them and the location. If they choose to live on campus, they also have to decide if they need an open or closed building over winter or spring break and if they prefer suite-style bathrooms or community-style bathrooms.

Brackett: Environment. Really think about what the best place is for you to thrive in college. Do you need privacy and quiet? Do you need to be in close proximity to friends to hang out and study? Do you need to be close to where you work to continue to afford to go? Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in what your friends and everybody else is doing and you forget what you really need and want in a place to live.

What influence does housing choice have on how well students perform in their studies?

Strider: Students who live on campus generally outperform those who don't. Students who live on campus are more likely to retain from their first year to their second, as well as more likely to graduate. I believe it is because of all the access to resources students have living on campus, from the 24-hour computer labs to study areas, and a community of their peers often taking the same classes to help each other get through. Even when the weather is yucky, students who live on campus can still roll out of bed 10 minutes before class and make it on time. These factors make it convenient to be a good student.

Hobgood: There is a strong correlation between living on campus and academic success in the form of GPA and retention rates to the institution. At Clemson, sophomores who live on campus average almost a half a point higher GPA than their off-campus counterparts. As an on-campus student, there is an ease of getting to class, moving around campus and being available for late evening study groups. It is not uncommon for off-campus students to feel more disconnected from campus and less likely to return to campus for evening speakers, events or to just hang out with friends.

What qualities should students look for when choosing a roommate? What can students do if they have conflicts with their roommates?

Hobgood: One common archetype of campus life is the thought that everyone should live with his or her best friends. That choice can actually sometimes be counterproductive. Socializing together is not the same thing as living together. Students should look for a roommate who is compatible and like-minded across some critical measures that make the in-room environment a good one for both people. Some of those measures include similar study habits as it relates to in-room study and creation of quiet times, depth of sleep and sleep schedule, light levels in room while sleeping, desired temperature in room and similarity of cleanliness standards.

Brackett: I think one of the most important things for people is to assume they will have conflicts with their roommates. When you think about it, why wouldn't you? When you live with your family there are conflicts, right? Understanding this will better prepare you for addressing things when they happen. Communicate directly with your roommate about whatever the issue is. Don't wait until they do something for the fifth time or you're studying for midterms. If someone does something and you don't say anything, why would they assume it's a problem?

If students choose to live off campus, what should they keep in mind while apartment hunting?

Chunn: Living off campus can be difficult for a lot for students, especially if they don't have reliable transportation. Even if students have reliable transportation, here are a few questions to ask:

  • What is the distance from campus to the apartment?
  • Is the apartment in a safe area?
  • Is there a community center that has computer accessibility and or printing just in case your personal computer or printer is not accessible or working properly?
  • Is there a shuttle that can transport students from the apartment to campus?

Strider: Shop around, as there are many options, and ask lots of questions. They should ask about things like deposit and application fee, whether furniture is included, what utilities are paid or not, amenities on property (such as pool, fitness center, business center, laundry, trash service, cable, internet/WiFi), parking/shuttle options, maintenance call response time and policies. It's also important to ask for a copy of the terms and conditions of their contract in advance to review.

What advice would you give to students about managing their living expenses?

Hobgood: It is critical for students and their family that help with expenses to be aware of the full cost of attendance. Each year a projected budget is provided on most university sites to help students to know their costs, but that can often be a minimum not a maximum. Aside from living costs, meal plans are also often a way to help control costs. The per-meal cost of an unlimited meal plan is almost half the door rate to come in to eat. Choosing the number that you will actually eat in a block plan is also a good tactic to pre-pay and guarantee your choices.

This is another area that has additional implications if one is choosing off-campus living. There is a fiscal interdependency to choosing an off-campus apartment with someone. Some off-campus groups have started doing individual leases that help protect students from that issue, but many still lease by the unit. That practice could leave one student holding the bag if a friend ends up changing plans or moving away.

Chunn: The one thing I tell students is to always think about worst-case scenarios, including, but not limited to car problems, needing to pay for books, having an emergency and rent due at the same time. Preparing for those things is the best way to manage your living expenses. Always be prepared!

What are the most important things that students should know about making housing decisions?

Brackett: Cost isn't just about money. It's about your time and your overall success in school. Living cheap doesn't do you much good if you flunk out because you're so far away you start skipping classes or aren't in a good environment to study. Living at home can be fine unless you feel isolated from campus life and end up dropping out. You have to know yourself well enough to make the decisions best for you — even if your friends are doing something different. You have to be realistic about finances and what you really need to be successful.

Chunn: Know yourself. If you are not that motivated to attend classes or be engaged, on-campus housing may be the thing for you. Living on campus is as important as it is the classes you attend. Don't grow up too fast. Understand that living off campus comes with a lot of responsibility. If you move into an apartment before you're really prepared, it may have a negative effect on your credit history.

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