So, you’re crossing the Big Blue and heading for the States! Before you go, you should definitely brush up on your knowledge of American Football, and Baseball, and maybe even Volleyball. Get ready to discuss deep and meaningful philosophies with your kooky new classmates, and be prepared for an encounter with everything that's SUPERSIZED (seriously- the food, the cars, the houses, the roads; Americans definitely don't do small)! America has an international reputation for providing an outstanding education as well fun, active and state-of-the-art learning environments, and you're about to find out why. Time to start exploring and uncover all the treasures your new home has to offer!
It pretty much goes without saying that studying in America is a really exciting opportunity, and choosing a university so far from home will allow you to break free from your comfort zone, enrich you with culture and thrust you into a society that will nurture and broaden your horizons. You are heading for the American Study Dream in the glorious Land of the Free, but delving so deep into the unkown can be one hell of a daunting prospect! As your leaving date draws ever nearer, you're probably asking youself (with more than a slight hint of panic): “Where am I going to live!?”
Firstly, DON'T panic! Didn't your Mum ever tell you that panicking doesn't solve a thing? You’re not the first international student to worry about this, and you certainly won’t be the last. The good news is that there are a whole load of people and tonnes of resources to help make this transition as easy as possible.
What are my options?
There are two options for international students looking for housing in the US: dormitories on campus, or apartments off-campus.
I feel bad for anyone who went to college & didn't experience the on campus dorms lifestyle— Adil A. Babar (@ONiiiFC) January 26, 2015
Let’s begin with dormitories, or “dorms”, as your new 'Frat' boys or preppy 'Sorority' girls would say.
Dorms are exactly what you think of when you picture an American college or university; large buildings, equipped with the latest and greatest facilities, where the majority of students share a room, bathroom and common area with a room-mate. Dorms vary hugely in design, but typically, two students share a room in a hall of about forty students; there are separate bathrooms for men and women and an area where you can all cook, or just chill and hang out together. Some Universities have pods, in which 6 or so students have their own room, but share a bathroom and common area. Honestly, dorms come in all shapes and sizes, so until you see it it's hard to know exactly what you're going to get. But no matter what form your dorm takes, living in one will provide you with a number of benefits:
- Built in social-life - you have a room-mate/room-mates and hall-mates
- Close proximity to college life - your dorm will be on-campus and close to dining halls, classrooms, social events, etc.
- Convenience – utilities are ready and waiting, furniture is (usually) in place, and your rent is built into your tuition fees.
Of course, like always, there will be a few disadvantages:
- It can be loud and rowdy, especially, it seems, when you have an exam the next day
- You might not love your roommate
- Dorms tend to be functional, not luxurious
Many colleges and universities provide on-campus housing for freshman, and some can provide it throughout all four years of your studies. Your university should provide information on dorm-life in your orientation packet. If not – ask for it!
On-campus dorms, off-campus apartments or a homestay...where will you live when you study inside the United States? http://t.co/pamuITWpgr— Int'l Student (@intstudent) June 28, 2015
If your university/college can't provide you with housing, or if you decide that dorm life really isn’t for you, you should probably consider applying for off-campus housing. Off-campus accommodation is a great option for international students as it gives you the chance to really make the space your own, become part of a wider community, but also get some peace and quiet whenever you might need it. Living away from campus gives you the chance to build your perfect home away from home.
Your College/University should have a Liaison Officer who is there to help you get settled in to your new home. This is exactly the person to ask about off-campus housing. You will want to know the following:
- Which are the safest neighborhoods in close proximity to the campus?
- What is the public transport system like? Does the university run a shuttle to any apartment complexes?
- What is a general price range for an apartment and what should I expect to pay for utilities?
- Can I have help with finding a roommate?
- Would someone be willing to look over my lease before I sign it?
Important things to remember when looking at apartments in the US:
- Generally, leases run for 1 year
- You will pay a deposit (generally one month’s rent) which will be returned to you at the end of the lease providing you don’t break the lease or cause undue damage to the property
- Utilities (gas, electric, water, cable, internet, phone) are almost always extra
- There may be additional fees, such as for parking, at some apartment complexes
- Before you sign a lease, check on appliances – where is the washer/dryer, stove, oven, etc.
- Many apartment complexes have great amenities like a pool or gym
Tips to aid your accommodation search
- As off-campus housing is a popular option (especially at the larger universities) it’s advisable to start your search early. Contact your university’s International Student Office and ask for their advice on how you should go about your search.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People will understand that you are new to the process and will want to make it easy and transparent for you.
- That said, while most people are kind and welcoming, there are some people out there who might try and take advantage of you. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never pay someone before you have actually visited the apartment they are advertising.
- Cragslist, Trulia, Uloop, and Zillow can be helpful websites, but be careful of scammers and try and get someone to go with you when you view apartments.
- Prioritize your needs, such as proximity to campus, a nice pool, budget, and then stick to it. Don’t be afraid to be picky but be realistic.
- And finally, DON'T PANIC! Even if you don’t have something set up by the time you arrive, keep in touch with your university and let them know where you stand. You will be able to find housing. Often you can find apartments that you couldn’t have found online just by driving around town.
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This really is the most exciting time of your life, but finding housing can, understandably, feel incredibly stressful. Focus on the wonderful times you’ll have as an international student in the U.S and strive to make those precious, lasting memories. Depend on the people that are there to help you, and know that if you stick to these tips, it will all work out in the end!