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First Apartment 101: Surviving Your First Year


If you think moving away to college is scary, trying moving into your first apartment in college! I moved into my first apartment my sophomore year, and while I definitely am in love with the freedom it brings, it does bring on a new set of challenges. Roommates, grocery shopping, signing a lease, and figuring out expenses are just some of the many things to consider when moving into your first apartment. Here are my tips for helping you survive your first year out of the dorms!

Roommates

When I moved into my first apartment, I chose my closest friends as roommates. While this sounded super amazing at the time, it actually failed epically within the first few months. Now, I live alone in a nicer apartment ten minutes from campus. This works better for me. I’ve found from both myself and other friends that rooming with friends isn’t usually the best situations. You never really know a person until you live with them, and while you might love watching movies with your friend on Friday nights, you might not like her habit of blasting music until 2 am. I think the best roommates are people you like but aren’t close friends with.

Your college Facebook page or housing website probably has resources for students looking for roommates. This is a great place to start your search, just be sure you meet with your prospective roommate first to make sure you’re on the same page about the important stuff. Here are some questions you should ask before moving in with someone:

  • At what time do you usually go to bed on weeknights? Weekends? While you may not think this is a huge deal, especially if you have different bedrooms, it’s always good to keep in mind. If you like to go to bed early, you probably won’t appreciate your roommate watching TV in the living room all night
  • Are you a clean person? If you’re a neat freak, you won’t appreciate a roommate that doesn’t know how to clean dishes
  • How do you plan to pay rent and utilities? I don’t mean for this to be an overly personal question, but a general idea of how your roommate plans to pay rent can help avoid a situation where he/she isn’t able to pay their share. Do they have a part-time job? Financial aid? Parental support?
  • How do you feel about having friends over? It’s important for your roommate and you to be on the same page regarding visitors. Do they have a significant other who will spend the night a lot? Do they host study groups after class?
  • Which chores do you mind doing? If they absolutely refuse to clean the bathroom, that might become an issue.

It’s important that you and your roommate are on the same page about the big stuff. If you don’t end up being best friends, that’s perfectly fine. The most important thing is that you are able to respect each other and your personal space.

Think Before You Rent

When I moved into my first off-campus apartment in college, I didn’t care about the landlord, the safety, or even the overall quality of the place. This was a huge mistake. My landlord ended up being unresponsive. I even overheard her bad-talking my roommates and I from my living room (on an occasion when she walked in with a maintenance guy without knowing I was there). The building was old and had an air conditioning unit which couldn’t be lowered below 78 degrees (IN FLORIDA?!) without risking a roof cave in.

To make matters worse, my apartment also had a spider problem that resulted in spiders living in my bed. I ended up getting bit, having said bite become infected, and having to take an emergency trip to the doctor. The final straw was when homeless people were living next to my bedroom. I could hear their conversations all night, and it made me feel really unsafe. Previously, the landlord used that area to store trash (no wonder there was a spider problem!) but the local homeless population had been spending nights there since she cleared it out. While this was clearly an extreme situation, it could have been avoided if I was vigilant in choosing an apartment in the first place.

Now, I have an excellent landlord who is very fair and quickly responds to any concerns. My apartment is in a new community and my neighbors are (mostly) considerate. I feel safe here, and though my previous apartment was within walking distance to school, I don’t mind the short drive. Here are some things to keep in mind when searching for an apartment:

  • Does the landlord seem reputable and available? Feel free to ask them about their number of properties and their history. A google search also could be useful.
  • Is the apartment in good shape? Check to make sure all basic appliances work, as well as heating and air conditioning (if applicable). Consider asking the landlord about the property’s history with pests. I always make a point to ask about spiders!
  • How long have previous tenants lived there? Most landlords are forthcoming with this information, and it’s definitely worth noting if the previous renter only lived there for two months.
  • Who is responsible for maintenance? Usually the landlord or association is responsible for taking care of maintenance requests, however, it’s always good to ask to make sure you know the proper procedure.
  • Do you feel safe? Would you feel comfortable being home alone here?
  • What is the overall environment like? Is this a quiet neighborhood or party central?

Budgeting

The biggest challenge that comes with moving into your first apartment is usually the finances. Depending on your lease, you’ll likely become responsible not just for rent but also for cable, internet, groceries, electric, and water fees. I personally believe it’s easiest to split all costs down the middle, but there could be situations where one roommate might pay more. For example, if you have the master bedroom and everyone else lives in closet rooms or shared rooms, then you might pay a little more in rent. These are numbers you need to figure out before you sign the lease. Consider downloading a money transfer app to make splitting bills stress-free (see below)! I recommend keeping a calendar in a central place like the fridge with a reminder for the due dates of all important bills. Designate one roommate for each bill whose responsibility it is to submit it on time.

Paypal/Venmo

When it comes to sending and receiving money for bills, I cannot stress the value of PayPal enough. I have been using Paypal’s money sending app Venmo since I began college two years ago. It works almost like social media for your bank account. Sending and receiving money is as easy as texting, and you don’t have to bother going to the bank or passing along a check to your roommate. I go to school four hours away from home, so Venmo makes it easy for my parents to send me funds for books or groceries every once in a while.

PayPal also makes it easy to do good with the PayPayl Giving Fund which donates 100% of proceeds to charitable organization such as Let Girls Learn and the Boys and Girls Club. Any payments through the end of August will receive a 1% match by PayPal. These charities are dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all children. PayPal makes it easy to discover and donate to new charities while browsing, so you should be sure to check out the Giving Fund for more information.

Moving into your first apartment in college is honestly so exciting! You’ll love the freedoms that come with living outside of a dorm, like cooking your own food and buying furniture! It’ll take some getting used to, but you’ve definitely got it under control!

What are your best apartment tips? When did you move into your first apartment? 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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  • I’m moving into my first apartment soon (next fall!) and I’m signing the lease in a couple of weeks. This was definitely a VERY interesting read, especially after hearing your apartment horror study. Yikes, I wouldn’t last more than a month in a place like that.

    Since I’m in a college town, practically every apartment has its flaws. To get a really good one, you’re going to have to pay quite some money for quality. I’m taking a note of the calendar idea and hopefully implementing it next year!!!