Six essential tips for finding student housing in the US

When searching for a student house or dorm room in the US it can be tricky to know where to start. Here are six essential things you need to know about student housing in the US

Helen Scarr's avatar

Helen Scarr

Freelance writer for
May 21 2021
Six tips for international students choosing student housing in the US


As soon as you’ve chosen which college you’d like to study at in the US, there is another big decision ahead of you: where to live.

Securing awesome student housing in a new city, even a new country, can be a daunting task. You want to make sure you’ve picked the perfect location, but also that the price suits your budget. Maybe you want to find a place to live among fellow international students, or perhaps you want to experience local culture and improve your language skills with American students – the choice is yours.

1. Choose which student housing option suits you

Types of student housing range from shared dormitory (dorm) rooms in university-run halls of residence to private apartments. Choosing what kind of room will work best for you usually depends on the availability of rooms and, of course, your budget.

A lot of international students prefer the social atmosphere of shared housing to help them make friends in their new city, but whether you want to share a college dorm with other students, rent a private apartment with room-mates or find a place by yourself, there are plenty of options available.

University dormitories
The easiest way to find a place to live as an international student in the US is to book directly through your university and stay in on-campus accommodation. This usually takes the form of shared or private rooms in catered or self-catered halls. The beauty of living on campus is that your classes are never a long walk away, but due to the communal nature of the residences, it’s usually always quite busy and bustling around campus dorms.

Staying in university housing is the most popular choice for first-year students, or freshmen, as it provides an easy way to meet people. (It may also be a university requirement for first-year students.) Plus, it provides you with an experience of the traditional American college lifestyle.

You can usually apply for a room on-campus via your university’s website, stating preferences such as catered or self-catered; single sex or mixed dorms; en suite or shared bathroom facilities or private or shared bedrooms. The university will try to match you with the most appropriate location, room-mates or neighbours.

Private student housing
A shared apartment is a great choice if you want to live communally with other students but with slightly more independence than you might have in college dorms. You can relish the privacy of your own bedroom while sharing the kitchen/bathroom/living space with your housemates and also often take advantage of some great resident facilities, such as swimming pools or cafes. If your budget allows and you want some added privacy, you’ll even be able to find your own apartment or studio within a student block.

Plus, private housing is usually located off-campus in a student-friendly suburb of your university town, giving you a new area to explore and call home. Make sure your housing is located within commuting distance of university, either by walking, cycling or public transport.

Most universities will provide international students with a liaison officer who is able to provide them with information on off-campus housing options. This should be your first port of call when looking for student housing.

It’s worth asking about the safety of various neighbourhoods and what the cost of utilities is likely to be. There may also be links on your university website to help you find vacant rooms in shared housing.

Best universities in the United States
Hoping to apply to a US university as a foreign student?
The cost of studying at a university in the United States
Scholarships available in the US for international students

2. Research the area and find the best location for you

It’s up to you whether you prefer to be in the middle of the action on campus or live a short walk or bus ride away from college. The great thing about living off campus is that you have a new area on your doorstep to explore yet you won’t be far from campus.

If you choose university residence, you’ll have easy access to all the college study amenities and no commuting costs to consider. Many students opt for on-campus university housing for their first year and then move into a private apartment or houses with friends for the remainder of their degree, once they know which areas appeal to them.

Before booking your new room in the US, get to know the area. Find out what restaurants, amenities, student hotspots and hang-outs are in the area, and decide whether the site suits your needs.

It’s worth also doing an online search to make sure the area you have in mind is student-friendly and safe. Your college should also be able to advise you on this matter. Also ensure that you will have access to public transport if you are hoping to travel around.

3. Pick a price that suits your needs

Student housing will be one of your biggest expenses at university. Whether you choose to save money on rent by living further out of the city centre, or spend a little more on a private, en suite room, making the right decision is important. University dormitory-style rooms tend to be the cheapest, but what you save in rent, you may pay for in lack of privacy. Opting for catered housing is often a good idea to save money as your meals will be provided, meaning you’ll (hopefully) eat out less.

It’s important to remember that it’s quite normal in the US to share a room with other students.

4. Picture your ideal experience and work backwards

Who you live with at university has a big impact on how much you enjoy your college years. If you are looking for a fun, social atmosphere, it’s a good idea to make this known when enquiring about a dorm, an apartment or a house share.

Do some online research to check out what the atmosphere and social scene is like in your housing of choice – student forums are great for gathering information from older alumni. There’s also the question of whether you might like to live with other international students or with local students. This is something you should make known throughout the search and application process, as ending up in a party house when all you want is a peaceful place to study is not ideal.

5. Get to know US student housing

  • You will need to put down a deposit on your new housing, usually of one month’s or six weeks’ rent, which will be returned to you when you move out, if the property remains in the same condition as when you moved in.
  • The cost of utilities (energy costs, internet, water, cable) will usually be extra in private accommodation, so you must bear that in mind when comparing costs. In university halls, this is generally included in your monthly rent.
  • Watch out for additional fees, for example for the use of parking spaces, laundry facilities or concierge services at some apartment blocks.
  • As an international student, you will need to ensure that you look for furnished accommodation, or order the furniture and appliances you need after you arrive (unless, of course, you want to ship these from home). Check that amenities such as a washing machine and fridge are included in your housing. Some housing options even supply bedding for students travelling from abroad.
  • Apartment blocks and university dorms sometimes supply access to facilities such as a pool or gym, which can save money for students who would otherwise pay extra for memberships.
  • Be aware of what safety features your accommodation has, for example, secure door entry, security personnel or CCTV in communal areas. This will give you and your family back home peace of mind.

6. Find your perfect student home

Your university website is a great place to start when searching for student housing in the US, especially if you choose to stay on-campus. There is usually an International Student Office, which will provide advice and guidance for international students, often including links to local rental listings or recommended letting agents.

This article was originally published on Study USA

Shorelight logo
Get free support to study in the United States

You may also like

Illustration of a book

Register free and enjoy extra benefits