When faced with tuition costs and textbooks, the ability to afford rent can seem like a pipe dream. However, college students have more options than they may realize.
Whether you’re thinking of living in on-campus housing or renting an off-campus apartment, you’ll face many of the same challenges. And it may not be enough to rely on a personal savings account or help from your parents.
Let’s review the ten best strategies for poor college students to afford housing costs.
1. Live at Home or With Family
For many college students, this may seem like the worst option. As a commuter student, you’ll need to get up extra early for your morning classes. Plus, this housing option can be hard on your social life.
However, it’s impossible to deny the financial benefits of living with your parents or other family members. Any contribution to household expenses will likely be much less than the costs of having your own place.
A 2019 report from Sallie Mae revealed that 42 percent of college students live with their parents. That’s a sum of the six percent who pay rent while staying with their parents and the 35 percent who live at home rent-free.
Rates of living at home are higher among students attending a community college. For students attending a four-year public college, there’s still 31 percent of students living with parents.
Interestingly, rates of living at home are higher among students who did not take out student loans. That indicates that students are using their living arrangements as a way to pay for college while avoiding the long-term burden of student debt.
2. Get Roommates to Split Rent
For students living on-campus or in off-campus apartments, having more roommates usually means you’ll pay less rent.
For example, the 2020 median rent for a one-bedroom is $961 per month. For a two-bedroom, the median rent is $1,192, which would be just $596 if splitting it with a roommate. That’s a 38 percent savings!
Savvy college students can further reduce their living expenses with additional roommates. Couples or close friends can live with two people per bedroom, further reducing the rent that each individual pays. Plus, some apartments have extra rooms that could be used as bedrooms.
3. Stick to a Monthly Budget
When in college, it’s easy for monthly expenses to get away from you, and you could be left without enough money to pay your rent at the end of the month.
By creating a workable monthly budget, you’ll know how much money you have available for each of your expenditures. Be sure to include your fixed costs like your rent, phone bill and internet bill. Establish monthly estimates for bills that fluctuate such as utilities and groceries.
A budget item that’s unique to college students is semester-related costs such as tuition, textbooks and lab fees. These costs can mean you’ll have major bills to pay at the start of the semester.
Your financial aid award or work-study income can help offset some of these costs. However, your budget can help you be prepared for the months when you’ll have these major expenses.
4. Offset Housing Costs with Work Exchange
A great way you can lower your housing costs is through work exchange.
For students who live on campus, becoming a Resident Advisor in the dorms commonly includes full room and board. Requirements for the position usually include living in the dorm for at least one year. So if you pay on-campus housing costs as a Freshman, you could get hired as an RA and have free housing for the remaining three years of college.
You can also use work-exchange to reduce rent when living off campus. However, opportunities are less formalized, and you may have to use some negotiation skills. Simply figure out what your landlords need help with and what skills you can offer.
For example, you can make an arrangement with your landlord to lower your rent if you mow the lawn, shovel snow or perform small maintenance tasks. If you live in a larger apartment, the property management company may need help with their website and social media presence.
5. Use Student Loans to Pay Rent
Whether you’re living on campus or off campus, student loans can be used to pay for housing costs.
When living on campus, the fund allocation between tuition and housing happens behind the scenes. As long as your costs are covered through loans, scholarships or other payment methods, you’ll be good to go.
For off-campus housing, you’ll have to be more hands-on with using loans to pay your rent. Typically, student loan disbursements are issued directly to your college. After your tuition and other school-related fees have been paid, you’ll receive the balance of your loan money as a direct deposit.
This student loan disbursement usually happens in one lump sum after the start of the academic year. This means that if you don’t receive your student loan money until mid-September, you’ll need to be prepared to pay out of pocket for your security deposit and first month’s rent.
Then, after your student loan funds are transferred to your bank account, you’ll have a lot of money on hand. Just remember that this cash will need to last for several months of rent payments.
While most college students are trying to avoid the long-term financial burden of student debt, keep in mind that paying for housing with student loans is not the worst possible option.
When tight on cash, some students may opt to pay their rent using a credit card. Typically, interest rates on credit cards are much higher than student loans. The average student loan interest rate is 5.8 percent, but the average interest rate on student credit cards is 19.8 percent.
6. You May Qualify for Government Assistance
There are a few different ways you can get government assistance for your college housing costs.
For veterans and service members, the GI Bill covers tuition and fees, and it includes a housing allowance and textbook stipend.
Section 8 housing could be an option for college students, however, there are limitations. If you’re under age 24, you may need to reference your parents’ income information on your Section 8 application. The traditional income requirements apply to college students who are over age 24.
College students can also get help paying utility bills from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Section 42 is another method to reduce your housing costs. Rather than paying the market rates for your housing, the program limits your total rent and utility costs to 30 percent of your monthly income. There are restrictions on eligibility. For example, the program doesn’t usually apply to full-time college students who live alone or groups of students living together.
7. Leverage Academic Success for More Funding
How well you perform in your classes can determine your eligibility for scholarships, grants, and fellowships. With GPA requirements being a common qualifier, the higher your grades are, the more financial support you’ll be eligible for.
Not only can you use scholarships and financial aid to avoid additional student loans, but they’re also a common way to help students pay for living expenses.
Savvy college students are making small investments in their academics and seeing dramatic improvements in their grades. For example, a OneClass subscription can cost less than $10 per month with an annual subscription. With millions of college students using the platform, more than 90 percent have improved by at least one letter grade.
This dramatic GPA improvement can help you to qualify for thousands of new scholarship opportunities, which can help you pay your rent.
Improving your grades can also have financial benefits in the future. It can help you score internships or land job interviews after you graduate. Good grades could also help you to get noticed by your professors, who can help introduce you to helpful contacts in your field.
8. Get an Easy Side Gig to Earn Rent Money
College life is busy. That’s why the best side gigs are ones that don’t require massive time commitments.
Side gigs such as driving for Uber will require you to put in the hours in order to earn enough money for rent. However, there are better student gigs that will pay for the things you’re already doing.
In our guide to hacking college debt, we rounded up some of the best gigs for making money with minimal time investment. For example, some apps will pay you for tracking your steps, making it an easy way to monetize your fitness habit. You can also get paid to play video games with apps like Twitch.
You can also get paid to go to class. As a OneClass Official Notetaker, students earn an average of $470 per course for something they’re already doing — taking class notes. Class notes can be either typed or neatly written, and the majority of notetakers find that their own grades improve after becoming a paid notetaker.
9. Become a House Sitter or Pet Sitter
House sitting or pet sitting is a great option for free to low-cost housing. However, you will need to remain somewhat nomadic as you schedule a series of gigs throughout the semester.
Your academic circles can lead you to house sitting opportunities. Professors could take sabbaticals and grad students may take research fellowships.
Additional house sitting options could come from snowbirds or people who have multiple homes. For example, when retired people are spending their winters in Florida or Arizona, their vacant property could become your affordable housing.
10. Find Low-Cost Housing During Breaks and Summers
Students may also be able to find low-cost housing when many students are not taking classes.
For example, when students go home for the summer, they may be subletting their apartments, and rates are commonly much lower. Plus, college campuses offer gap housing to students who want to live in the dorms during breaks or after classes end.
These options won’t be a permanent housing assignment, but you could score a living space for much less than a typical apartment rental.
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