Housing for College

Parent Q&A

  • Our senior has been accepted at 3 of the colleges he applied to but he is still waiting to hear back from 3 others -- we assume that will happen later in March. In addition we still need to visit two of the 3 colleges he has been accepted to, and we're doing that on Spring Break first week of April. So he hasn't decided yet which college he wants to attend, and probably won't until after the April visits. In the meantime he has been getting emails from the colleges that have accepted him, telling him to apply for student housing now!  I've heard that one of the schools, Humboldt State, has a shortage of student housing, and the other colleges stress that early birds get better choices.  I'm worried we should be reserving housing now, even though he hasn't decided yet if he wants to go there. But I don't even know if we can do that if he hasn't accepted the admission offer yet. Or is the student housing thing generally OK to put off until late April when he decides which college? Or do people accept at more than one college so you can apply for housing early? I am not sure how this works!

    Why not ask the colleges?

    At Humboldt I think he's guaranteed housing if he's in one of the PBLCs (small learning communities for freshmen in STEM majors). If not I still think applying for housing in April should be fine. Note, the Canyon dorms may be better than the Hill dorms (Sunset and Redwood) which are crowded and lack common area. Don't request a triple in the Hill dorms even though it's cheaper - the rooms are really small.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Housing purchase for college student

Feb 2009

My daughter is in a 5-year professional program at an Eastern college. Dorm and dining costs are extremely high. Real estate is much more affordable than in the Bay Area. I am considering buying an apartment/condo/townhouse for her to live in.

One option is to get a 2 BR/2bath so she can have an apartment mate. The monthly mortgage payment would be less than what we're paying in dorm fees, and she likes to cook her own meals, which would also save a lot of money. Does anyone have experience doing this? If so, what are the pros and cons and what should I be mindful of? Is it worthwhile budget/tax-wise to own it just for the duration of her studies and then sell? Is it best to buy and keep after she graduates? Will having the apartment affect herscholarships, grants or financial aid? Thank you! Prudent Mom

I knew someone who did this. She bought a house that her daughter and several room-mates moved into. She was a real estate agent and knew the market and expected to hold the property as a student rental for many years. It sounds as if you are getting financial aid already. It's possible that incurring new debt will not adversely affect that, but it's something you should absolutely talk to your financial person about. This is a pretty depressed market all over the country, even if prices seem good to you compared to the Bay Area. Holding property for only a few years is not a winning proposition in a deep recession, so if you do buy you might want to plan on holding it for a longer period. My daughter is in college in a location that is also much less expensive than here. She moved off campus in her junior year and her rent was cheaper than the dorm; if housing is cheaper where your daughter is, it stands to reason that rent would also be cheaper. My daughter worked two work-study jobs and we saved a considerable amount on room and board. I'm making the assumption that you don't already own income property. There are a lot of hidden costs in owning a rental, and you may not be able to recoup your money in the near future. Only you can decide whether the details will add up to a financially wise move. anon

Living at home during college

May 2008

My daughter will live at home while she attends CAL starting fall. We live in Hercules and she will commute using public transportation. We made this decision because of finances and the outrageous cost of dorms.

I am worried though because some people are telling her she will not make friends (because people from the same dorms hang out) and she will feel cut off from college life in general.

It also feels like it is almost a given that kids ''go away'' to college these days and there is peer pressure to do that even if you live close enough to commute, and maybe it's not cool to live at home.

Is this true? I don' want her to suffer and wonder if I should take out even more loans to make dorm living possible for her.

Any thoughts/experiences appreciated.

There is a lot of peer pressure to move into the dorm; living at home is not cool! However, there is nothing to guarantee that the dorm experience will be good. One of my kids loved the dorm, the other hated it. I think a dorm year can be helpful in making friends, but it is not necessary. If yours doesn't live in the dorm, I think it is important to make time for extra-curricular activities. It is possible to make friends in class, but it is easier in a club. Also (and I know it is not politically correct to say this) race matters. Although my kids were willing to make friends with (or date) people of any race, the other races were not so open. The subtle but pervasive racism and the miserable disgusting cafeteria were real downsides to dorm life. anon

Of course living in the dorms is nice but don't take out more loans. It will be better for your daughter in the long run if you do not. Try to get her to sign up for some extracurricular activity that she has an interest in, a sport or music or whatever. There are millions of clubs and things she could join. This will help her to make friends.

My daughter joined the Cal band and it has been great. Also, with your financial situation she should be able to get work-study. Help her to find a job that is fun and where she will meet people. Do not let her sign up for more than 13 units the first semester so she can figure out how to put this all together. There are also study groups arranged by the campus study center (I forget the exact name) and if she is willing to explore that she will find friends in the same classes and so on.

I had one daughter start Cal last fall and have another starting this fall. Though my older daughter lives in the dorms, her FRIENDS are people she met in band and at work.

Please treat her like an adult and give her lots of privacy, that will help. Believe me, I have to make a special effort not to be nosy. Let her come and go and don't intervene unless she breaks house rules, flunks out, or looks like she is getting in to some sort of trouble.

My younger daughter was determined to ''go away'' but after watching her sister, reviewing her options, and coming to terms with the fact that this is the #1 public university and she loves the Bay Area, she seems delighted, finally, to stay. works at Cal

I don't have experience with this as a parent yet, but I do have experience with it as a professor and advisor. LOTS of college students live at home, usually because they/their parents can't afford dorms, or because the parents are not comfortable with them leaving home (most common among immigrant parents). These are great kids and will become great friends for your ''kid'' (and s/he will also make friends with students in dorms). I would encourage your student to join several clubs (cause they might not all click) and to form study groups in classes (great way to make friends and to do well in class). I don't think it will be a problem as long as your student is reasonably outgoing (or able to reach out to others, even if that's hard sometimes). best wishes

I lived at home for one sem. in college. I was 2 miles away. I lived upstairs with my 91 year old grandma who farted, snuck (sp?) cigarettes and drank peach brandy mayGodresthersoul prayforherJesusMaryandJoseph. I hated it. Yes, you do feel disconnected and so I went out of my way to spend as much time there as possible. Slept over when I could by crashing at friends. Couldn't wait to live on campus. Yes, you are denying your child the wonderful, one-of-a-kind experience of living away from home and not living on or near campus. It makes a huge difference. In addition to the whole social aspect, getting help is also more difficult. None of those impromptu late night study sessions, or just wandering over to the professor's office to ask a question. And what about sex and alcohol? Mom and dad in the kitchen put a real crimp in that good wholesome fun. Got to learn it sometime and that time is at college; away from the 'rents and on campus with your cool friends and professors doing exciting and interesting things, going to parties, getting drunk and laid.

Suggestion: have your child pay for their room. Tell them that's the deal, you want to live on campus, we can afford to pay for food, tuition and books, you pay the rest. I paid for my own college ed., all of it, and I was happy to pay the extra to be on campus. It's not that much after all; my daughter pays about 10k a year for room and board so room is maybe 6 or 7k a year. Well worth it. She can pay it back over a few years.

There's a reason the expression is BIG MAN ON CAMPUS. Who ever heard of BIG MAN OFF CAMPUS? And even if your daughter is not the BMOC type, is a wallflower, then being on campus will be even more important to draw her out from behind mommy's apron and into the real (okay not so real) world of campus life. sean

Congratulations to your daughter on having the academic skills and having done the hard work needed to get admitted to Cal Berkeley! You have every reason to be proud of and want the best for her. So please, please don't go further into debt because of the upper-middle- class naivite of some of your daughter's friends telling her she ''won't make friends'' outside of a dorm! It is also their immaturity of thinking in terms of high school type cliques--college offers so much wider a range of interesting people to interact with than just the people who happened to be assigned to your dorm!!

My daughter--of whom I am also very proud, because she is succeeding in attending college despite multiple learning disabilities--lives at home in Berkeley and is delighted to be able to commute by BART to City College of San Francisco--a community college--which has an excellent photography department--her intended vocation. She is just completing her first semester, has made friends in each of her classes, and is interested in becoming involved in a couple of the 60 or so student clubs as well--and I'm sure there are at least as many such clubs at Cal Berkeley!! This is despite the fact that her boyfriend is not currently a student, and she spends a lot of time with him as well. The point being--that of course your daughter will be able to make friends at school, even if she doesn't live in a dorm, and can ''hang out'' with those who have similar interests-- and if she really wants to be part of such a general ''hangout group,'' when she makes friends with someone who lives in a dorm, she'll probably be able to join with her/his hangout group. By the way, at least one ''old friend'' has also made fun of my daughter for ''living at home'' while going to college, as she has reported to us with contempt--''His mother just buys him anything he wants.''

I have fond memories of my own ''away at college'' experience, especially from my junior and senior years. But college, housing and food were a lot less expensive then (tuition was $2200 my senior year at an Ivy league school), and I graduated (in 1971) without a penny of debt despite needing to pay tuition with a combination of 5 scholarships, plus working junior and senior years when my parents stopped paying for food and rent because they didn't like my political activities. This left me with the freedom to choose the lower-paying work I really wanted to do without having to pay back loans to a bank or to feel obliged to pay back my parents (who wouldn't have had the money to lend anyway). This is a greater gift you can give to your daughter than to respond to the insecurities of some of the friends who are ''advising'' her. Joan

Fear not! Your daughter will be fine living at home during college. She will make friends. Yes, she won't make friends in the dorms. But then again, not that many students do. First of all, roommates tend to be a nuisance. You have to put up with them the entire year and rarely do you make friends with them. In any event, you usually make friends outside just to get away from them.

The reality is that a lot of college students live at home, have families, and work. Your daughter is fortunate enough to be going to Cal and living at home. She can join clubs, get involved in study groups, talk to students in class, etc. and make a lot of friends. Will she be able to have friends over at 1 am on a week day night to party with, probably not. But then again, she'll probably be sleeping or studying at that hour anyway. She can always go to the dorms to hang out with other students if she wants. Anon

As the parent of two kids who went to Cal, one of whom lived at home and another in the residence hall (as freshman), I found that it didn't make a difference in how many friends they made. They both made friends from their classes and from the activities they pursued. For the one who lived at home, I did buy a dining card so that he could eat easily on campus for lunch and often dinner with other students.

They made their best friends in:
-- Relatively small classes (for instance the freshman seminars, less common languages, and D-Cal courses that are student run, such as folk dancing)
-- Student clubs (there are a zillion from political, to community service, to music, to creative anachronism)--they signed up for more than they could do and tried them out dropping the ones they didn't click with
-- Club and intramural sports (official school teams are very time consuming)

They went through rush but decided that greek life was not for them, but many students find that to be an affinity group they like,

So, I would encourage your student to dive in and enjoy-- there's way more than any student will ever be able to do there! Another Cal parent

Part of the college experience is living away from home, not only meeting new people, but learning to become more independant and self sufficient. Having 2 daughters currently in college, I would suggest that you discuss the foinancial implications with your daughter, but find out how she feels about living home. Commuting students often do feel left out and that they are missing out on a large part of college life. Especially at such a large school as Cal. It is difficult to meet people and many freshman connections are made in the dorm that continue for the duration of the college years. Based on my personel experience and that of my kids, I definitely would suggest you rethink your decision. mom of 2 college students

On late to replying to this, but after reading some of the posts I felt compelled.

I never lived in the dorms when I went to college. The first year I lived at home and commuted. I made friends in class and hung out with them plenty after school to do projects, fun, etc. I transferred far away my second year and moved in with my boyfriend (who wasn't at school). I also made plenty of friends in class and just being on campus. I also had a job off-campus and had friends from there. I went to one dorm party my first year and thought, ''wow, this is really weird, glad I don't live here.'' It just seemed wild and out of control and somehow surreal. Who really needs all that experience partying? Who says that has to be part of the college experience? As we know there can be very dire effects from all that beer-chugging (the guy who was just killed at a frat party in Berkeley is one!).

I think if you and your daughter decide to some house rules then let her do her thing, she will feel more independent. Maybe at some point she will meet people she will want to share an apartment with (though in the BA that is so expensive). As far as making friends, it's hard not to if a person is even somewhat friendly. I like the idea of clubs, and other shared activities as a way of making friends.

I'm sure she will be fine living at home. not a dorm liver

Off-campus rental situations for freshman

Feb 2007

To college parents still subscribed: our UCSB freshman daughter recently secured a lease for off-campus housing in Isla Vista - the details are vague, the roommates are mostly unidentified and the number of people on the lease seems to be excessive for a 3-bedroom duplex, of which my daughter has her own room. Yet, the deed is done, and the deposit paid, though I suspect that the single rooms subsidize the overcrowded, possibly illegal arrangement. And we are responsible for a 12-month lease, though she won't be occupying the room for the summer. I am assured by daughter and a couple of other contacts that this is perfectly normal. Any opinions from Santa Barbara parents? The lease agreement has some pretty strong language and I'm concerned about liability, particularly when daughter is not there to protect her (our) investment. Great to see parents on the tree who have graduated BHS, lots of stuff still of interest. Thanks! Cathy

The 12 mo lease sounds normal, since off-campus rentals cater to the general public as well as the university crowd, ie they will probably have students & non-students, won't discriminate based on university enrollment or other factors. We lease 1/2 our home to a wonderful couple -- the husband attends Cal & the wife is a professional, works out well. We leased it out last August and there was a flood of people desparatley looking for housing before the school year started. Your daughter may have taken the sketchy housing deal because she didn't secure a good location early enough?

If you want to check into whether or not the place is over capacity, check with the city's rental board.

To be honest, it sounds like you're very concerned about your daughter's potential mistake in securing good housing. If it turns out to be a costly mistake, perhaps you can let her take responsibility for it? It may seem like a large cost now, but she has to learn these lessons sooner or later, better to learn it on a $5k (or whatever) lease than on a million dollar home later, right? raising kids who can read the legalese in a lease

I'm not familiar with UCSB, but I can give you a few thoughts on off-campus rental housing based on my own situation a few years ago, and the experiences of some friends.

First, it is standard to get a 12-month lease, even if no one is living in the place over the summer. Maybe your daughter and her friends could sublet? The sublet really only works though if one or two summer residents are also school-year residents: you do need someone who cares about the state of the house there to keep order. If none of the school-year residents will be around over the summer, don't sublet.

As for the liability, is the strong language protecting only the landlord? Or does it spell out what the renters and landlord are each responsible for? If this landlord owns a lot of properties that s/he rents to students, s/he has probably seen a lot of pretty horrific property damage, and is trying to guard against that. Wear and tear a little beyond normal (we're talking about students, after all) is probably going to be acceptable. It is quite unlikely that any of the security deposit will be returned, but also quite unlikely that your daughter & her friends will be held responsible for any expenses above & beyond the amount covered by the security deposit.

A couple additional thoughts, both positive and negative about the arrangement. It sounds like a pretty normal rental situation for a college student, which is to say that it probably seems great to your daughter, but is below a standard of living you might like to see her have. Has she been living in a dorm room? If so, then what seems overcrowded to you might seem palatial to her, especially if she has her own room! There are also a lot of good life skills to be learned in a rental property that you can't get in a dorm, particularly financial: paying bills, buying toilet paper [it doesn't just appear on its own! amazing!], agreeing on whether or not the house can afford cable TV, etc.

I hate to end this on a negative, but your daughter's vague answers to some of the details sound a little fishy to me. If she doesn't know (and therefore you don't know) who exactly is living in this duplex, she should figure it out immediately and tell you. Or tell you WHY they don't yet know who is living there. As you get closer to the start date of the lease without knowing the other renters, the chances that you & your daughter are in for a nasty surprise (increased rent or undesirable housemate, for instance) increases.

This could be a good thing for her, but I also think you're on the right track by checking the details a little more closely. a supporter of off-campus housing