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Housing Options for International Students in the US

campus life
advice for students
culture shock
By Sakina Taher
Published on May 31, 2022

Where do you imagine yourself living in the US while you study at university? Whether you are sharing a dorm with your friends or staying in an apartment off campus, choosing a safe and comfortable place to live will have a big impact on your study abroad experience.

Two international students packing their vehicle in preparation for a move.

Once you choose which US university to attend, the next step is finding a place to live. Housing for international students is a big part of the study in the USA experience: Living in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere supports your transition into a new environment and offers a comfortable place to call home. There are multiple international student housing options you can choose from, including on-campus or off-campus dorms, apartments, and local homestays. 

Selecting your future home in the US requires careful planning and there are many factors to consider. Read on to learn more about your international student house options and how to know which best suits you!

International Student Housing

Accommodations for students in the USA is an impactful part of the study abroad experience. Living in a pleasant, safe, and comfortable home environment influences your physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, your academic performance, and your social life. 

Before you begin to consider your accommodations options, first start with overall requirements for housing for international students.

  • Monthly budget – Consider the cost of living for available housing options. Are the rent, utilities, commuting, food, and other expenses within your budget? 

  • Location – Think about convenience and safety. Living close to the university and having access to public transportation, grocery stores, and pharmacies is very convenient, but can be expensive. A secure neighborhood is important for your safety and provides a peace of mind for you and your family. 

  • Amenities – Check for the availability of high-speed internet, laundry, air conditioning, fully equipped kitchen(s), and other facilities you may need during your stay.

  • Duration of stay – If you will be staying off campus in an apartment or home rental, clarify the details of your housing choice with your landlord or homestay administrator — whether you are going to stay for a very short period of time, moving back to your home country for the holidays, or hoping to stay in the same home over the long run.

Every student has different accommodations preferences. There is no right or wrong answer in international student housing, the most important part is to find the type of housing where you will be most comfortable and satisfied overall. Carefully considering all the aspects of available housing, as well as speaking to an advisor when looking for a place to live, enables you to find the best choice for your needs.

How to Find Housing for International Students

There are many resources available to support your search for international student housing options, but here are a few important ones:

  • University housing information – One of the easiest ways to find accommodations for students in the USA is to discuss available options with your university. You may be able to book an on-campus dorm or apartment, or you might be directed to other options close to campus. Keep an eye out for spaces advertised on your university housing boards, and remember that these may be on- or off-campus choices.

  • Websites and social media – In addition to your university website, there are many online resources that list international student housing options available in the local area. Similarly, fellow students at your university may share information on their personal social media accounts about shared spaces and/or roommate requests.

  • Student advisors – A student advisor can guide you through the housing process. They may know of options based on your preferences, or connect you with students looking for roommates, if you would like to share a room or an apartment.

You can begin the search for an international student house before you come to the US, so that when you arrive you can settle in with ease. Once you arrive, if you want to change your dorm or move off campus, you may be able to submit a housing change request to your resident advisor. They may consider the reason for your request and, based on availability of alternative options, you may be able to move. Each university follows a different protocol for room change requests, so speak to your advisor to get a better understanding of how flexible the housing policies are at your school.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the types of housing typically available to international students. 

Types of Housing Accommodations for Students in USA

There are many types of student accommodations, both on campus and off. Some first-year students prefer living on campus, to familiarize themselves with the campus setting, have easy access to campus facilities, and stay connected with fellow students. (Your US university may also require you to live on campus for your first year.) Others may opt to live off campus to explore the local neighborhood’s cafes, restaurants, and recreational spaces. 

Here are the types of student accommodations you’ll likely choose from when studying in the USA.

On-Campus Dorms

Living on campus is one of the most convenient housing choices for international students. There are several benefits of staying on-campus — more opportunities for socializing; easy access to classes, dining and recreation facilities; rent and utilities covered in your housing fees. An on-campus dorm offers a traditional American college lifestyle experience. 

On-campus living spaces offer shared dormitories and shared living spaces like bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens. Some universities require their students to stay on campus for the first year. You can find out more about your university’s accommodations options and requirements by speaking with your advisor, reviewing your pre-departure orientation package, or visiting your university’s housing website. You will receive instructions on how to apply for a room on campus, typically through a student portal or via the university website. After you select your housing preferences, your university can match you with the most appropriate roommate and location.

Apartment

On-campus or off-campus apartments typically provide more independence and privacy than college dorms. Student apartments can be shared, or if your budget allows it, you can get your own apartment.

  • On-campus apartments – You can benefit from the advantages of having more private accommodations right on campus, usually with more space than a typical dorm. Living expenses are usually accounted for with on-campus housing, and you may choose your own roommate to live with, if your university permits it.

  • Off-campus apartments – Living in an off-campus apartment gives you more freedom and less structure than a dorm and/or on-campus apartment. However, you must take full responsibility for how your apartment is managed, including meals, cleanliness and maintenance, safety precautions, and monthly bills covering rent and utilities. In an off-campus apartment, you can choose your own roommate or even live alone.

Staying in an apartment requires overseeing more tasks compared to dorms. Most upperclassmen undergraduate and graduate students prefer apartments as they may have a better understanding of US culture and how to manage living alone compared to when they first arrived – or they may simply want more space and privacy compared to campus dorm life.

Renting a House

Another international student house option you can consider is renting a home. Usually off campus, houses in the US come with more space and flexibility. You can choose to live in a house:

  1. Individually or with your family – If you are moving to the US with your family or have the financial means to live alone, renting a house offers more privacy and space compared to apartments and student dorms. Check with your advisor or housing department of your university to find student and family-friendly neighborhoods close to campus.

  2. With your friends – After your first year, you may wish to rent a house with your close friends. Privacy and space depends on the number and size of the rooms, and how many students are sharing the house. Internet, utility, rent, and grocery costs can be split among roommates.

  3. As part of a fraternity or sorority home – These are social organizations where students become part of the group by living together in a house. Utilities and other house facilities are shared among all members and may be covered by your monthly rent contributions. Frat and sorority houses, also known as Greek housing, provide an opportunity to make friends, network, and live in a place with a sense of belonging. 

The cost and convenience of renting a house depends on how many people are living in it and your own individual needs. If you are outgoing, want to build connections, and like always having people around, pledging and joining a fraternity or sorority house may be a good fit. If you have a family and a reasonable budget, renting a house on your own may be a suitable option. 

Homestay

Homestays provide a supportive environment for students concerned about living and studying alone in a new country. Here, you’ll be placed with an American family in close proximity to your university. 

Living in a homestay is a beneficial option because it can: 

  • Create an environment for you to learn, understand, and adapt to a new culture

  • Ease homesickness, as you are living with a family

  • Give you the opportunity to improve your English-language skills

During your stay, you may have to follow some ground rules to maintain harmony in the household. Meal times, television viewing, internet usage, and cleanliness are some factors to keep in mind. A homestay coordinator may be appointed to manage your homestay experience and ensure both you and your hosts are making the most of this arrangement. Homestays encourage you to be open and flexible, can minimize culture shock, and can help you feel at home – even when you are far away from yours.

Decide Which Option Is Best for You 

When you study abroad in the US, your housing coordinator or landlord may request additional documents as a part of booking your accommodations. These may include:

  • Credit report – to verify your ability to pay monthly expenses

  • Deposit – some landlords request a specific amount of funds to be kept in an escrow account

  • University admission letter 

  • Passport copy

Take some time to evaluate which international student housing option works best for you. Housing options differ sometimes at college vs universities, so carefully consider how living in the potential space will affect your studies, social life, involvement in university or college extracurricular activities, and work life. Here are some additional factors to keep in mind.

Commute Considerations

Off-campus housing for international students may not be as close to campus. Consider a location that provides easy access to public or private transportation to the university, and other necessary locations such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and the post office. 

If you choose to stay on campus, most academic buildings, dining and recreation facilities, and student-focused amenities will usually be within walking distance or accessible via campus shuttle. 

Living Alone or with Roommates

When you arrive in the US, it may take some time to adapt to the student lifestyle. Living with a roommate who is in the same position as you can make it easier to share the challenges of transitioning to university life. Communicating your experiences and sharing advice gives you the chance to learn from each other, making the process of adjusting to your new living environment easier. 

Living alone can be more costly compared to living with a roommate, since you will be solely responsible for managing your home and paying the bills. If you are confident about living alone and need your own space, you may opt out of sharing your living space. You can benefit from more privacy, have full control of your room, how you organize and furnish it, use of amenities, and entertain friends. 

Price

How much you need to spend on housing depends on location, your preferences, whether you live alone or with roommates, and the type of student accommodations you choose will make a big impact on your housing budget. On-campus and off-campus living expenses can vary. On-campus housing options are provided by the university, where your housing fees cover most utility bills. 

If you are staying off campus, transportation costs, rent, food, and other expenses need to be accounted for in your monthly expenses. Living alone and taking full responsibility for managing your lodging, instead of sharing a place with a roommate, can also add to your monthly budget.

In some universities, on-campus housing costs may be higher than off-campus options. This may differ based on the area, facilities offered, and number of students allocated per dorm.

Carefully evaluate the pros and cons of each housing type as you make your decision. Certain factors that may not be a priority for some students may be important to you, so be sure to choose a housing facility that best suits your needs.

What to Do if You Cannot Find Housing

If you cannot secure housing immediately, do not worry! There are always many different housing resources to assist in finding accommodations in the US. The best way to get started is to speak to your advisor or a school counselor. 

Talk to the School Counselor

Your school counselor is experienced in supporting international students like you in finding housing in the US. With their knowledge of the local community, they can help you find alternate housing options that you may have not been aware of before. They may even direct you to international-student specialized accommodations that may be offered through the university or one of its partners.

Keep in mind that you can also reach out to a Shorelight advisor to explore housing options specifically designed for international students.

How Shorelight Can Help

Speaking with your Shorelight advisor early can help you explore housing options on campus or near your university to find your ideal home while studying in the US. Many Shorelight universities also offer housing designed to support international students in adjusting to their new environment, while also providing a convenient and stress-free living experience.

For example, in 2022, several Shorelight universities are offering students unique housing options for summer and beyond. These include various types of fully furnished rooms in apartments located close to campus, giving international students the chance to enjoy a comfortable life in their city with convenient access to their university. With these types of short-stay housing options, students can also benefit from discounted prices, career development programs, opportunities for summer internships, and much more.

Shorelight counselors are available to support you through your entire academic journey. After you apply to college, if you need further information on study abroad dorms, what to expect when you land, how to obtain a driver’s license if you live off campus, or additional guidance on managing your new life, advisors can clarify anything you need to know. In no time, you will be inviting your friends over to your new home!

Speak to a Shorelight advisor to explore your international student housing options >