Residence halls or rental market? Making the decision about where to live

October 30, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students at University Park — if deciding on which side of College Avenue to live is something you’ve been thinking about, know that your choice doesn’t have to be rushed or uninformed. Take time to consider what you want in a living situation, from cost to flexibility to responsibility. If the decision seems daunting, Penn State has resources to help you weigh your options.

Benefits and options of living on campus

Living on campus offers students many benefits, which is why the University supports the first-year residency requirement. These benefits also make living on campus a great decision for many upper-class students. There are five main reasons students should consider staying on campus after their first year, according to Jennifer Garvin, director of ancillary services in Housing and Food Services: convenience, safety, amenities, experiences and community/friends.

No location is more convenient than an on-campus residence. However, living on campus can also alleviate some of the stresses that may come with other housing options. On-campus residents do not have to worry about utilities and maintenance issues, for example, as professional staff is available to take care of these concerns.

In addition, upper-class students have more variety of housing options available to them: double rooms in both traditional and renovated residence halls, single rooms in traditional residence halls, single rooms with private bathrooms in Eastview Terrace, two-person and four-person suites in North and Nittany Suites, supplemental housing in traditional residence halls, and on-campus apartments in Nittany and White Course. 

Students who live on campus are provided with a safe and supportive environment. Penn State Housing and Penn State Residence Life work together to center the living experience around the student and to provide programming events and activities to keep students engaged in the community. It’s easy to find someone to hang out with or grab a meal at the dining commons.

Another benefit of staying on campus is not having to worry about the leasing contract extending for 12 months, like many apartments or houses elsewhere. This allows students to go home for the summer or during breaks, and not have to worry about covering rent.

One myth about on-campus housing is the looming deadline of signing and choosing where to live before October ends, or the myth that the University turns students away. All students who request housing to live on campus next year will receive an invitation. This means every student who wants to return to campus living will have that opportunity. The housing process was revamped in 2018, and the updated process provides a better experience for students to select a housing option as well as where they would like to live, based on housing options available when the student receives an invitation. A waitlist process is available for students whose first preference is not initially available; the waitlist provides a mechanism for students to be reassigned to other spaces before the semester starts.

Students can request housing between noon on Oct. 1 to noon on Oct. 31, or between noon on Dec. 1 to noon on Jan. 31, to be included in the process. Invitations are sent to students on Mondays and Thursdays in November and February. These invitations allow students to view available housing options. Students are not committed to live on campus until they accept the Housing and Food Service (HFS) contract offer.

Something all students should keep in mind is that signing both an on-campus HFS Contract and an off-campus lease is not the best option. When accepting an on-campus HFS contract, students are legally bound to pay the room and board charges, even if they change their minds and choose to live off campus.

To learn more about the on-campus housing process, students can visit Penn State’s housing website.

Benefits and options of living off campus

While off-campus housing providers may start accepting leases in October, there are still many options available well into the spring semester.

“The off-campus housing market can feel like a pressure cooker, especially in mid-fall,” said Kelly Mroz, director of Student Legal Services, who encourages students to stay calm and be thorough in their decision-making. She noted that, “Last year several apartment complexes offered their best financial incentives in the spring, so students who waited found some great deals.”

The off-campus market offers a wide range of pricing, which allows students to choose the option that best suits their needs. Apartments located further away from campus are often less expensive than those located downtown. For students who need to stay in their apartment during the holiday and summer breaks for jobs or internships, off-campus housing can be a cost-effective way to stay in State College year-round.

There isn’t so much a right choice between on- and off-campus housing, but rather what is right for the individual student. Off-campus housing typically provides students with more privacy but may require a student to accept more responsibility for things like paying the rent and cleaning the bathroom. Most off-campus living options include a kitchen, which takes more time than eating in the dining hall, but which allows students to cook meals at home and gives them greater control over their dietary choices and food costs.

The latest trend in housing is luxury. New high-rises popping up around town are offering amenities like in-apartment laundry units, on-site gyms, hot tubs and even coffee stations for those busy mornings. Sprawling communities located on major bus lines often include private bedrooms, swimming pools, community buildings and outdoor sport courts.

A variety of Penn State offices offer support to students who choose to live off-campus:

  • Penn State recently launched a listing service where students can search for off-campus housing, roommates, resources, and more.
  • Off-Campus Student Support can help students navigate their rights as a tenant or provide guidance in becoming involved in the State College community. They also host a CAPS Chat counselor to help students with things like roommate issues, stress or anxiety.
  • Student Legal Services provides free lease reviews for students who want to understand the contract they are signing.
  • For those students worried about budgeting their money while living off campus, the Sokolov-Miller Family and Life Skills Center offers consultations on financial skills.
  • For students navigating the opportunity to prepare their own food, Penn State Health Promotion and Wellness offers services to students by providing individual nutrition counseling.

More information

For more information and tips on deciding what type of housing is right for you, visit the Student Affairs' Living On & Off Campus webpage

Last Updated October 30, 2019