Every campus is a little bit different in how they handle living and housing situations, but at Miami you live in the residence halls for your first two years before moving into an off-campus house or apartment with a group of your friends. The second half of college was by far the better part of my experience, and I think that was largely due to the bonds I formed with my housemates and friends once we were really on our own and sharing a living space.
That being said, it may have been the biggest learning experience I had in college (yes, even more than my studies…sorry Dad!) Despite what an independent adult you may feel like once you move into the dorm for the first time, you are secretly still being pretty well taken care of. Your common areas are still being cleaned by staff, you still have an RA nearby and on-call for emergencies, you’re likely living off of dining hall food and a meal plan, and you’re only genuinely sharing a space with one other person.
Moving off-campus was a huge wake-up call for most of us for a lot of different reasons, and there were definitely a lot of things that someone had told us prior to moving day. After chatting with a few of my housemates, friends, and younger girls about to embark on their own off-campus living situation for the first time, we’ve compiled a list of all of the advice that we wish we had been told prior to moving off-campus, so hopefully it won’t be as much of a rude awakening for you, too!
1. No one is going to clean up after you anymore. Seems like an obvious point at first, and if you’re an organized person like me, this seems like a moot point. However…putting this into practice is much more challenging than you might think, especially if you’re sharing a house or apartment with several other people. You aren’t the only one making a mess, and every person has a different style and approach to cleaning. Some girls opt for the “leave it in the sink until there is a pile, then tackle it all at once” policy, while other girls are ready to tackle that girl to the ground before she’s even finished using her plate. Obviously there are a lot of variables that tie into this point, but having a pre-planned approach to handling these different personalities and levels of cleanliness makes a huge difference. What worked best for us was a rotating cleaning chart – that way, everyone had one responsibility for the week and it was easy to know who hadn’t done their part!
2. Don’t fall for the trap of expensive and unhealthy foods. Exiting the meal plan/dining halls and being accountable for the first time ever in purchasing, preparing and budgeting out my own meals every week was much harder than I ever expected. It turns out, those unhealthy snacks you love so much actually also cost you a lot more, too! Needless to say, it did not take me long to learn how to fill up a cart with fruits, veggies and inexpensive grains to create a week’s worth of healthy and affordable meals. Be on the lookout for a post detailing the best & healthiest grocery list items, and some recipes to use them with…but in the meantime, this is one of my absolute favorites!
3. Now is not the time to exercise your decorating prowess. While this may contradict everything I typically say about personalizing your own living space, now is not the time to buy those adorable Anthropologie plates you’ve been eying for years, or that incredibly chic Pottery Barn Loveseat. The rule of thumb with home decor in college is to avoid purchasing anything that you would hesitate to throw away or sell for very cheap upon graduation. Save the major purchases and decor decisions for your first post-grad apartment, and stick to garage sales, purchasing from upperclassmen who no longer need gently-used items, and asking family friends if they have anything sitting in their garage/attic they wouldn’t mind finally parting with.
4. We pay how much for those extra cable channels?! Yep, that’s right – you and your friends, who have likely never paid a utility bill in your life, are now responsible for setting up and paying gas, electric, water, trash, cable & internet. Splitting these costs with friends definitely eases the financial burden, but creates a much larger one in the long run when you have the difficult money conversations with friends. The good news is, this is an incredibly valuable learning experience for the real world (and there’s a good chance your parents will still help you along the way while you sort it out!) The best way to approach this is to try and get ahold of what the bills were monthly for the previous tenant’s (if you can – try asking the landlord!) and deciding on a total estimate for what it will cost for each semester. Divide that among your housemates, and designate one responsible and willing girl to setup the accounts and manage the payments. (Recognize that this is a huge undertaking, and appreciate whoever steps up and handles it for you!) We created a separate checking account where everyone’s funds went into each semester, and paid each bill through that account. Find whatever works best for you, but make sure that you handle this step way in advance of moving in so that you have air conditioning, internet and hot water during that first week!
5. Divide & Conquer – One of the best parts of having multiple roommates is that everything can be divided pretty equally, which can be a huge cost-saver! Make a google document and cover all of the shared living spaces in the house, and everyone can sign up for which items they can easily bring from home or wouldn’t mind purchasing for your new place. Plus, it’s a great way to keep track of who brought what when move-out day arrives!
6. Choose different roommates. In the dorms, if you didn’t absolutely love your roommate, or even if you simply had different agendas for a Friday night, you could walk down the hall and find 20 other people to spend time with. In your house/apartment, you won’t have that never-ending stream of friends to hang out with. Choosing roommates with different interests will be invaluable, because you will likely spend more than 90% of your free time with those girls. Having the friend who loves to go out, the friend who likes to have wine + Bachelorette nights with you, your cooking buddy, and the friend you can always go to for advice all under one roof is the perfect recipe for your #squad to help you handle the stresses of being an upperclassman.
Like I said – off-campus living was by far the best part of my college experience, and it honestly feels like a completely separate life from my first half of college. There were some definite ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade the bonds I formed with my housemates for anything.
My house junior and senior year in Oxford!
My crazy, amazing, inspiring best friends and senior year housemates!
How does your college handle campus living? Did you live in just the dorms, or maybe a sorority house? What were your biggest lessons you learned?!
Don’t forget to check out my other favorite and most popular back-to-school edition posts, too!