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The basics
THE USA: Student Accommodation

Accommodation terms you should know in America

What terms and phrases do you need to know when organising student accommodation in America? Read our glossary guide to the essential terms which international students need to know when finding housing on and off campus...

girl in US student hall

When organising student accommodation in America, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. For most international students this will be your first time leaving your family home and living on your own, so you’re probably already a little nervous.

Once you actually begin to look for accommodation, you’re likely to come across some terms which you don’t understand. For example, what Americans call an ‘apartment’, the Brits call a ‘flat’. It can all be very confusing, and most of the time first year international students will be arranging this from their home country prior to arriving in their study destination – this can make things even more difficult.

Therefore we’ve put together an accommodation glossary of terms and phrases you should know while arranging where you’re going to live while you study in America:



Dorm – short for ‘dormitory’ and a more informal way of referring to a building which houses university students

“Co-ed” – Meaning both men and women (in the case of a co-ed dorm building, this would be a building which houses both men and women, though they would normally have their own floors and roommates would always be of the same gender)

Residence hall – a more formal name for a dormitory building



Also known as ‘private student housing’, these are accommodation options which are located off-campus and are managed by landlords independently from the university. A university will still have vetted these to ensure they are safe for students. However because students must search for off-campus accommodation independently, it can be difficult to navigate through the process.

Apartment – A private housing unit which only occupies part of a building (or an apartment building). Usually this will be made up of a reception room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

Dwelling – Your main or regular place of residence where you live

Inventory – A list of items, furniture and appliances which come with the property when you arrive. Your landlord will expect these to still be present when you move out.

Studio apartment – a smaller apartment which is combines a bedroom, kitchen and living room in one single room

Utilities – A collaborative word referring to electric, water, gas, phone and all other bills in addition to the property’s rent


Terms you might see in an advert:

Most find accommodation through adverts in local newspapers and online through sites like craigslist. These adverts usually contain acronyms and terms which can be confusing and hard to decipher for an international student. So below is a guide to what they all mean....

air or a/c

air conditioning

all appls.

major appliances are provided (refrigerator, stove, sink)


apartment (bathroom, kitchen, sleeping room)

bdrm or BR


1/2 bath

toilet and sink, no bathtub or shower

1.5 bath

a full bathroom (including bathtub or shower) plus a 1/2 bathroom




provided for the whole building


condominium, an apartment complex


deposit required


an apartment with one room for sleeping and cooking, plus a bathroom


an apartment that takes up the whole floor of a building or house


furnished (chairs, tables, beds, stove, refrigerator, etc.)

gar or prkg

garage or parking







no pets

pets are not permitted


or best offer


a single room


be responsible for the rent and lease of someone leaving


unfurnished (you provide your own furniture though some main appliances will be there)


utilities (heat and electricity)


automatic clothes washer and dryer are provided in the building


with, included


without, not included


monthly rent of $295


available August 1st (note, in America, the format for dates is month-day)



Your lease

This is essentially the agreement you sign with your landlord outlining the terms of your stay in the property. You should read this very carefully before signing because once you have signed it, it is very difficult to dispute anything in the contract. Something may not seem a major issue now but it might do later on during your tenancy.

The lease usually contains the following key information:

  • The amount of money you must pay per month and when this rent is due (note that US landlords expect payment by or on the due date; they do not come to you)
  • A security deposit (if necessary) – a fee (usually half your rent) up front to pay for damages to the apartment which may occur. This will be deducted from your deposit and what’s left will be repaid to you. If the landlord determines there are no damages, you get the money back.
  • Realtor fee (if necessary) – sometimes realtors want a cut of the buy (usually half your rent) but you can search for apartments with no fees to save
  • The length of the lease (most are at least 12 month long)
  • The utilities you are expected to pay
  • How many days notice to give before moving out
  • The rules to follow, such as no pets
  • The services the landlord agrees to perform, like yard work or repairs




Read our full guide to ‘student accommodation in the US’


Study in the USA


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