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The basics
THE USA: Student Accommodation

An essential guide to student accommodation in the USA

Our guide to student accommodation for international students studying in the USA, including the all-important "dorm", rough costs and more...

College dormitory room

Whilst living on American college is a unique cultural experience, it’s by no means your only student accommodation option. It’s also a lot less outlandish than what we’re led to believe by Hollywood comedies featuring pranks and parties galore! Let our breakdown of the basic accommodation options for international students in America help set the record straight and get your study abroad planning process underway. 


Tip: Accommodation queries might be something you want to ask a university about through our site, using the ‘Ask a question’ button.


Note: US$ 1 = £0.60 = €0.72



For undergraduate students at American universities, living in on-campus housing is the prevalent norm. Whilst to some the pull and bustle of US college life might seem a little bit intense, living on campus is a key part of the American student experience and students are advised to strongly consider it as a housing option.


On-campus accommodation is typically in the form of residence halls, where students will live in dormitories that are usually shared with another student. Some universities provide communal kitchen facilities, whilst others require that students purchase a meal plan that enables them to take their meals in a shared dining hall with their peers. Rental costs vary wildly depending on the location and nature of the property, and are retrievable via a university’s website. For example, in 2014-2015 the University of Pennsylvania will charge US$4,095 per semester for a room in Kings Court English College House, whilst a shared room with a communal bathroom at the University of Texas at Austin will costs US$ 9,272 per semester in the 2014-2015 academic year.


Most universities have an application process for on-campus housing that is submitted around the same time as a study application, in which students are required to outline their preferences for which hall (or ‘house’) they would like to live in. Each hall has a separate name, profile and specific characteristics: for example, one hall may have a common room on every floor for students to study on, whilst another many only have a small reception area and single reading room. Housing details and rent costs are retrievable via the housing section of a university’s website.


Tour of Potter Hall dorm room at Maryville University:


American college housing also provides each hall, or each section of a hall, with a resident assistant (RA): a 2nd or 3rd year student whose job it is to provide students with support and to supervise what goes on. These assistants often receive a small budget and sometimes use it to organise social activities intended to bring people together.


Some universities require that international students live on campus for the duration of their study abroad programme, and submit their housing forms as part of their overall application. On-campus housing arrangements will almost always be secured before you arrive to start your studies. 



Tour of a dorm at Iona College:




It is common for graduate students and some undergraduates to live in off-campus housing. It is also a more popular choice for universities located close to, or within city centres, and is generally a cheaper choice then living on-campus. Types of off-campus housing are most commonly share houses or apartments. Students pay rental costs to the university or an external landlord, and are specific to the location and property type. For example, monthly rent for a 3 bedroom, off-campus share house at the University of Florida is US$470 including utilities, whilst monthly rent for off-campus housing options at Washington State University range from US$75- US$800.


Many universities, such as the University of Maryland offer student support in finding and securing off-campus housing. Pennsylvania State University even runs an annual housing fair where students who want to live off-campus are able to meet with local landlords and property managers, whilst the American University, Washington DC runs an off-campus housing posting site and an individual consultation service for those who’d like more guidance.


Off-campus housing generally allots students more space and allows for a more independent college experience. With no RA, and facilities shared by only those living in the house or apartment, off-campus housing is generally more suited to older students.


There are a number of organisations in the US that specifically deal in student housing. Students are often also able to find housemates via these services.



Accommodation for students.com

'15 Questions to ask when looking for off-campus accommodation'


Renting privately

Students will also have the option to rent property privately whilst studying in America. However, prospective students should remember that not all universities are located in or near city centres, and so have limited options in the way of property externally available. For universities that are placed within jurisdiction of a local property market, students will need to conform to the rental arrangements as set by the state and particular agency. Very broadly, average rental costs in the USA for a small apartment, including facilities, is around US$ 160 per month. Cities with tight vacancy rates however cost much more: for example, in Minneapolis the average monthly rental rate is US$965.


Rental options are virtually limitless depending on your budget, and where in the States you’re based. Students will generally not be able to secure privately rented accommodation before they arrive to study in America, and so if pursuing this option are advised to research thoroughly and have a back-up plan and initial place to stay whilst they sort out their details.



Extra tips

When going through the housing section of a university’s website, be sure to check if there are student forums or names of former residents, student contacts or RAs you can contact. American universities are used to dealing with questions and concerns from prospective students and will be as accommodating as they can in helping you find a place to live.


If you’re planning on living in on-campus housing, take down the names of the halls you’d most like to live in and type them into a search engine: you’d be surprised just how telling the results might be. As well as coming across student discussion forums, reviews and photos taken by students, you might find search results from posts on social media from current or former residents. These posts may communicate day-to-day details of living in the hall, and can be the most revealing as to the experience of living there. If nothing comes up in your search, this is telling in itself: the sense of community in that hall is perhaps not strong enough to warrant a mention on the internet.


Now that you’ve got a more realistic idea of student accommodation options in America, why not start browsing courses in the USA now and plan your study abroad adventure?


Read more:

'Student living costs in the USA'

'Tuition fees in the USA'

'Student accommodation roundtable Q&A'

Study in the USA


'Study in the USA' eBook

Enjoy what you’ve read? We’ve condensed the above popular topics about studying in the USA into one handy digital book.

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