Although it is only November, many students around the nation are pitching the idea of moving into an apartment to their parents and family members for the fall semester. With 15,000 on campus beds at UMass Amherst, any student that wants to stay on campus can usually be accommodated. However, many students want more space and freedom with some moving off campus sophomore year and others waiting until junior or senior year.
If your student is thinking about moving off campus, spring is the ideal time to begin looking. Most listings in the surrounding area become available between February and April for the fall semester. In other words, there is no shortage of off campus housing; it’s just a matter of finding the best fit for your student/budget. Although some leases are by semester only, many leases are for 10 months with some being for 12; which means that in some cases, students are responsible for paying rent in the summer and over winter break, even if they are not using the property. In addition, parents and family members are frequently required to co-sign leases.
For students and families that are ready to explore their off campus options, the UMass Amherst Off Campus Student Life website lists available rentals, sublets and people looking for roommates off campus. Staff can assist you and your student in finding a safe and affordable home away from home. Student Legal Services can review leases for free! Have your student take part in a SLSO Renting 101-102 session or a brief Take Time Before You Sign session at the Off Campus Student Center, Student Union 314. You and your student should also check out the Amherst Rental Registration page to learn more about the rental unit and view code violations and complaints related to the property before signing your lease: https://www.amherstma.gov/1887/Property-and-Complaints-Search .
Our son moved off campus in his junior year. It has been an experience that has posed challenges as well as positive life lessons. His first experience living off campus was at an apartment complex — in a small 4 bedroom apartment. [Heads up parents/families – Amherst has a no more than 4 bylaw meaning only 4 unrelated people may live in one rental unit. Make sure your student is #1) on the lease and #2) follows all the town bylaws]. Although quarters were tight, they were able to share responsibilities and make it work. During the summer when many residents were away, there was a fire. Fortunately there were no losses. Unfortunately most students, ours included, did not have renters insurance! Our son lost everything except his cast iron pan. Luckily, he had his laptop and some dirty clothes in his car! So heed this advice parents/families – get renters insurance for your student!
Transportation is another challenge with living off campus. The University has a wonderful, convenient, and easy to access bus system which is also available on weekends, though less frequently. The bus system is awesome if you are on or close to a bus route. The routes cover most of the immediate area, but there are some places, such as my son’s house, that don’t have a bus stop close by. So, alternative means of transportation must be found! Some students have a car which may be convenient, yet can be costly. On campus parking passes vary depending on what lot you buy for. The prices range from $255-$750 per year. Parking meters are super convenient though, $1.50 per hour which can be a good alternative to the yearly parking pass.
UMass offers several off campus meal plans as well. The program is called YCMP (Your Campus Meal Plan). Our son has the program which includes 65 swipes plus 125 dining dollars per semester which seems to work out well for him. This generally allows him one on campus meal per weekday. He cooks the rest of his meals at home. On average he spends $100 a month on food from the grocery store. His cooking skills are better than mine now!
This year, our son is living in a house with much more room and a great yard for his dog. Household chores are a topic roommates need to work out and agree upon. The landlord takes care of outside tasks and the roommates take care of inside. Being responsible for paying bills, shopping for shared household items, and cleaning are all good lessons to be learned. What works best for our son’s situation is that the tenants all do cleaning together once or twice a week, pay bills as a group, and manage their own food.
Although off campus living has its challenges, I believe the experience and lessons are an extremely useful stepping stone towards independence and adulthood.
Written by Pam Meoli – proud mother of a senior, class of 2017