Off-Campus Move-in Tips and Advice


Many families dread the day when their college student says to them, “I want to live off-campus.” Months later, they realize that their initial dread is being replaced by the “move-in day” dread. This often comes about a week before the actual move-in date. Some families might have worked hand-in-hand with their student from housing search to lease signing to planning for the move. However, it’s not surprising to hear that others feel out of the loop.

Regardless of which group you fall into, here are some quick tips and advice to make the off-campus move-in day a little less stressful for all. Feel free to share these ideas with your soon-to-be living off-campus student and let them manage the move.  

  • Be sure to work with the Off Campus Student Center to learn the ins and outs of being a tenant. Students can get certified to live off campus, search for off campus housing, learn about tenants’ rights and responsibilities, and so much more. 
  • Create a budget before searching for off-campus housing and stick to it. Unlike living on campus and depending on the property, your student will probably be responsible for utility bills, renters insurance, security deposit, and more. It’s also essential that they pay their rent on time. Some landlords may require direct deposit payment to facilitate that.
  • If you have the availability to look at the apartment with your student before signing the lease, it is highly recommended to do so, especially if you end up as a guarantor on the lease.
  • At the time of lease signing, be sure to determine if the landlord or property manager has set a date and time for moving in. It’s often the case, especially in apartment complexes, that there are strict limits, and some require a reservation. Don’t find out, when the U-Haul pulls up in front of the building, that your student can’t move in that day. Get it in writing!
  • If your student is moving in with other housemate or a friend, be sure all housemates fill in this housemate agreement which helps to determine the rights and responsibilities of all those who live in the apartment.
  • Work with your student to make a list of what they need and what, as a family member, you are expected to contribute. One word of caution — don’t over-stuff the place with a lot of furniture that might fit— but might not. Once it’s there, it’s even harder to get it back home. Here’s a good checklist to help get the process started.
  • Before moving in and start unloading the furniture and personal belongings, take the time to walk through the entire unit being rented. Try to do this with the landlord or property manager a few days before and inspect everything! Turn on faucets and flush the toilet to make sure they work. Look carefully at walls, floors, doors, and windows, fire hazards, etc. and make sure they are damage-free. This is the last chance to get the landlord to acknowledge any prior deficit conditions inside or outside of the unit. Create a punch list and have the owner sign it. Here’s a helpful inspection checklist.
  • Even if your student doesn’t think they need it, or they’re not that handy as a DIY’er, make sure they pack and have a few basic tools, including hammer, screwdriver set, different size nails and screws, metal wire, and scissors at their disposal. If the bed or other furniture needs to be put together, they’re going to need the tools. I sent my daughter off with a plastic bin of these esoteric items, plus a power drill and bits. A few weeks later she mentioned how glad she was to have them.  
  • Invest in a broom, dust pan, mop, cleaning bucket, and a few different cleaners and disinfectants.  Broom clean is not clean and spotless. They’ll be happy to have all of those items within a few days. 
  • Bring plenty of plastic food storage containers for all of the home cooked or take-out left-overs and label them. Periodically, your student should clean out the refrigerator. It’s better to do biology experiments in the lab than in the kitchen.
  • If they really do expect to cook, consider investing in a good set of kitchen knives, some utensils and even a nice sauté pan and 3-quart sauce pot with cover.
  • Almost as soon as your student is settled on the first day, make a point to encourage them to introduce themselves to their neighbors and to be a good neighbor while living there. Those neighbors may be a life-saver one day or night when something goes wrong, and the landlord or property owner is off-duty.  

If any legal issues come up off campus, remind your student about Student Legal Services Office (SLSO) which offers support in a number of housing matters, from providing legal information, to reviewing lease, to full representation. SLSO also offers Community Legal Education programs (Renting 101 & 102 workshops) to help students learn about their rights as tenants.

Encourage your independent living student to stay connected to campus activities by visiting the Off-Campus Student Life website and the events page.

Living off-campus is an exciting step and a big deal for your student. It may also be stressful for you. Good communication and planning will go a long way to reducing anxiety and stress and smoothing the transition from living in a residence hall to an apartment or house.

Patrick Hayes is the father of a sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.