Choosing housing is not easy, and it’s OK to feel overwhelmed making plans so far into the future. During my first year at Penn, I was allergic to uncertainty, so figuring out second-year housing was an intimidating prospect. At the time, I was living in Ware College House during the mold scare that led to some students being relocated. My parents implored me to find an off-campus apartment for the next year as soon as possible.
I am lucky to have lived in a popular off-campus apartment complex for the last three years, yet it has come with its fair share of personal challenges. I had the privilege and family resources to live solo. While liberating, living alone can feel just as isolating, especially last year, when all my classes were virtual. I’ll admit that I had to go home a couple times because the isolation was a burden on my mental health.
For advice, I would first encourage you to ask questions and explore your options. Look things up online! Ask older friends and family for guidance and roommate recommendations. For on-campus housing, check out the living options page of the Penn Residential Services website. For off-campus options, a couple helpful-looking resources I found include Penn’s Off-Campus Housing Website — featuring rent listings and a roommate finder — and BestColleges.com's Student Renter’s Guide, which outlines helpful pro/con lists and questions to ask landlords.
I would dissuade you from rushing into a lease without knowing what to ask a landlord/leasing office. I would also be mindful that leasing offices are incentivized to create a sense of urgency and scarcity in marketing their product to prospective tenants. Urgency and scarcity may activate our fear of missing out, and I would discourage fear from being the primary motivator of any housing decision.
As for when is the best time to sign a lease, that is up to you and when you find a place that fits your needs and your budget. Rushing into a lease for one person may feel like standard procedure for someone else. I'd recommend signing in the late fall or early winter if you find a place that works for you, but I'm no expert on the topic.
I also recommend touring the space before you sign a lease if you are able to. Treat exploring housing options as you would visiting a professor’s office hours: coming prepared with questions so you can make the most of your time. For instance, what kind of living arrangement would you like? Would you enjoy living alone so you have time to recharge solo, or would you prefer social interaction in your living space? If you decide to live with others, how many others? There are pros and cons to both living arrangements, yet I recognize that some people have more financial privilege in this decision calculus compared to others.
In my situation, I think I occasionally feel unfulfilled living alone because I am an ambivert (in between an introvert and extrovert) who decided to live alone sophomore year because I did know anyone well enough yet to commit to living with them. With my junior and senior years disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to stay put rather than take a gamble on a new housing arrangement. Personally, a part of me regrets my risk aversion and wishes I had invested more time in searching for potential roommates.
Some advice if you’re looking for roommates yet don’t know where to start: Muster the courage to talk to people about it! Message friends in group chats or on social media. Be specific about what you’re looking for. The only way people will know you’re looking for roommates is if you tell them!
As for living with people you don’t know beforehand, it seems like a wild card. You can mitigate the risk by asking questions about each other’s living habits, which will give you a better understanding of the other person. However, you may not realize someone's unexpected strengths and habits that are your pet peeves until you start living with them.
If there are any other stakeholders — such as parents or guardians – that play a role in your living arrangement, then be sure to consult these people before you sign a lease. They may also have valuable insight about how renting works.
I invite you to imagine your ideal living arrangement. Where are you? Are you overlooking the city in a High Rise or enjoying an off-campus townhouse? Is the place pre-furnished, or did you customize the place with your own furniture? If you have one, is the kitchen full of people or are you the master chef? What on-campus buildings or off-campus amenities do you live near? I prioritized living near the Platt Performing Arts House, a grocery store, and a pharmacy, which worked out well for me! Do you live solo, with friends, or with new people? When you wake up in the morning and return in the evenings, what do you want to experience?
All of these questions and more are worth exploring in more depth. There is no one single formula to make a good housing decision. Just know that people and resources are here for you (including from The Daily Pennsylvanian) to make your decision easier.
I understand that housing can feel like high stakes and that whatever decision you make will determine the quality of your next year at Penn, yet I think this kind of all-or-nothing thinking rarely comes true. We can take the long view and realize that we can change where we live from year to year if we realize something doesn't feel right. We cannot predict everything about a living arrangement, and it is okay to accept that you can't control everything.
I wish you luck!
JADEN CLOOBECK is a College senior from Laguna Beach, Calif. studying psychology. His email address is email@example.com.