As October comes to a close and the fall semester continues to fly by, juniors face the inevitable question of senior year housing. Since most students are not guaranteed on-campus housing for a fourth year, juniors are currently embarking on the quest for an off-campus home, and the surrounding areas offer a variety of options to fit every taste.
One of the primary decisions is between apartment living and house rental. While many students opt to move into an apartment for their final year at school, considering it a natural step up from the West-Campus experience, a substantial number of seniors also elect to rent houses in the area around campus.
When renting an apartment, seniors often go east along Lancaster to nearby towns, such as Bryn Mawr and Ardmore. This provides the benefit of staying relatively close to campus while immersing oneself in the Main Line area. In addition, living east of campus also provides convenient access to shopping centers, restaurants and popular bars. However, the advantageous location often means higher rent, and many seniors are still forced to drive to school despite the proximity to campus, especially when the apartment is not located near a train station.
Several options for apartment living can be found along Montgomery Avenue. College Hall, the Mermont and Mermont Plaza are owned and managed by Marks and Company; therefore, the complexes offer many of the same features and amenities. All of the apartments include a living room, dining room, den, washer/dryer, dishwasher and refrigerator. Utilities include gas, water and heat, and available high-speed Internet access. College Hall offers 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, with rent ranging from $2,040-2,250; the Mermont offers apartments from studios at $765 to 4+ bedrooms at $1,995; and Mermont Plaza provides studios at $860, up to 3-bedrooms for $1,395. More information can be found at marksapts.com.
Renting a house provides greater freedom, independence and privacy than dorm or apartment living, but it also comes with additional responsibilities, such as general repairs. In addition, many houses available to students are old and therefore necessitate more attention than recent models.
“Every day is an adventure because our house is quite old – you become much more conscious of little things that are involved in taking care of your house,” senior Christine Davis says.
Also, the majority of rented homes are leased by independent landlords, who collect rent and utilities and require renters to report any damages, repairs or alterations to the house. Therefore, it is beneficial to remain on good terms with the landlord in case of future problems. Renting a home also may require contact with service providers, such as cable/Internet hook-up, as such responsibilities often fall on the renter. The cost of rent and utilities for rented homes varies more than apartments, as pricing often depends on the landlord as well as the location, size and condition of the house.
Davis, who rents in Havertown, says that renting in lesser known areas can save money on rent, while still remaining close to campus: “The area where we live is really nice. It’s a cute neighborhood.”
Conshohocken offers another location for renting houses. Although it is further from campus, the area provides more options for affordable housing while still being within an arm’s reach of stores and services. Senior Laura Klatka rents in Conshohocken and says her house has a great deal of space and less noise. However, the location also means that keeping in contact with other friends and visiting Main Line hotspots can be more challenging. Renting a large house with several roommates can provide a constant flow of fun, but also runs an increased risk of roommate conflict.
“Choose your roommates wisely and go over ‘house rules’ and stuff before you sign the lease,” Klatka recommends.
Consistently popular among seniors are the apartments and townhouses at Kingswood. Similar to the Montgomery Avenue apartments, Kingswood is run by a company, Morgan Properties, which is in charge of bill collection and maintenance.
“It’s much more organized and they handle complaints quickly…[it’s] a lot more systematic and complaints get heard a lot easier and answered pretty quickly,” says senior Bobby Pencek, who currently resides at Kingswood.
The complex offers apartments ranging from studios at $720 to two-bedrooms at $1,140 and three-bedroom townhouses for $1,650-$1,700, all of which include a living room, dining room and balcony or patio. Unique to this complex is access to community amenities, including a shared fitness center, playground, pool and on-site laundry facilities. According to Pencek, Kingswood also offers nine-month leases as alternatives to the usual 12-month lease, which can save money if renters go home for the summer. However, such benefits come with a trade-off, as the King of Prussia location can become an issue for those who frequent the more popular bars and restaurants on the Main Line.
“You can’t walk there from Kingswood, so you have to worry about getting a driver,” Pencek says.
Whether moving into an off-campus house or apartment, several common adjustments must be made. Although students look forward to living away from RAs, there are new responsibilities that come with living independently. A major change from housing on campus is the concept of paying monthly rent as well as utility bills.
“You have to find out what you’re responsible for,” Pencek advises. “We pay our own power bill and cable bill.”
Paying for Internet access is becoming a great concern, as the student population is increasingly dependent on the Web.
Another often overlooked issue is the need to furnish the entire living area. While all on-campus halls and apartments are equipped with a bed, desk and dresser, such furnishings do not come standard with off-campus housing. Pencek recalls making a trip to Ikea upon entering his “bare house” at the beginning of the semester.
Seniors also cite the commute to campus as a new obstacle that involves careful planning. Off-campus living often means leaving early for class in order to compensate for potential traffic and the search for a parking space. In addition, the commute forces many seniors to stay on campus for extended periods of time in order to consolidate trips. Some seniors go to the library in between classes rather than commute back-and-forth several times a day.
Finally, opportunities for on-campus social activities are also harder to come by for those living off campus, as the senior class typically does not have a universal gathering space in the same way each of the other classes has a common housing area.
“I do miss the convenience of all my friends being in the same apartment or at least the same campus as me,” admits Davis.
Villanova’s Office for Residence Life offers numerous resources related to off-campus housing, which can be accessed on their Web site, reslife.villanova.edu. Among these features is a comprehensive listing of available housing options, ranging from single rooms to entire houses for rent in areas surrounding the University. This service has proven helpful; both Davis and Klatka found their off-campus housing through these online listings.
While Residence Life is eager to assist juniors in their search for future housing, they also recognize that it is the student’s responsibility to review lease agreements and contracts associated with renting. Therefore, juniors are advised to thoroughly investigate housing options, since overlooked information can make or break a rental.
Many seniors agree that housing decisions must be taken seriously.
Pencek acknowledges, “It requires you to be more grown-up with your finances and make sure that you have enough money in the bank.”
“Make sure you get to know the landlord and can trust him or her because you will be in contact often especially if things go wrong in the house,” Davis firmly recommends. “And it’s essential that you have open communication with your roommates to make decisions about the house.” In addition, although there are several off-campus options, affordable housing is limited, so it is as good idea to start searching early in order to find an ideal living situation at the best available price.
Although there are challenges in finding and maintaining an enjoyable living situation off campus, students tend to look forward to the independence they achieve while living on their own, and most seniors enjoy the experience.
“Don’t be too stressed out by the search,” Davis says. “It will be worth it, and once you find where you will be living, you will have so much fun in your new home!”