There are few moments that define a life change more than that instant you go from college student to college graduate. You're suddenly entering the real world with a real career and real responsibilities. As well, it might just be the first time you'll truly be living on your own when moving to your first apartment.
College dorms are — by design — turnkey and easy on the brain, so you can spend your time thinking about calculus and anthropology instead of keeping a roof over your head. It can be jarring moving from the comfort and community of a dormitory into a new place with neighbors and landlords and rent and responsibility, possibly far away in another city or state.
So, what can you expect when you shift from your last dorm room to your first apartment?
Moving to your first apartment means suddenly you're strapped with leases, services and monthly housing expenses you probably haven't experienced or thought about while in the dorm or childhood home. It can all be very overwhelming.
First and foremost, there's rent. At an average of about $9,000 per academic year, the cost of a dorm room probably isn't significantly more than your average first apartment. Even if you snag a roommate or two, that's few or several hundred dollars a month, every month, that you've never worried about before, especially if your folks or financial aid helped cover the dorm costs. But remember, that figure is strictly for the right to live in the building, not additional costs that may take you by surprise.
When your moving in your first apartment this weekend and not a dorm, what is this thing you call rent???? pic.twitter.com/8GJYHBz4Ur
— Liv (@olivia_holley) August 8, 2018
When living in a dorm, it's easy to not realize just how much the “and board" portion of room-and-board covers that must be accounted for in apartment living. You're probably already expecting that the biggest expenses outside of rent, will be the utilities you never had to pay for in the dorm like electricity, cable, internet, water and trash removal.
But there are more monthly costs you may have not even considered in an apartment like gas, renters insurance, pet fees, parking, storage, security, gym membership and even a landline phone. That can add up to several hundred dollars more a month very quickly. And we haven't even gotten to food.
One of the biggest adjustments in moving from dorm life to your own apartment is food budgeting, purchasing and prep. Eating in the dorm was simple. Most college students, even those that lived off-campus, ate from a meal plan. In fact, many colleges require a meal plan purchase.
Simply popping into a dining hall was easy — hand the cashier your card and take all the food you want almost like you're not even paying for it. And on the days you didn't hit the cafeteria, ramen and hot plate snacks were a cheap treat.
Now, there's no meal plan and no dining hall. You're in charge of your wallet and your grocery cart. A typical college meal plan costs about $18 per day, while the average bill of a single restaurant meal is $12.75. Obviously, in the real world, you can't eat prepared meals three times a day every day, so you're going to have to make adjustments.
If you don't know how to cook, it's time to learn … and budget. No one says you have to go to culinary school, though. You can learn a lot from YouTube for free. Make yourself a food budget based on your income and keep to it. Make a shopping list before you go to the supermarket and stick to it. Clean your dishes instead of piling them in the sink because there's no tray return window.
Feel free to eat out occasionally but within your budget plan. Be careful not to give into indolence regularly because if you go out to eat too often, not only will your wallet pay but so will your waistline.
The biggest benefit to dorm life is someone else did most of the cleaning, outside of making your bed and vacuuming a few square feet of carpet. Communal bathrooms, study rooms and common areas were all tidied up by university staff, often without you even knowing.
Now, that's your responsibility. Don't know where to start? Do a thorough Google search on what cleaning supplies you should keep around the house, and how to properly (and safely) clean your bathroom and kitchen. And keep up a regular cleaning schedule because mom won't help (unless you're lucky!).
— Victoria Lawson (@peachiikeenzzz) March 10, 2016
Most colleges correctly drill safety into your head, from watching who has access to your drinks to walking home at night, so it was easy to take home security for granted. Showing your I.D. or swiping a card to get into the dorm was an effective barrier to those seeking to do harm, and campus safety did regular sweeps of the area.
But on your own, you'll need to take extra care to stay safe. Safety is now an active issue for you, not a passive one. Be sure to lock your doors, keep an eagle eye on your keys, make sure exterior lights are working and being used and be sure you have working smoke (and intruder, if you can afford it) alarms and test them regularly.
But becoming an adult and securing your first apartment on your own isn't all expense and worry. It's also an amazing experience.
One of the great benefits of living in your own apartment is you get to decorate any way you want. This isn't dorm decorating, this is interior design! You had restrictions in the dorm on what you could put on ceilings or doors.
But in your own apartment, let your creativity run wild, both with your furniture choices and placement and what you decide to put on your walls. And if your landlord allows it, give those drab white walls a colorful paint job!
Another great part of apartment living is privacy you didn't have in school, especially if you're lucky enough to not have roommates. No sharing bathrooms, no dormmate's smelly clothes piled up in your living space. You can stretch out in your own living room in your pj's and binge "Love is Blind" with no judging eyes. And best of all, there's no R.A. lurking around to spoil your fun.
And now that you're on your own, all those college dorm rules no longer apply to you. No more quiet hours, inspections, restrictions on overnight guests, or curfews. Just be sure to be respectful of your neighbors, keep those ragers to a dull roar and take care of your exteriors and yard (if applicable).
With the right information and the right planning, your transition from living in a dorm to apartment living can be smooth and a whole lot of fun. The first step is doing a comprehensive search for exactly what you want, for what price you can afford.
You get to live wherever you want and have whatever amenities your budget allows. Be prepared for the costs of living on your own, but remember, you're getting a lot of freedom for your buck!