Navigating Off-Campus Housing

by Annie Ma | 7/30/15 8:14pm

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Jumping in to sophomore summer from an off-term in Pittsburgh, I expected to miss the bustle of the city, the freedom of empty evenings after work and the seemingly endless things to explore. But after six weeks back on campus and back in the dorms, I’m starting to realize that what I’m longing for the most is my dumpy apartment, broken heating and dingy kitchen.

There’s something to be said about the comforts of having your own space, which can be hard in the packed dorms we usually inhabit. Though the residence halls will likely dominate most of our college careers, a significant portion of campus has found a place to call home that isn’t a dorm over the summer term.

Summer term remains one of the most popular times to live off campus, but how does being away from the bustle of things change the way we experience Dartmouth?

For Olivia Bauer ‘17, living off-campus this term has opened up another social space for her. Sharing a house with a group of friends creates a tight-knit group to come home to.

“It’s just nice to have a space of my own that’s not on campus where I can socialize,” Bauer said.

Unfortunately, Bauer said that her house is located relatively far away from the center of campus. She and her friends started their apartment hunt at the start of sophomore winter, a solid five months before they would have to move in.

According to Kish Consulting & Contracting owner Jolin Kish ‘88 Th‘91, whose company provides rental housing to Dartmouth undergraduates and graduate students, that’s already a late start getting into the off-campus house hunt.

“What people need to know is that if they want to live off campus sophomore summer, they need to figure it out sophomore fall,” Kish said. “By the time a lot of people go home at the end of the fall, they know where they are living the next summer.”

Kish said that the longer people wait, the further away they will end up living. Knowledge of which houses are available frequently travels by word of mouth, she said, which means many properties are never officially listed in public postings. Instead, the current occupants tell younger friends who get first pick once they move out, which limits the options she has to show interested renters who get started late, Kish said.

“I have plenty of people asking about this fall, but I also have a lot calling about the 2016-17 school year,” Kish said. “To be honest, I don’t have that much to show them in terms of senior year housing because so much of it is already locked up, so that’s just a warning you should figure it out early.”

Kish said that when it comes to housing, regardless of whether it’s on - or off- campus, location matters. If you are located closer to where things are happening in any given term, she said, it will likely be a benefit for your social experience.

“For example, living down West Wheelock Street, that’s closer to summer activities,” Kish said. “But even during the year, some of the houses are more central that dorms that are actually on campus, depending on which one, so where you live is always shaping your social experience.”

Kish remembered her experiences living off campus as an undergraduate at the College, stating that the most notable change since her time was the availability of housing.

“Back then, undergrads took up every available spot in a one mile radius really quickly, so everyone who didn’t get it was much more spread out,” Kish said. “Grad students had to live really far away, and when I did grad studies at Dartmouth I lived 17 miles away at one point. It’s unheard of today, because they don’t have to since there’s so much more availability than 30 years ago.”

Nowadays, Kish finds that many of the properties she shows to prospective student renters are ones where she used to live. Like any undergraduate society house, she said that memories and miscellaneous items have a way of collecting over the years on these properties.

“Things that are left there kind of become artifacts of the house, part of its character,” Kish said.

Those living off campus often say that having their own kitchen and bathroom is one of the greatest perks of renting an apartment. Kish agreed, saying that the comforts of home and having control over your space was something that students will be hard pressed to find in the dorms.

The perks of your own space also comes with your own responsibility. Milan Huynh ‘17, who lived in an apartment while at Dartmouth for her freshmen summer, said that having to maintain her apartment’s upkeep made her appreciate how much was taken care of while living on campus.

“More than anything, I learned to appreciate what college custodians do for us,” Huynh said. “They’re literally the fairy godparents of the dorms and do so much, which you don’t fully appreciate until you’re independent and responsible for it yourself.”

Bauer agreed, and said that keeping a clean apartment required much more work than she expected. In the future, she said she will probably stay on campus.

Kish said that regardless of whether you choose to live on or off campus, it’s the people you surround yourself with that will have the greatest impact on your social experience. Part of what draws people to rent apartments is that they have more control of who they will be with, she said, especially because the housing process does not let you guarantee who your floormates will be.

“Would I choose to live off campus with randos? No,” Kish said. “You can keep your friends tight, which isn’t assured in the housing process. It’s a different lifestyle, but overall summer term just tends to be more relaxed. When I was here for sophomore summer, it was ‘Camp Dartmouth,’ it didn’t feel grueling, and all of that makes for a memorable experience.”