Even though it’s just the beginning of October, you should probably be starting to think about where you want to live next year. If you’ve decided to leave the dorms, you’ll need to find the off-campus location best for you — and soon.

Off-campus housing goes fast, if you couldn’t already tell by how many of your friends are asking themselves, “Where’s the right place for me?” If you decide not to start searching early, you may end up living in an apartment or house that doesn’t meet your standards. So as you look for off-campus housing, keep these tips and tricks in mind, so that you end up living comfortably for the 2015-2016 school year.

Find your roommates

I highly recommend living with your friends. Sure, some websites have a “roommate expert,” but how often do those sorts of things actually work out? Next thing you know, you could be living with a train-wreck. If you had a bad roommate while living in the dorms, I’m sure going into an apartment blind isn’t for you either.

It’s early in the school year, however, so get a feel for your friend group and pick from your closest friends for whom you’d want to live with for an entire year. This is the most crucial step in the process, so take it slowly and carefully.

Ask for recommendations

If you know any upperclassmen or students who have previously lived off campus, ask them where the best place to live is. They will provide valuable information on which places to avoid, which have the nicest rooms and which give the most enjoyable living standard. You may not actually look into what they tell you, but it certainly helps to have some guidance when looking for an apartment or house.

Utilize internet resources

There are many resources available online to help look for housing. Cribspot offers a bird’s-eye view of campus that reveals all of the locations that are leasing. With a price-range slider on your screen, you can narrow your options to what’s within your reach financially.

The University of Michigan also has a website dedicated to looking for off-campus housing, and it showcases some of the most popular living areas on campus.

Housing Ann Arbor also has a list of landlords on campus along with links to their websites, where you can find floor plans, pricing and amenities.

Organize your options

Once you begin to look at off-campus housing options, narrow down your options to about five places. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing off-campus housing, including:

Price
The most important factor in deciding where to live is price. Typically, the cheaper you go, the lesser the quality. However, there are some places where you can pay less while living large. These are rarities, but you may strike gold.

Space
Look at the floor plan. Once you’ve gotten the price range, find out what the actual apartments look like. Take into consideration whether you want your own room, which will likely cost you more. Also take a look at the living room, because if you ever plan to have company over, you’ll want to avoid a crammed hangout.

Amenities
Find out what is included with the apartment. Some rents include paying for utilities (water, electricity, internet and cable), which will eliminate the burden of paying bills on top of your rent. Other places will avoid slapping an additional parking pass fee on you and allow you one for free.

Aside from additional fees, many apartment complexes include social amenities: workout rooms, sun deck, billiards table and game room, etc. These make living off campus that much more enjoyable, but usually come at a higher cost of living.

Location
Location is everything. You won’t want to be too far from campus, or else you’ll feel stranded. Live near a bus stop or academic buildings if possible, making the trek from class and back that much easier, and allowing you to make lunch at home if needed. It’s also nice to live near restaurants if you don’t feel like cooking. Trust me: you’re going to end up not wanting to make a full meal.

Warning: If you live next to Back Room pizza, you will go broke. One-dollar slices of pizza three nights a week for two semesters adds up faster than you think.

Make your choice
With all these things in mind, it’s time to make a decision on where you want to live. Don’t fret, because it’s not as stressful as everyone makes it out to be. Once you’ve made the choice to live off campus, consult with your roommates to make sure you’ve made the right choice, read the lease carefully and patiently wait several months until you can move in. That’s when the real fun begins.

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