A 5-Step Survival Guide for Life Off-Campus

The transition from life on campus to life in an apartment or house is a pretty big one in its own right, but luckily, Her Campus has you covered with the five most important things to keep in mind when you decide to venture off campus.
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When it comes to transitions and new experiences, your late teens and early twenties have all the other decades beat. Think about it -- most college students see their living situation change every time a summer break or a new academic year comes around. For many college students, the first and biggest of these transitions takes place in an on-campus residence hall, complete with a random roommate, an 8x10 dorm room and a resident adviser.

Eventually, though, it'll be time to leave all the fun and frustration of dorm life behind for a new life off campus. You'll replace the cafeteria's Chicken Finger Wednesday with your own personal Starving Grocery Shopping Thursday, and you'll swap out your RA for a landlord. The transition from life on campus to life in an apartment or house is a pretty big one in its own right, but luckily, Her Campus has you covered with the five most important things to keep in mind when you decide to venture off campus.

1. Living with Landlords -- Know Your Rights and Document Everything

While living on campus, you rarely deal directly with the people who own your space. This, of course, will change when you move off campus. From the moment you sign your lease to the day you turn in your key, make sure you know how to interact and communicate with the landlord who's leasing their property to you.

From the very beginning, make sure you're documenting everything you possibly can.Any verbal agreements with your landlord need to be in writing as well, says Allison Lantero, a Boston College senior who took her landlord to small claims court and won. Allison and her roommates decided to take their landlord to court after their security deposit was only partially returned, with no detailed receipt and no bank statement for a $1,200 damages charge. They won the case, but Lantero says it would've been easier if every stipulation of their lease had been in writing -- some agreements were made over the phone and couldn't be documented in court.

"If it's not in writing within the legal document of the lease, it's not enforceable," says Kendal McDevitt, coordinator for the Office of Off-Campus Community Relations at Appalachian State University. For any agreements that are not written into the physical copy of the lease, McDevitt recommends writing them in, and having each roommate as well as the rental company initial the changes. "First, go through the apartment and document the condition of rooms and appliances. Some apartment complexes provide handouts for this. If not, take a blank sheet of paper in with you and write down damage of anything you see. Second, take pictures of the apartment in its original condition. Keep a copy of the pictures yourself and submit a copy to the rental company," McDevitt says.

Still confused about your rights as a renter? "Have a lawyer look over the lease for you," says Chelsea McLeod, a recent grad at Rhodes College.

2. Start thinking like your mom

No, this doesn't mean you have to start worrying about yourself (and calling yourself multiple times every day). But your mom did handle the ins and outs of your childhood home for at least 18 years, so it might not be a bad idea to tap into her superpowers.

First, put some thought into your surroundings. Remember how your mom hauled dozens of plastic tubs down from the attic so she could redecorate the house for each holiday season? It may seem tedious, but little touches go a long way toward making a house feel like a home. So if you're allowed to paint the walls of your rental or apartment complex, paint them! If your living room furniture is mismatched, go online and learn how to make fun covers for couches and chairs. If you're artistic, buy wooden initials -- they're cheap at stores like Michael's and A.C. Moore -- and paint them for your room. Just make sure you clear any big changes with the roomies.

Second, remember that it's now your job to keep your home stocked and supplied. College girls who were asked about items they forgot to pack mentioned paper towels, vacuum cleaners, floor mops, toilet paper, brooms, tool kits, toilet plungers, pasta strainers, and bathroom mats. Add these items to your list, and sit down with your roommates to brainstorm other basics you may be missing.

And don't forget to pack beyond the basics as well. "I noticed what separated other people's apartments from mine from feeling like home is everyone else had a much more decorated place with candles, posters, and plants," says Jessica Len, Her Campus Campus Correspondent at UC Davis.

In addition to year-round decorations, other college girls suggested getting into seasonal decorating. Cut and decorate a Christmas tree with your roommates or make a spring wreath for your door. Do whatever you can to make your new place one you'll want to remember.

3. Learn to grocery shop and learn to cook some simple staples.

One drastic difference between dorm life and apartment life revolves around one of the things college students love most: food. While living on campus, you'll typically have a meal plan that grants you access to cafeteria meals; no cooking or grocery shopping required. Off campus, unless you feel like trekking to campus every time you feel like a snack, it's likely a little bit different. Before you move into your apartment, make sure you've discussed the food situation with your parents -- namely, who's paying for what -- and make a trial grocery store run while they're still in town.

It also helps to learn a few simple meals before moving into your apartment, so that after a long day, or after your Julia Child masterpiece burns/collapses/explodes, you can whip something up quickly. If you've never cooked before, ask a parent or a family friend to show you how to bake chicken or boil rice. If you know the basics but need new ideas, add a new cookbook to your Kindle. There are dozens of cookbooks tailored to college students in all sorts of living situations, or check out some of HC's recipe ideas here and here.

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