Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


It’s not easy out there: A student guide to navigating off-campus housing market

Living off campus requires early planning to ensure comfortable living situation
Joey Reuteman

With the start of the 2021 fall term, college students are already beginning to look forward to housing options for next year. Because of the competitiveness of the housing market in Madison, renters begin looking to sign leases for next fall up to eight to 12 months in advance.

To any students who are currently living at home or in on-campus housing — don’t panic! There is still plenty of time to find an off-campus housing option and there is always the option to stay in on-campus residence halls for a second year. That being said, it isn’t a bad idea to start thinking about what you want your housing situation to look like next year. 

First of all, what do you need?


Before reaching out to landlords looking to rent, it’s a good idea to prepare everything needed to fill out an apartment application.

The first thing you’ll want is a price range. Whether that’s looking at personal monthly income and budgeting accordingly — most experts say housing should not exceed 30% of your gross annual income — or working out a rent split with any potential roommates, it’s a good idea to go into the housing search with a number in mind.

Keep in mind there may be other fees that aren’t directly included in the rent, such as a security deposit upfront or recurring utility fees.

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When applying for an apartment, there are a few things you might want to have with you — either a driver’s license or a state ID, your social security number, any current or previous rental history if applicable, employment status and information, proof of income and references. Make sure to call any landlords you may be renting from and ask what their specific application entails.

Most apartment or housing applications will also include a credit check. This is a good way for renters to deem how good you are at managing your money and how likely you are to pay rent in full and on time every month.

If you don’t have a credit score yet, don’t worry! Common workarounds include enlisting a co-signer — someone like a parent or family member who has a good credit score and can pay the rent if you fall short — or leasing with a roommate who has a credit score.

So what options are there?

Here is a list of the main types of housing you might be looking at:

  1. Apartment — This is the most common form of housing for students and one which has a wide range of options. These include studio apartments for one student or a multi-bedroom for a group of friends. Madison has a mix of more busy downtown apartment complexes with quiet buildings in nearby suburbs.
  2. House — Students usually look for houses when they have a larger group of roommates, as renting an entire house can be a lot of responsibility for a few students.
  3. Townhouse — Townhouses are a hybrid between a house and an apartment. They often have a few floors and are situated in a vertical design.

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Where to Look

The most common places to find apartments or houses for rent are on sites such as, and These sites are easy to navigate and are often pretty reliable.

Another way college students often look for housing is on their graduation class’s university Facebook page. This is a well-liked option for students because thousands of other college kids are looking for roommates and someone to sublet to in the area. But be wary and take precautions to make sure the leases are legitimate, as Facebook is not an official renter site and prone to scammers.

UW also has its own search engine for students looking for off-campus housing.


It is important to touch on some general advice in regards to how to go about this process and living on your own in the middle of a global pandemic — especially with the rise in cases among college-aged students due to the delta variant.

Make sure you know your roommates before signing a lease and inquire about their vaccination status and COVID-19 habits. Your health and safety should be your biggest priority.

On a similar note, ask any landlords you meet with about their COVID-19 precautions. Are tenants required to wear masks in common or shared spaces in the house or apartment complex? Are tenants notified if there is a potential exposure? What is the process if you yourself contract COVID-19 while renting? These are all important questions to ask.

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If you are considering studying abroad next year, make sure you have a back-up housing plan. This year and last year, many study abroad programs were suspended or cancelled due to the ever evolving COVID-19 situation. Especially now with the rise in delta variant cases, it might be wise to have a plan in place just in case you wind up staying in Wisconsin throughout the 2021-22 school year.

Finally, if you can, get vaccinated! And regardless of vaccination status, keep yourself and others safe around you by masking up in shared spaces, cleaning your hands and space regularly and maintaining social distance as much as possible.

The bottom line is this: the rush for next year’s housing has already begun.

Whether you’re looking for an apartment affiliated with the college itself, a house off-campus with roommates or renting a space all by yourself, Madison has several renters eager to lease their homes for the upcoming academic year. If you need more help with the process, University Housing offers its own options for students looking to expand beyond the typical dorm experience.

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