VCU is a unique school in hundreds of ways, primarily because of its urban-centered campus. While this is a great place for students to become acclimated to city living, it can make the transition from on-campus to off-campus housing a bit more difficult than on other campuses. VCU doesn’t require students to live on-campus, and has a lottery system for upperclassmen housing, so finding off-campus housing is the route many students take.
It’s important for students to first familiarize themselves with the neighborhoods and sectors of Richmond and find where they feel most comfortable. The VCU area of Richmond has several neighborhoods that are largely populated by students. The Fan is adjacent to campus and features many older, remodeled apartments that can be comfortable and cute, but often cost a bit more than other apartments.
Oregon Hill is directly south of campus and features similar old, remodeled apartments, but generally at a lower price point than those in the Fan. North of campus is Jackson Ward and the Carver neighborhood, which are usually low cost and closest to campus, however those neighborhoods tend to have higher instances of crime.
After choosing a neighborhood, it’s good to make sure the walk to or from class won’t be too exhausting. If the apartment is perfect other than the distance, a bike might make a good investment for students who don’t already have one.
Choosing an off-campus apartment also means choosing a landlord. It’s important to always do research on the company and meet the landlord ahead of time, so that tenants know who they’ll be signing a contract with for the next 12 months. Students should ask questions about things they’re not sure of, or things that might not be too clear in the lease, so as not to bind themselves to something they don’t understand.
Another adjustment to make when moving off-campus is learning to pay rent and utilities. Instead of being included in a tuition bill, rent is entirely separate when living in an off-campus apartment. Depending on where students choose to live, other utilities like trash, water, cable and electricity can either be included in rent or may have to be paid separately. The more bills, the more coordination is needed on where and when to pay them.
For most apartments, rent is due at the beginning of the month. In larger apartments, most utilities are included. If not, tenants have to set up accounts for those utilities. Electric for the city of Richmond is provided by Dominion Power, which provides a user-friendly website for customers to view and pay their bills online once they sign up. Unless you choose to use a satellite dish, cable and Internet in Richmond is mostly provided by Comcast, which you can also set up an account for online.
For any bills, it’s good to make sure they are paid on time and that all roommates pay their fair share. Late fees generally aren’t outlandish, but utilities could be shut off if someone waits too long to pay bills.
If paying for utilities separately, it’s good to know how to keep costs low. Unlike in the dorms, utilities that are not included in rent in most off-campus apartments are not set at a fixed rate, so the more that is used, the more it will cost. To keep an electric bill from going through the roof, it’s good to always shut off the lights before leaving, and unplug appliances when they’re not in use. To conserve water, only run the dishwasher or washing machine at full capacity, so that less water is used on less loads of dishes or laundry.
Despite all these changes, living off-campus can be a beneficial transition for many students who want to gain independence by living in the city. Wherever students choose to live, a bit of preparation and research can make that transition much easier.