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Transitioning from College to the Real World: from Dorms to Renting

Graduating from college is a huge achievement. For many young people college represents unprecedented amounts of freedom and independence. Even so, for people living on campus, college is a controlled environment. There are rules, expectations and older adults with authority and experience to guide, direct and regulate the experience. Even for students who live off campus and rent, there are a variety of resources at their disposal and people to whom they must answer which places significant checks and balances on the experience. Moreover, proctors, advisers and even land lords for college students realize that these students are young and frequently make allowances and excuse behaviors that just one arbitrary year later can lead to difficult discussions and problematic situations. Many college graduates find their transitions into the real world to be surprising in some unfortunate ways so without further ado, let's look at some of the things that college grads need to consider when transitioning into the real world.

Part 1: Finding a Place

First and foremost is finding a place to live. With the advent of the internet, much of the process of finding an apartment or other rental situation has been, to a degree, streamlined. But where there are fish, there must also be sharks; many of the most appealing rental agreements, in terms of pricing and of other perks, are cleverly worded or just downright dishonest. Landlords take pictures of properties at deceptive angles, leave out significant pieces of information and otherwise paint their properties in an unrealistic light to reel in unwary renters.

This might sound depressing but there are some simple ways to mitigate this. The first is by checking the place out. Taking a friend or loved one is recommended, especially if they're more experienced in renting, because they may notice things that you do not, or may be able to identify good deals or potential issues. Also, asking questions in person will likely get you much more information than any advertisement due to what landlord say or don't say about their properties.

The second way to mitigate possible rental issues is by doing your homework. Research the apartment complex or landlord looking for reviews or warnings regarding their rental practices. Frequently if someone has had a bad experience they will visit sites like Yelp to outline the problems and warn others against falling into the same traps that they did. Both of these strategies can work toward finding amazing rental situations as well. Keep in mind that the same things that will help you avoid a dud, can help you find a gem. Frequently some truly unique rental arrangements have come from unforeseen circumstances because a prospective renter did their homework and found a steal. Just make sure you read the fine print, which brings us to the next major topic; what to do once you've found a place you like.

Part 2: Once You've Found a Place

Having found a place isn't quite enough, unfortunately. There are a variety of things to consider and we'll go over some of the basics and most important things to prepare for here.

When you sign a rental agreement, you're signing a contract. As such, you're signing something to which to will be held, something that can be used to help you enjoy everything you're owed or make your life a lot less pleasant. The first piece of advice of seems obvious: read the fine print. As much as it's a cliche, its true and important. The problem, however, is that many of us laypeople don't actually know what the fine print means which is why its recommended that you run any rental agreement you sign (or any contract, for that matter) by a lawyer who is experienced in the field. This can help you avoid rental scams or long litigation in small claims court and it can also reveal the degree to which your rental agreement means what you thought it meant. Things like deposits (the money you give a landlord to help allay potential costs based on damages you may incur, etc.), lengths of potential leases, clauses about guests and property management expectations can all be important parts of your rental agreement, all of which can influence your overall experience, making understanding the legal elements important.

Part 3: Landlord Basics

Interacting with your landlord is also an important piece of how you deal with your rental agreement and make renting life livable. There are a couple of things that you do can make these interactions work in your favor and maintain a positive and, more importantly, functional relationship with your landlord.

The first thing you can do is document all of your important communications, expectations and agreements. This way you can refer back to important understandings that you met when requesting (or demanding) things from your landlord or when dealing with requests made of you. This also makes sure that no selective memory can be used to ignore things that you agreed upon. Though this may seem overly formal, any experienced landlord will understand why and respect your prudence.

Another thing that you can do with your landlord to make your relationship positive and functional is something that's actually just a basic rule of interaction with anyone: think, decompress and vent (if necessary) before you talk. Your home or living space is your castle; it's where you sleep, work, relax and do many essential things. This makes it some of the most personal space you have and, as such, you are much more likely to take things personally when your living space is involved. This means that when you're frustrated, confused, angry or concerned, it's important to measure your words carefully and take steps to avoid being rash or unnecessarily confrontational because the things that you say and do to, and around, your landlord can become much more serious problems. They can damage your relationship with your landlord or even be used against you in court. So be careful with your words and actions because a landlord is not necessarily a friend and your relationship is primarily a business relationship.

Part 4: Roommates, expectations and culture

Relationships with roommates can be great helps and lifelong friendships or make your life much more difficult. Its said that you never know how you feel about a person until you live with them, while that may not be perfectly accurate, its worth saying that certain practices, in terms of roommate expectations, can make a huge difference in rental experiences. Keep in mind folks, that this isn't like a college dorm. You may have nothing in common with this person in terms of age, belief systems, lifestyle or any other the major pieces that make living with roommates so much fun in college. Frequently, you won't be able to choose with whom you live and there may not be alternative living circumstances which are feasible for you on any number of levels. Short version: you may be stuck with these folk; here's how to make it livable.

Roommate Relations

There are a couple things that you can do to make interactions with your roommates the most productive they can be. Keep in mind that these interactions are, at least, two way streets so being the best roommate you can be doesn't ensure that everything will work out perfectly but it does ensure that you've done everything you can (which is the only responsibility you have) and doing your best is not just cathartic; it can be useful for future mediation or even future litigation.


Being direct can be helpful, ensuring that no one has any lack of clarity about your position and that people won't feel surprised or ambushed when you have concerns. That means no emails, post-it notes or other forms of passive aggressive behavior, if you want concerns to be taken seriously and the interaction to be productive. Emails make sense for documentation purposes, if there are larger issues, but giving someone the benefit of an in-person conversation can make the difference between a big problem and a misunderstanding or non-issue. That doesn't mean that you should speak as soon as you have an emotional reaction but a considerate, calm, rational conversation can make huge headway when done right.


The importance of being honest sounds obvious but frequently pretending to be alright with tedious, annoying, problematic or inconsiderate actions of your roommate(s) can build into larger problems. Honesty can, obviously, be misused but being up front about things that bother you, after you've had a bit of time to think, can really make things run more smoothly.


Its important to be clear about basic expectations and agreed upon ground rules. That way the roommate with a girlfriend who never leaves or dishes that are never washed knows that they're wrong and there's a basis for conversation. Having clear responsibilities and expectations can also make life easier for everyone by allowing folks to be responsible for things based on their strengths and interests rather than arbitrary factors.

Respect and consideration

Be nice. Duh, I know, but taking into account the situations of others is crucial in making sure things run smoothly. Honesty, directness and responsibility only work if everyone is doing their best to be respectful of other roommates and their issues, circumstances and who they are (or are not.) You don't have to be best friends but, in many ways, your roommates are people with whom you have business relationships and treating them well isn't just being a good person; its prudent business. Remember, these folks may or may not be your friends but you do need to do your best with them for business purposes, and to make the living space comfortable for all.

It's a lot, I know, but these factors are crucial in making rental situations work in the real world. These ideas are just some things to get you started on thinking about how you'll make the transition from college to the real world in renting. As always, do your own research and make the best decisions for you or for your loved ones as they transition from school into real life.

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