How do you find housing and a roommate in St. Louis? Here are some of my recommendations.
Selecting a graduate school, navigating all of the finances involved, and potentially moving cities or even countries can be incredibly stressful. Many prospective students are wondering: where will I live and who will I live with?
If you went away to your undergraduate college or moved far from home in between your undergraduate career and starting at the Brown School, you may have experienced this stress before – maybe your university randomly paired you with another freshman, or maybe there was student housing that you and your friends could choose between, or maybe you just looked on Facebook for an apartment listing within a few blocks of your job.
Grad school is a little different – there’s no fancy software that will match you with someone. Plus, there are tons of neighborhoods surrounding WashU’s campus and trying to choose one from far away can be overwhelming.
So, I compiled some tips for finding the perfect place to make a home in St. Louis, based on my own experience moving here. As always, this list is non-exhaustive and can only speak to my perspective.
1. DISCERN YOUR PRIORITIES
The first thing to know in making any place a home is what your own priorities are. It’s easy to get swept up in a million different items on a wish list. As seen on any good episode of House Hunters, it can be nearly impossible to find a place that has every item on the wish list and fits the budget, so it’s important to know what your own priorities are before you even start looking. For me, my top three priorities were being under budget, close enough to have a short commute on public transit to school and having on-site laundry. One of my roommates prioritized parking and we all three agreed that we wanted two bathrooms. These criteria made it a lot easier to narrow down our search and find something that we loved.
2. CHECK THE ROOMMATE FINDER AND ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS
Finding a new roommate when you don’t know anyone is intimidating. You might live far away so all you have to base your decision on is internet or phone conversation, or, if you get lucky, a brief in-person meeting at Admitted Students Weekend or somewhere else. But, having a roommate can significantly reduce the cost of living, so for many of us it’s necessary. To make your future home the most comfortable place it can be, you want to be sure you all get along and share expectations. While it can feel super weird to ask lots of questions of potential roommates, this is one of the best ways to make sure you’re compatible. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions about money and set expectations for shared space and resources. Also, even if you start talking to someone, know it’s okay to decide that you all will get along better as friends than roommates. In this case, be kind in asking if you all could look for other roommates, but still hang out once you get to campus.
3. GET TO KNOW THE NEIGHBORHOODS
WashU is located near so many of St. Louis’s gorgeous neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is going to have a distinct feel and different amenities. You can check out our neighborhood guide for a few more details, but I recommend exploring a couple of neighborhoods to keep your options open and get a real idea of what each has to offer. Knowing important details of each might provide some perspective on which areas to look in. For example, if you plan to commute primarily by public transit, you might want to focus your search on neighborhoods that are a 15 minute bus ride as opposed to a 45 minute one. Even if you can’t visit St. Louis in person, an easy way to check this commute is to type the potential address into the start point in Google Maps and “Hillman Hall” as the end point, then click the Public Transit button (see picture below).
4. LOOK OUTSIDE OF STUDENT HOUSING
If you’re coming from a smaller area or an undergraduate institution, it may be tempting to just look at the university affiliated housing. Affiliated housing is a set of off-campus, residential buildings WashU owns (but they’re not quite dorms). But there are so many potential properties and opportunities in St. Louis that it’s important not to forget sites like Zillow, Apartments.com, trulia.com and other real estate listings. Check out our housing resources here for more information. If you are near enough to St. Louis to visit, some of the best finds are just posted in signs in front yards of Apartments for lease. My roommate and I came for one weekend over the summer and drove through some of our favorite neighborhoods, writing down phone numbers of apartments that had “For Lease” signs. We called and many gave us a tour that day or the next. Even if you are not able to make the trip, you can find tons of apartment listings through Google and many leasing agents can provide an online tour or more detailed pictures to help you choose.
5. ORGANIZE AWAY
Staying organized is one of the best ways to keep your housing search on track. After a while, online apartment listings start to look the same and the details get fuzzy. My roommates and I kept a collaborative Google Spreadsheet where we laid out the details of each apartment we looked at including things like cost of rent, distance to school on the bus, the neighborhood and a separate space for our opinions. It was helpful because we could sort by items like lowest rent to highest rent or easily identify the apartment that was closest to campus.
6. STAY OPTIMISTIC
It can be super exhausting to choose a place to live. While sometimes it might feel like you’re looking for an invisible house, I’m here to assure you, you’ll find somewhere to live. Be prepared to cast a wide net – we looked at online links for more than 50 apartments, called many, and toured more than 15 while on our weekend trip to St. Louis. My best recommendation is to have fun as much fun as possible with the process and stay optimistic. While we were looking for apartments last summer, my future roommate and I had a great time reenacting house hunters and rewarded ourselves with ice cream when we got discouraged.
These are just a few ideas for finding a spot in St. Louis that will truly begin to feel like your home. If you want more advice about this, check out our virtual information session on finding an apartment, neighborhood, and part time job here.
Wishing you all the best of luck with your house hunting!