Off-campus housing: navigating the adult world


Lizzie Hutchin’s future house. She will soon sign the lease with her six other housemates. Photo by Ellie Fuqua ’17

After spring break the Room Draw selection will begin. As it nears, underclassmen rush to work out roommate arrangements and explore the various on-campus options.

But for upperclassmen moving off-campus, the process began much earlier. Those leaving the Mac bubble must navigate the adult housing world, scheduling showings, signing leases and working out finances. This can be a trying experience without a lot of external support.

“Besides deciding which college to go to, this is the largest financial investment I’ve made,” said Jolena Zabel ’16. “It was a grown up reality check. I was feeling pretty anxious.”

Lizzie Hutchin’s future house. She will soon sign the lease with her six other housemates. Photo by Ellie Fuqua ’17
Lizzie Hutchin’s future house. She will soon sign the lease with her six other housemates. Photo by Ellie Fuqua ’17

Zabel entered the housing market with concrete objectives: she wanted to live in a smaller place with only one other person. Even with these parameters, sifting through the many options required a lot of planning. Zabel and her roommate created many Google Docs throughout the search with titles like “The Great Housing Extravaganza” and “Our House, Our Life.”

After playing phone tag with ten different landlords, Zabel found an apartment that struck her fancy. She and her roommate signed the lease last week.

“If I’ve gotten one lesson about growing up it’s about making those awkward phone calls,” she said. “You can’t be afraid to get rejected.”

Duncan Griffin ’16 turned to internet sites during the search process, including the Macalester Facebook page for off-campus housing. Eventually one of his four future housemates hit the jackpot on Craigslist. He stumbled upon an advertisement for a nearby house on Snelling just five hours after it was posted. They arranged a viewing and promptly signed the lease in early February.

“I’ll say we got lucky,” Griffin said. “We were very fortunate to have it work so well and have our group together and to have seen the offering for the house. If things had gone slightly different way we could still be looking right now.”

Unlike Zabel and Griffin, Lizzie Hutchins ’16 hoped to sign a lease soon. She was in the process of coordinating finances with six other people, many of whom planned to study abroad for a semester next year.

“It’s definitely trying,” she said. “It’s about managing everyone’s expectations.”

Living with six others came as a surprise to Hutchins. She planned to find a small apartment with her current roommate. Just as Hutchins became frustrated with the search, fate intervened. She received an email from a family for whom she babysits informing her that they would be renting out a four-bedroom duplex the following year. Hutchins solicited many of her friends and found enough people to pursue the offer.

“I don’t know where I’d be without that email,” Hutchins said. “I’m really looking forward to having my own space. It’ll be much more homey and cozy.”

Keith Edwards, the Director of Campus Life, has witnessed many students’ transitions off-campus.

“I do think that some rising juniors have a harder time than others navigating the off-campus options—either finding places, finding roommates, or managing the logistics of the new living situation,” he said.

Edwards urged rising juniors to consider the benefits of staying on campus. He said that those who remain in a dorm often stress its ease and convenience.

“Not having to worry about cable, internet, shoveling, parking, landlord, collecting money from roommates, grocery shopping, planning meals, etc. allows them to focus on their academics and connections on campus.”

While Griffin, Hutchins, and Zabel each expressed resignations about the move off-campus, namely learning how to cook, they believed they were ready for the change.

“There comes a time when you don’t necessarily want your life managed for you, even if it means more work and responsibility on your end,” Zabel said.

She had been browsing Pinterest and other DIY sites for ideas for her apartment. She hoped it would feature string lights, cool curtains and lots of burgundy decorations.

Although the three sophomores were towards the end of the housing search, they acknowledged the difficulties of the process. Zabel turned to her mother for advice on questions to ask during the apartment showings. Griffin asked his father, a lawyer, to review the terms of his housing contract.

“I wish everyone luck,” said Hutchins of the off-campus housing search. “There’s this competition to have the best house. But the people I’m going to live with will make the place.”