Choosing Your First Apartment After College

Time to wrap up college life and start adulting. Your first task? Find a place to live.

Stephanie Elle
5 min readNov 11, 2019
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

The moment you’ve been preparing for is finally here: graduation. From this point on you’ll be forging your own path. Making your own mistakes and learning real-life lessons. You’re making a ton of decisions right now. Each one is important but none as much as deciding where to live. Where you decide to live has a daily impact on your life; from which night clubs you party at to the length of your daily commute. You should try to make this decision knowing as much as you can. But what should you be looking for?

For a lot of college grads, this will be one of their first decisions they make as an adult. To help you make this decision I’ve made this strategy guide:

Make a plan

You first need to know what you want in your new place. Only you know what you can live with. What are your values and priorities?

  • Is it important to be close to work?
  • Is the size of the apartment important?
  • How many closets do you need?
  • What kind of amenities do you want, if any?
  • Is natural lighting important to you?

Your answers change the scope of what you’re looking for drastically. Find out what is important to you and put it down on paper. Take this list with you when you go apartment hunting or keep it next to your computer if you are shopping around online.

What can you afford?

You’ve got your list, great. Let’s see if we can find everything for an affordable price. Just starting you don’t want to have to pay all your income to rent. You still have student loans to pay. And food to eat. A good rule of thumb is not to spend over 30% of your income on rent, including utilities. The 30% is of your gross income, everything before taxes.

Working out that math, if you start off making $60,000 a year, 30% of that would be $18,000. Dividing that by 12 for each month and you should be able to comfortably afford $1,500 monthly rent, including utilities. When this metric was first invented utilities were only gas, water, and electricity so you may need to add a little more if you want cable and internet.


You already know an approximate place for where you want to live: close enough to get to work. How close is up to you. Some people don’t mind the daily commute. It’s a good time to catch up on podcasts or listen to the news. Other people prefer a shorter trip to work. If your new job is in a metropolitan area you can look forward to some of the longest commutes in the nation.

Your location should also consider the type of neighborhood you are living in. Consider if you want to live in the suburbs or the city.

Type of Housing

This factor gets looked over most often but can be one of the biggest things to make up your living experience. Do you want to rent a house or an apartment? Renting a house gives you the freedom to move around without close neighbors veiled by paper-thin walls. No one will be able to bang on your floor saying your walking too loudly. However, apartments are easier to search for and usually have more modern amenities.

Hard Realities

These factors considered you should have a great time finding the apartment of your dreams. However, there are some things you’ll have to be prepared to handle.

For example, you’ll need to make at least three times the rent for most places. This comes from an outdated metric the federal government used to determine who was eligible for public housing. That metric then crept its way into the private housing market and has never crept its way back out. Nonetheless, not making at least three times the rent is something rental agencies will use to deny your rental application, so either apply with a roommate or look elsewhere.

You’ll Need a Roommate

Speaking about roommates, you’ll need one or maybe two depending on the lifestyle you want to live. Check your rental agreement to make sure that’s ok. The rental office will want to make sure your new roommate meets all the same criteria you do. The one good thing is that when you apply with a roommate your combined income is used to calculate the 3 times the rent criteria. So if you loved that high rise apartment but couldn’t afford it on your own a roommate can be the answer you’re looking for. Craigslist is a good place to look for a roommate as well as a few other apps like Roomster or SpareRoom.


When you first move into a new apartment you may be responsible for all the utilities. This will be in your lease and you should be able to discuss it with your rental office. If that is true it’s as simple as making a few quick calls. Be prepared: if you have never had any utilities in your name before the utility company could require a deposit for services. Most likely they will split it up over a few billing cycles.

The same goes for cable and internet. You might even have to pay installation fees if they have to come out and install a new line.

Pay Them Double

For the uninitiated, most places require you to pay the first month and the last month rent upfront and unlike the utility bills, you have to pay that all upfront. While you’re paying the amount of rent twice what you are actually paying is the first-month rent and a security deposit that equals the amount of the rent. People say you are paying the last month’s rent because most people leave without paying assuming the extra money will be used for that. But don’t be mistaken, that’s a security deposit and it’s yours to get back at the end of the lease agreement. The landlord uses it to deduct for any damages you may have caused.

Finding an apartment isn’t easy but it doesn't have to be impossible. Use this guide to get your mind brainstorming about what’s important to you. Have fun with the search and be excited about where you live. You already did the hard part by finishing school. Use this guide and apartment hunting will be a breeze.



Stephanie Elle

I write about business and life. Squarespace Designer. Digital Marketing Strategist. Copywriter.