News, Off Campus, Administration

Students Adjust To The Tricky Costs Of Living Off Campus

Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about off-campus housing.

For many students, moving off campus is a welcome teaser for adult life: there are no resident assistants, no security desks, and a healthy sampling of non-Boston College students in the homes and apartments nearby. This additional freedom comes at a cost, however—a cost that may not surpass that of living on campus, but is certainly more visible. Food, utilities, and the cost of rent are no longer folded into a single, handsome sum, but must be paid regularly and by deadlines. This proves an adjustment for most students, but can be  even trickier for those receiving financial aid from the University.

BC can provide students with financial assistance for the duration of the school year, which amounts to about 30 weeks. Aid is calculated via a straightforward formula: cost of attendance minus family contribution, with cost of attendance taking into account room and board for on campus students, or the estimated equivalent for off-campus students. This estimation varies based on the type of living arrangement the student has found off campus and takes as its basis the median price of accommodations of that type, determined on a year to year basis. It also factors in an average price for groceries and utilities, as well as miscellaneous other costs. When arriving at the cost, the Office of Residential Life operates under the assumption that students will be sharing a room in their off-campus home or apartment, based on the logic that nearly all on-campus students have roommates.

ResLife annually calculates a rental cost comparison and provides it to the Office of Financial Aid. According to Peter Kwiatek, assistant director for off-campus housing in ResLife, the comparison is the average rent of the properties listed on ResLife’s database and is broken up based on number of bedrooms and location. The numbers are published on ResLife’s website, so as to give all students an estimated price range of different off-campus living situations.

The chart provides average rent prices for one to four apartments in Brighton, Brookline, Newton, and Watertown, and approximates monthly rent for students living alone or with others. In Brighton, where most off-campus students reside, a one-bedroom apartment has an average rent between $1,400 and $1,800 per month, according to the ResLife numbers. A two-bedroom in Brighton costs somewhere between $1,800 and $2,400; a three-bedroom is between $2,500 and $3,200; and a four-bedroom is between $3,000 and $4,000 per month. Average rent in Brookline and Newton is comparable, although Newton is slightly more expensive. Watertown, which is about four miles north of campus, has the cheapest average rent, ranging from $900 for a studio apartment to $3,200 for a four-bedroom.

ResLife estimates that students living with others should expect to pay rent somewhere between $600 and $1,000 per month, depending on the size of the apartment or house and whether they share a room. For the 2014-15 academic year, a student living off campus has a cost of attendance of $57,511. For a two-bedroom apartment, a student who qualifies for financial aid can receive up to $625 per month for rent.

Because all students receiving aid at BC are supported at least in part by federal funds, BC must follow federal regulations on disbursing those funds. These regulations include those that limit the period of time covered by aid to 30 weeks. They also dictate that annual aid become available in September and only be used for that particular year.

“It’s a hard federal rule that we can’t cover costs out of the year that we’re in,” said Bernie Pekala, director of Student Financial Services for Enrollement Management. As a result, students who may face steep additional fees at the signing of their lease—first and last months’ rent, a realtor’s fee, etc.—cannot use any of the next year’s aid to mitigate the cost.

Financial Services urges students receiving aid who intend to live off campus to meet with their aid officer as soon as possible in order to become fully aware of how their move off campus will affect their aid. In most cases, students experience a decrease in aid when they move off campus because the cost of attendance goes down due to, on average, rent costs that are lower than the cost of living on campus. Despite being on average cheaper, however, the added variability of off-campus housing costs can make living off campus a greater financial burden on students. Hee Leem, A&S ’15, ended up paying more to live off campus because of the high cost of living in 2000 Commonwealth Ave. coupled with the cost of furnishing his apartment. Coming from California, he could not bring any of his own furniture and had to purchase it all in Boston.

“We try to encourage really high need students, if they can stay on campus, to stay on campus because it is so much easier to help them that way,” Pekala said.

Special Projects Editor Mary Rose Fissinger contributed to this article.

Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff

October 9, 2014

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