One design trait that nearly all student housing has in common is a focus on amenities. In the past, student housing was the tail of the dog, always chasing the technological and operational advances of its conventional multifamily brethren. But now, as more multifamily developers focus on the housing wants and needs of Gen Y, student housing serves as the vanguard, a proving ground of sorts.

“Student housing was chasing luxury conventional housing, they were following what they see on the conventional side,” says Brent Little, president at Dallas-based student housing developer Fountain Residential Partners. “Now the trend has almost reversed.”

With students being the first adopters, almost the beta testers of new designs, the market has solidified its reputation as a trend-setter. David Adelman recognized this dynamic back in ’97 when the president and CEO at Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments added an internet package to the company's umbrella, offering full-speed internet for student properties.

“Bandwidth internet is the most important thing you can provide on the property,” he says. “The property will be cursed without it.”

But it’s not just technology--fitness and sports-oriented common areas have also grown in stature, as well as square footage.

“We’re seeing that [amenities] are getting larger,” says Rohit Anand, principal at Vienna, Va.-based architecture firm KTGY. “Pool areas, hang-out spaces, are more spacious than we used to design. The amenities are getting quite a bit larger.”

New students are typically also very environmentally aware, giving owners a great marketing tool for any green features they can tout.

“They all want to know about recycling,” Adelman says. “They want to know that they’re being green.”

With that environmental stance comes a greater focus on bikes. And KTGY has been working on cracking the bike-storage code in its new student developments. Part of the challenge is finding space in each individual unit to store the bike itself. They’ve also struggled with finding a central location for “bike workshops,” where students can maintain their wheels.

“You also need a place to park the car,” Anand adds. “It’s not so much that you use the car to get to class every day, but you need a space to park it.”

There’s also been a big push from universities to house students for the full four years of college, Anand says, where they once only guarantee freshman and sophomore housing. With more units, architects have had to get creative to manage the density. More properties in urban areas are providing four to six beds per unit to accommodate the crowd.

But every market is different. In an urban market like Minneapolis, units are typically on the smaller side. But student housing in a market like San Antonio naturally features larger units. “If you build micro units in San Antonio, the students would be claustrophobic,” Little says.

The most popular floor plans are 4-bedroom units, as developers aim to create an economy of scale through density.