Camino del Sol, a 331-unit student housing development by American Campus Communities at the University of California, Irvine, features townhome-style designs and plenty of common areas.

The Campus Bookstore occupies approximately 10,000 square feet of the ground level of Vista La Verne Residence Hall at the University of La Verne in California. The storefront serves as a continuation of the historical downtown retail frontage found further down “D” Street.

More than three million high-school seniors are expected to graduate each year until the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Wall Street Journal, and many of them will pursue college degrees.

But many of these students have never shared a bedroom or bathroom before coming to college, and they don't want to start now.

So, what do they want? They want a modern design, bigger units, large open common areas, and all the comforts of home, according to a recent J Turner Research study prepared exclusively for Multifamily Executive.

Exterior Design
Students were about evenly split between preferring a mid-rise apartment building (3-10 stories), a community cottage, or a townhome configuration, according to the J Turner Research survey.

However, what is most important to the majority of students is how the building looks. They want their housing to look modern, with sleek and clean lines. They don't want a re-hash of traditional multifamily or single-family design.

Incorporating a variety of needs to produce new and dedicated spaces for student activities and housing in one location will create a long-term asset integral to the University and meaningful to students. Clubhouses can serve as suitable study spaces and incorporate classrooms, lecture halls, and faculty offices.

The ground floor of the residence hall can offer a variety of uses such as versatile ballroom/conference facility, theatre, bookstore, café, post office and/or cafeteria that opens onto a sheltered courtyard. The upper floors can include lounges, a computer lab, student services offices, meeting rooms, a dining area, and connect via a bridge to an adjacent campus facility. The roof could be retractable or feature a soccer field and running track or pool deck and fitness center.

By utilizing key intersections adjacent to the school, well-positioned student housing communities can serve as a gateway to the university and essentially extend the perimeter of the campus. Whether students are living on campus or off, they want to feel like they’re part of the campus culture, and design and careful programming of the space are critical to achieving this goal.

Proximity to Campus
More than three-quarters of undergrads and grad students prefer to live off-campus, where it is less expensive and typically will have more housing options, according to the J Turner study.

But proximity to campus is critical. The majority of the students surveyed (71 percent) have a car, although they only drive it once a week or less (40 percent). In contrast, the next-largest group (31 percent) said they drive their car every day. Either way, providing sufficient parking for the student housing residents needs to be incorporated into the design.

Also having shuttle services to and from campus is a big plus, too. The increased demand for student housing has put considerable pressure on the neighborhoods within a 15-minute walk to the campus. Campus edge locations are the most desirable.

Some developers have incorporated a campus bookstore or a Walgreens or CVS on the ground floor or situated the housing adjacent to the campus in a downtown business district. The neighborhood becomes another amenity for these students and their 24/7 lifestyle.

Students want their university to be environmentally conscious and they expect the same from their student housing community. They want more than just a recycling program. They want to know that their housing community was built using sustainable design principles and recycled materials.

A community garden, rain water collection system, and electric car charger further enhance the community's sustainability. Many new student housing projects are achieving LEED Gold certification and this is a great marketing tool. Although students prefer walking over biking, many communities offer secure bike storage and even a workshop space to repair one's bicycle.

Finally, while students spend most of their time away from their bedroom, the units must also resonate with student lifestyle and provide choices.

Unit floor plans should include a variety of configurations—such as 1, 2, 4, to 6 beds per unit, and from 80 square feet to 160 square feet per bedroom. And units should include a large living area and full kitchen.

The critical factors in making a housing decision include cellular reception, the size of the unit, and having their own bedroom and bathroom, according to the recent J Turner Research study. Students also want big closets and/or storage areas.  However, students will pay more for an open floor plan.

These are just some of the factors that may make the difference between a run-of-the-mill student housing property, and one that offers clear points of differentiation.

Rohit Anand AIA, NCARB is a principal with KTGY Group, Inc., Architecture + Planning, with offices in Tysons, Va., Denver, Colo., and Irvine, Santa Monica, Oakland, Calif. He can be reached at (703) 245-1082 or