When it comes to student housing in the United States, one thing is pretty much clear: the dorm days are over.

To satisfy both cost and quality-of-life concerns, most students have moved off campus into modernized student housing communities, and competition for their rent dollars hinges around several key factors: be close to school, build big apartments with lots of storage, and make sure residents have their own bathroom (even if they share a bedroom).

As revealed in “Gauging Student Living Preferences,” a survey of 7,095 graduate and undergraduate students prepared exclusively for Multifamily Executive by Houston-based J Turner Research, a full 80 percent of students are already living off campus, where the average monthly rent is $620.

While a significant portion (42 percent) of students pay rent in the $400 to $600 range, the next largest group (17 percent) fork over $1,000 a month or more, indicating there may be opportunities to develop product in rental ranges of $600 to $800 per month, particularly for graduate students, who pay the highest rents, at an average $700 per month.

But although cost has driven most students from dorms, survey respondents indicated their predilection for an off-campus living experience is nevertheless worth paying a modest premium to secure. Indeed, 69 percent of the survey participants say it’s more expensive to live on campus, and even if all other things were equal, students are willing to pay $215.77 more per month, on average, to live off campus anyway.

All this doesn’t mean students are living alone, however. In fact, 42 percent of our survey respondents typically live with three roommates, with smaller numbers reporting living with two (16 percent) or one roommate (23 percent), and only 9 percent of students living by themselves (18 percent of graduate students live alone). Students don’t necessarily seem to want to live alone, either: Only 15 percent say it’s ideal, compared with a somewhat even split who feel living with one (28 percent), two (25 percent), or three roommates (24 percent) is best.

Still, the days of bunking up appear largely over, with only 15 percent of survey respondents indicating they share their room itself with a roommate (and only 8 percent of graduate students doing so).

Most Desired Design Features
Having access to their own bathroom (76 percent) and big closets and storage spaces (44 percent) ranked as the top two design features in an ideal apartment for student residents. Other popular design features included large kitchen areas and large living rooms, at 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Counter space, at 6 percent, and wall-to-wall carpeting, at 2 percent, were the least-important design features for students.

Like location, students are also willing to pay for design: On average, survey respondents said they pay $123 more per month for their own bathroom and $101 more per month for larger closet and storage areas.

When paired with other community amenities, bathrooms continued to score high among respondents, who mentioned having their own bathroom 68 percent of the time when asked to rank their top three most important apartment amenities. Only washers and dryers, at 79 percent, scored higher, while having extended cable/Wi-Fi (54 percent) or parking (42 percent) included in the rent came in third and fourth, respectively. Rounding out the top five most important amenities, 27 percent mentioned big refrigerators.

In short, student housing developers stand to gain from the huge swing in preferences from on-campus dorm life to off-campus living. Heed their responses to our survey, and you’re well on your way to a student housing community with extra credits.

Full results of “Gauging Student Living Preferences” will be presented September 10 at the Multifamily Executive Conference as part of MFE’s exclusive Concept Community project. We hope to see you there.

Joseph Batdorf is president and CEO of Houston-based J Turner Research.