Students prefer bigger, modern units, and developers would do well to make a fitness center the crown jewel in the common-area and amenities package.

These are just some of the findings of “Gauging Student Living Preferences,” a survey of 7,095 graduate and undergraduate students prepared exclusively for Multifamily Executive by Houston-based J Turner Research.

Apartment size is a significant driver behind student housing decisions, ranking as “extremely important” by 65 percent of survey respondents.

For the most part, students show a preference for living in either a mid-rise building (38 percent) or a community cottage or townhouse (33 percent). Only 13 percent would most like to live in a single-family home, with an even smaller portion (9 percent) preferring a high-rise. Only 7 percent said they’d prefer micro units.

In terms of design, 50 percent of respondents preferred modern design, with 34 percent opting for a more traditional “homey” design. Only 6 percent said they preferred funky, eclectic community design, and 10 percent had no design style preference.

When it comes to communal spaces, fitness centers top the list of common areas students say they’re most likely to use, followed by study areas and computer labs. Less preferred but still somewhat popular were coffee shops/cyber cafés and theaters. Game rooms and bike storage ranked last. Fitness centers also topped the list of most important community features other than rent, just edging out parking space and a pool or spa. Ranking last in preferred community features were high tech, resort-style clubhouses.

Common areas and their associated amenities were less likely, though, to have the largest impact on a student’s housing decision; rather, respondents listed large units, in-unit washers and dryers, and storage space as their top three considerations (fitness centers were a close fourth).

Commuting and Connecting
Finally, students are helping to redefine the geography of “off campus,” as they reaffirm the importance of walkability in their communities. Thirty-seven percent said walking is the ideal mode of transport to and from campus, with only 23 percent preferring to drive, and another 20 percent preferring a shuttle service. Only 8 percent said a bike is the ideal, and a mere 1 percent preferred using a skateboard or motorcycle/scooter.

Still, most students (71 percent) do have a car, even if the largest share of them (40 percent) only drive it once a week or less.  In contrast, the next-largest group (31 percent) said they drive every day. Either way, parking continues to be of paramount importance to student housing residents.

One thing students aren’t leaving behind, regardless of whether they live on or off campus, is their phones, and cell reception was thus (not surprisingly) critical to student housing residents, 49 percent of whom ranked reception with a 10 on a scale from one to 10 when asked how critical cellular reception was in their selection of an apartment community for college.

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 research project. We hope to see you there.

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