When it comes to student housing, 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. Competition for their rent dollars hinges on several key components of the rental property: proximity to school; apartment size and plenitude of storage space; availability of one bathroom for every resident (even if they share a bedroom); and a fitness center as the crown jewel in your common-area package.

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 of $700 per month.

But although cost has driven most students from dorms, survey respondents indicated that off-campus living 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 are equal, students are willing to pay $215.77 more per month, on average, to live off campus anyway.

Three’s Company

All this doesn’t mean students are living alone, how­ever. In fact, 42 percent of our respondents 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 grad students live alone). Students don’t necessarily 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 with a roommate (and only 8 percent of graduate students doing so).

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.

Bigger Is Better

Apartment size itself is also 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 location, 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 respondents, 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.

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.