Off-Campus Living & Financial Aid

Off-Campus Living & Financial Aid

Are you thinking about moving off-campus and wondering how to make it work with financial aid? Below you will find tips and resources to help you create an off-campus plan that works best for your life and your budget.

Important Note: The budgeted amount toward housing within the university’s cost of attendance is the same whether you live on or off-campus, so the amount of overall aid offered to you will not change if you live on campus vs. off-campus. If you move off-campus, if you received aid that would have covered the university housing charge it will instead go toward a refund that you will need to manage toward your off-campus living expenses.

Keep reading below for helpful tips about managing your aid and important considerations for off-campus living.



Helpful Tips

It’s important to look at your individual basic needs, the cost of those needs, and your income (aid and outside income from work to identify housing options that you can afford. You can use this budgeting calculator to get an idea of how much you may have in a refund after university billed expenses to help pay for off-campus housing.

You will receive your financial aid refund at the beginning of the semester. This money is intended specifically to help cover your housing expenses until the following semester. Once you have determined the amount you can spend on housing, be sure to set it aside so that these dedicated funds aren’t allocated to other expenses. For example, consider paying rent ahead of time (even months ahead if possible) to avoid stress and worry.

Note: Check out our receiving aid page to see when you can expect aid to receive a refund.

Additional costs beyond the base cost of rent may come with living off campus, so read the fine print carefully. Consider the following questions:

  • Is a deposit and first month’s rent required up front?
  • Does your rent include utilities, or will utilities be billed as a separate expense for which you will also need to budget?
  • Are you required to pay for parking as part of your rent
    (whether you have a vehicle or not)? Or is there no additional cost for parking?
  • Are costs for internet, cable, and trash pick-up charges included in the rent or are these additional charges from an outside vendor in addition to your rent?

Understanding a lease can be tricky, so it may help to get another opinion or have an extra set of eyes on your lease before you sign. Carolina Student Legal Services can provide lease reviews to help protect you from unexpected surprises. Learn more about the services they provide on their website.

In addition to these considerations, make a realistic plan for how you will eat as part of your well-being. For example, some students think they will save money by declining an on-campus meal plan and only cooking and eating at home to maximize a larger refund. However, many students find this difficult to do since most students’ days are spent on campus.

There are several meal plan options to choose from that align with an individual realistic routine for eating. You may consider maintaining one of the on-campus plans at various levels to account for being on and off campus throughout the week, or you may choose an off-campus meal plan. If you choose not to add a university meal plan, the total financial aid budget that would have gone toward covering your meal plan will go toward a refund that you will need to carefully manage to cover your meals.

NOTE: The current cost of attendance (COA) includes a budget for meals of $5,650 for the year, which is roughly $628 month if you have financial aid to cover your cost of attendance, trying to aim for a budget that best matches your financial aid will help.


Affordable housing options are out there. The Office of Off-Campus Student Life offers resources to help find options and answer your questions. Check out a webinar hosted by their office to learn more about housing:

Housing Webinar


You can also search for and find housing from their website:

Off-Campus Housing Website

Roommates are a critical cost-saving strategy, and their social support can also enhance your well-being off-campus. Finding roommates who have similar financial wellness goals will help you to stay on track. Consider roommates who are interested in:

  • A plan for cooking and eating at home
  • Conserving water and electricity
  • Carpooling/Ridesharing/Time management to catch the bus!
  • Think Ahead–pack a lunch and snacks to bring to campus for well-being and effective budgeting

Having extra income can help with incidental and unexpected expenses that come with living off-campus. Even if there aren’t extra expenses, you can build your emergency fund and be prepared when the unexpected happens in your future. Preparing for the unexpected is an important part of financial well-being.

  • Have a goal in mind! The earlier you look for housing, the more options there will be. Use campus resources to find housing and do your research. Talk to peers and ask around, your peers can offer the best advice and inside information.
  • Be prepared to provide a security deposit and first month’s rent when you sign your lease. Financial aid will not be disbursed until 7-10 days before the first day of classes, and eligible refunds are not processed until around the first day of classes. Be prepared to have conversations with landlords if you rely on your financial aid refund to pay rent. Many landlords will accept a copy of your financial aid offer as proof of funding if needed.

Did you know?

The amount included in the current Cost of Attendance (COA) budget is for the academic year (9-months) and is the same whether you live on or off-campus. If you take that number and divide it by 9, you will have an idea of what is budgeted for monthly housing expenses. Check out the current student costs page to learn more about student budget costs. Then visit our budgeting calculator to learn how much of your financial aid will help cover off-campus housing expenses.


Budgeting Calculator