How to Make Renting Off-Campus Pay

money saved renting off-campusCollege students return to campus this week. Many of them argue -- and some even convince their parents and student loan officers -- that living off-campus is cheaper than living in the college dorms.

Seems plausible. According to the College Board, students attending a four-year, in-state public institution spend an average of $6,960 per year on room and board. For a four-year private college, housing costs top $8,000 a year.

But the truth is, students moving off-campus will rarely find that renting is less expensive than dorm life. Additional costs, such as utilities, food, transportation and even furniture, all add up. In addition, students receiving financial aid may discover that their needs are based on campus living costs versus off-campus renting costs, leaving them with a greater financial gap to close.

But renting off-campus does have some other potential benefits. (And no, we're not just talking about learning to manage your beer fund.) Here are four ways to make living off-campus pay:

Become the landlord

Some college students and their parents decide that one solution is to purchase a campus house. The student renter lives in the house for the duration of college and rents rooms to friends. The student, who manages the house, can use any profit for books or other costs. At graduation they can sell the house or hold onto it for for long-term rental income.

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Start that business
Off-campus rentals don't have rules regarding using your apartment for enterprising entrepreneurial activity (so long as it's legal). If your business is in a "gray" area -- such as turning your apartment into a makeshift art gallery -- there could be benefits to being outside the well-policed dorm. Plus, having real-world business skills upon graduation never hurts.

Choose a responsible roommate
At university dorms, someone else picks your roommate. Not so when you're renting off-campus. The freedom to choose your own roommate can be an economic decision that makes your life easier or, potentially, living hell. Be wise enough to choose one who pays his or her share of the bills on time, and you'll graduate with some experience in real-world apartment economics, and perhaps social politics too.

Stretch your food dollar
College residence halls try to be competitive with their dining options because they know that providing good food is one way to keep you. But if you trade your meal plan dollars for some easy and inexpensive home cooking, you can free up cash for other things. (You know, other things.)

Of course, the way to make living off-campus really cheap is to rent your high-school bedroom from Ma & Pa. But for a lot of kids, the cost of living at home is too high at any price.

Still trying to decide which is right for you? Here are some AOL Real Estate guides to help you no matter whether you choose to buy or rent:

More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
Find homes for sale in your area.
Find foreclosures in your area.
Get property tax help from our experts.
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