By Kaitlyn Wells
After a year of adjusting to life on the Hill, Tufts undergraduates return to campus as sophomores with a greater sense of familiarity — and obligations. As they settle into a new dorm, it’s not long before they are confronted with the task of planning where to live the following academic year.
At Tufts, it’s customary for students in the fall semester of sophomore year to fast forward and think about their living situation for junior year, or in some cases, junior and senior year combined. Upperclassmen are not guaranteed on-campus housing, so students are faced with the choice of entering the on-campus housing lottery system or finding residence off-campus.
The Office of Residential Life & Learning, colloquially known as Res Life, is the chief touchpoint for all housing matters. Typically in mid-October, Res Life begins introducing sophomores to the upperclassmen housing process through email. Then, around mid-November, sophomores receive their on-campus housing lottery numbers.
Angy Sosa, the associate director for residential operations, wrote in an email to the Daily that it can never be too early to start thinking about upperclassmen housing.
“I recommend that students start doing their research as soon as possible – that means, learning about the process, talking to their friends and families, determining finances and what they can legitimately afford,” Sosa wrote.
Rennie Kipchirchir, a sophomore, had not lent the matter much thought until quite recently, however.
“I never really thought about it until, like, a few days ago [in early November], … when I got an email that [if] you’re … going to apply [for] on-campus housing, it’s due [within a week],” Kipchirchir said.
Reflecting on their experience the previous year, current juniors Erin McChesney and Nathan Solomon recounted beginning to seriously look into upperclassmen housing around mid-September and the beginning of October, respectively.
Both students were prompted to start their housing considerations early — before receiving any news from the ORLL — partly due to the influence of other Tufts students.
McChesney, an SMFA dual-degree student, noticed that upperclassmen housing became a popular topic of discussion early in the semester.
“A lot of people were talking about how they were signing leases, how they started looking already, and we were like, … we’re behind, we haven’t done any of that,” McChesney said.
Solomon, a computer science major, attributes the tendency to search for upperclassmen housing very early to a combination of social pressure passed on from older students, as well as communication from landlords regarding off-campus options.
“I think it starts with upperclassmen telling underclassmen, ‘Hey, you really need to find housing really fast’ … but I really think that it’s exacerbated by landlords trying to pressure underclassmen into signing [leases] and honestly making them think that it’s a bigger issue than it really is to wait,” Solomon said. “I really think that a lot of it is irrational. But, because a bunch of people will just start believing in it, it almost becomes a rational fear because now people go out and start searching for houses super early.”
In her sophomore year, McChesney pursued off-campus housing in a group of five students. She described having a mix of both positive and negative interactions with local landlords.
“We did have one landlord who was very nice and was like, ‘Take your time, it’s okay,’” McChesney said. “[Landlords] were usually very good at getting information to you, but they could be very pushy, [saying things] like, ‘You need to get this signed now or else you’re gonna lose [the house].’”
McChesney added that students may seek out brokers to help find information regarding pricing and availability for off-campus houses.
“When you call the broker just to get the price of the house, they would attach to you,” McChesney said. “I had one guy who would call me every hour. … We tried our best to avoid [using a broker] also because it’s very expensive. A broker normally takes your first month of rent.”
Instead, McChesney searched for off-campus housing options by using Apartments.com and by knocking on doors to ask for the names of landlords, which she described as “beneficial.” In the end, McChesney secured a housing lease through a friend who knew an outgoing tenant willing to pass on the information of their landlord.
When it comes to off-campus houses, Sosa urges sophomores to consider potential challenges that might arise if a lease is signed in a rushed manner.
“I would say that signing a lease a year in advance for a space they don’t know much about is dangerous,” Sosa wrote. “There are many challenges that are often left unconsidered. Friend groups may change, finances may change, the apartment/house may not be what you all had hoped. Signing a lease off campus is difficult because it’s legally binding.”
Ayub Nur is a sophomore who had also considered living off campus next year but eventually decided to apply to live in special interest housing. He wishes that there were more accessible and clear explanations regarding how financial aid applies to upperclassmen housing.
“I know that if I had booked meetings and reached out to certain people, that I would have gotten an answer, but … I think about making the time for that and not knowing what kind of answer you’d get is just difficult for no reason, and I think they should have a good clear online resource for that,” Nur said.
The structure of the upperclassmen housing system is a primary reason that led Nur to change his intentions of studying abroad during the academic year as an upperclassman, and instead hope for a summer study abroad opportunity.
“I had erroneously thought that I could be on campus for one semester and then be abroad for the second semester, and that would be easy,” Nur said. “ It turns out that I would not get a lottery number for … half of the next year if I studied abroad, and that I wouldn’t be able to apply to special interest housing either. … And with the stresses of all that, that was a compounding factor that led me to decide to not study abroad for the academic year … With how uncertain housing already is, I think if I chose to study abroad it would make [things] too uncertain.”
Echoing Nur’s sentiment, McChesney recalled how although leading the process of arranging off-campus housing was a short-term time commitment, it was quite taxing.
“It took like two or three weeks, and I was mostly the person front leading it, and it was definitely affecting my schoolwork,” McChesney said. “It [was] something I had to put a lot of time into, and [it was] just incredibly stressful.”
After finding an appropriate off-campus house, McChesney encountered requests from landlords for signatures from all the unit’s renters, as well as each of their co-signers, by the end of the day. McChesney emphasized that this was a challenging task to field.
“For me, the hardest part was probably trying to get all these people to work together,” McChesney said. “And then also, there [are] weird logistics: … maybe one person has to … send a security deposit, so deciding who’s going to do that, [or] how they’re going to get the information [is difficult].”
Kipchirchir was initially open to the idea of off-campus housing, but will likely apply to be a resident assistant or enter the lottery for on-campus housing instead. While he is still in the early stages of the process, Kipchirchir does not feel he has encountered any housing hurdles yet.
“I think [the ORLL does] a good job generally, because I’ve never been stuck with anything,” Kipchirchir said.
Kipchirchir elaborated on his decision-making process thus far.
“I decided I’m just going to apply for on campus housing since it’s going to be cheaper. And also I won’t have to pay for housing during the winter break or summer break,” Kipchirchir said.
In the case that tenants are absent for a portion of the year, there is the option to sublet individual rooms in order to avoid a sunk cost of paying rent for an empty space.
“We were looking for off-campus housing that would allow subletters so that we could have a little bit of a cheaper housing situation and with a bit more flexibility,” McChesney said.
To find potential subletters, McChesney and her housemates advertised their rooms on Facebook groups for Tufts students and parents.
When making these important decisions about where to live for the latter half of your time at Tufts, it is crucial to be aware of the resources that can support you throughout this process that most students are undertaking for the first time.
In this regard, Solomon added that talking to upperclassmen can be helpful in weighing the advantages and disadvantages of various housing options.
“I think that the upperclassmen I talked to gave really good insight into, like, what to look for when you’re trying to find an off campus house, or what are the pros and cons of living on or off- campus,” Solomon said.
The ORLL has an off-campus housing resources webpage to help rising upperclassmen generally navigate the housing search process, according to Sosa.
Sosa also outlined what happens when more sophomores apply for on-campus housing than what the university can accommodate.
“When we have more applicants than we have spaces to offer, we utilize a lottery process to randomly select students in the applicant pool to be given lottery numbers [or] waitlist numbers,” Sosa wrote. “Those with lottery numbers are guaranteed a space, those with waitlist numbers are not guaranteed, but will be considered if spaces open up.”
In response to the ongoing campus housing crisis, the university plans on increasing housing for juniors and seniors, Sosa added. This includes the construction of Community Housing, known as CoHo, which are wood frame on-campus housing options to expand opportunities for upperclassmen.
“For example, we will soon have three new additional [Community Housing] units, one of which is expected to be ready by Fall 2023,” Sosa wrote. “We also are planning to build a new high capacity space on Boston Avenue – however, that building will not be available for some time.”
Every student will end up successfully securing a place to live as an upperclassman, even if the process may be daunting, exciting or simply a logistical obligation. Evaluating factors such as finances, luck and your desired level of independence would be a first step. At a campus-centric liberal arts institution implicated in a local crisis of affordable housing, considering and searching for upperclassmen housing can be a challenging process for many.