Affordable Housing for PhD Students in the USA

With a growing population of international scholars gracing universities within the United States, their contribution is invaluable. However, the task of finding and securing affordable housing for PhD students and, in many cases, their families, presents a significant hurdle, often distracting them from their academic pursuits.

This challenge is not exclusive to international students; American doctoral candidates with spouses and/or children are likewise affected. Regrettably, these students encounter a scarcity of guidance in navigating the housing market. This is worsened by the limited availability of reasonably priced housing in university and college locales.

As housing typically represents the primary expense for individuals and families, saving in this domain is critical for allocating finances toward other essentials or pleasantries. Therefore, the quest for reasonably affordable housing for PhD students near their academic institution emerges as a pressing matter for many graduate students, particularly for those with family commitments.

This post endeavors to consolidate valuable insights for those in or contemplating enrollment in a doctoral program in the United States, with a keen focus on housing. Our guidance is geared towards students benefiting from assistantships with stipends, yet we aim to extend our insights to self-funded scholars as well.


Do PhD Students Face Housing Challenges?

A rising challenge confronts both foreign and native graduate students, as well as visiting academics and their kin, in their quest for reasonably priced accommodations in proximity to US universities and colleges. The scant supply of housing accessible to those earning low to moderate incomes is a widespread issue in communities across the nation.

Prices of accommodation can vary from around $300 a month for a single room with shared facilities to $3000 a month for a modern two-bedroom apartment, obviously depending on location and the standard of living you desire.

The escalating cost of living near the university environment has made it particularly daunting for graduate scholars (both Master’s and PhD) to find financially viable houses and yet fulfil the needs of their families. Added to these hurdles are shifting visa policies complicating matters for international academics and students, who are often disqualified from housing grants subsidized by the government.

As a result, many universities and colleges are actively working to meet the diverse needs of their PhD students and general academic populations by providing information and support for affordable housing for PhD students.

What Factors Should Be Consider When Choosing Housing?

As an international PhD student trying to maximize your savings by getting affordable housing, you must first investigate the availability of affordable housing in the community you will be living. International students who already pay higher tuition and fees are already challenged financially and hence cannot afford expensive housing options.

See Also: Easiest Countries to Get PhD Admission

As always, we provide money-saving tips for PhD students on this platform. To ensure that the cost of housing does not financially burden you or inhibit your ability to complete your graduate program, it is important to consider various factors when deciding on housing such as:

  • Location
  • Proximity to the university
  • Cost/Rent
  • Community
  • Facilities
  • Safety and
  • Environment

Let us discuss some of these factors in detail and see how you can overcome the burden of expensive housing costs by diligently following this guide on affordable housing for international students.

  1. Location and Proximity to Campus

Location and proximity to campus are generally crucial to most students and are important factors in selecting a housing option. The further the distance from campus, the greater the isolation from academic resources.

PhD students often need access to professors’ offices, libraries, computer labs and frequently take part-time jobs as teaching or research assistants. The best situation would be to live within walking distance of campus in an apartment complex where many other grad students live.

  1. Rent and Utilities Costs

Most university towns are known for having higher rental rates than other areas, which can be a big shock to students. However, understanding what you can or cannot afford should play largely in determining how much you are willing to spend on housing. An accepted standard is that your housing costs should not exceed 25-30% of your monthly income.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 58% of all graduate students receive some sort of income, most of which comes from a teaching or research assistantship. In another study,  from the NCES, the average on-campus housing costs for a graduate student at a 4-year public institution is $7000, while the average off-campus costs are nearly $8000.

  1. Amenities and Facilities

The availability of furnishings is crucial for students traveling to the US, as it affects their academic functionality, social integration, and mental health. Moving into an apartment that is not furnished already, may reduce the initial cost of rent, but will cost more if you furnish it yourself.

You must spend time and money to find or transport low-cost items. So, you have to consider the two-way direction when choosing what to go for. The availability of appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers, and air conditioning is important for students’ quality of life and academic efficiency but comes at a higher cost.

See Also: Top 10 Higher Education Host Destinations Globally

  1. Safety and Security

As students living away from home, it is important to prioritize safety and security. Research local crime rates and talk to other students for advice. When renting a place, check windows, doors, and locks for security. Obtain permission from your landlord to install additional security measures. Ensure that all entryways are well-lit.

Look for apartments with intercoms or peepholes for added security. Check available statistics on crime rates to make an informed decision about the safety of a particular area. Keep in mind that crime levels can vary within cities. Being well-informed about high-crime areas can indirectly affect student safety.

Essential Tips for Affordable Housing for PhD Students in the USA

Essential Tips for Affordable Housing for PhD Students in the USAAffordable living arrangements for PhD scholars in the United States can be found through initiatives like the Housing Choice Voucher Program by HUD (HCV-HUD), which permits those with low income to find accommodations in the private sector, and the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students’ Housing Registry. Classified as students, PhD candidates are entitled to student-specific residential options.

Across various institutions, subsidized housing tailored for PhD students might be provided, often taking the form of on-campus apartments or former family townhouses now repurposed for graduate student use. These typically offer lower-than-average rates ($300-600 per month), proximity to campus, and a community mostly composed of graduate students and their families.

In the following paragraphs, let us discuss the essential tips for inexpensive housing for international students in the USA who seek their doctorate degrees. This thorough guide will help you navigate the PhD journey effectively and save money from the high cost of living. The following are the affordable housing options tailored for you.

#1. On-Campus Housing Options

Graduate students may choose on-campus apartments as their residence, offering a quality of life similar to off-campus living with a slightly higher price tag than dormitory spaces. These apartments stand out for their strategic location—imbued with an academic vibe and the benefit of additional private space. Here are a few on-campus housing options for you:

  1. Dorm Living

Dormitories present a prime living arrangement for individuals pursuing advanced degrees, with varied accommodation styles, amenities, and price points. Prospective residents should inquire with the university’s housing office for comprehensive details. Options range from air-conditioned suites with semi-private bedrooms to rooms with communal bathrooms on each floor.

With pricing spanning from $300 up to $1200 per month, inclusive of utilities and situated at convenient campus locations, dormitories present an exceptional value proposition. For PhD candidates in the US, dormitory life brings certain advantages—nine-month leases allow for summertime absence without incurring costs, all-inclusive rental agreements aid in strict budgeting, and proximity to campus alleviates transportation concerns.

Moreover, the furnished nature of dorm rooms obviates the need for additional purchases, a boon during intensive study periods. All things considered, dorm living offers both convenience and affordability for solitary graduate students

  1. On-Campus Apartments

Variations of apartment complexes cater specifically to graduate student housing, some with extended waitlists. The ability to personalize these often unfurnished housings provides comfort across academic tenures, with leases offering renewal rights or aligning with the academic calendar. Family students find these options particularly appealing, amplified by potential on-site daycare services.

Typically, on-campus apartments are less costly than their market-rate counterparts, considering parking, commuting, and sometimes utility savings—benefits stemming from university subsidies in development and upkeep. Exceptionally, the institution may further reduce rent costs for student leases. Universities may offer to reduce or waive on-campus housing costs for students demonstrating financial need.

  1. Subsidized Housing

Subsidized housing outlines government assistance in rent, tailored to students meeting specific income and educational parameters. Tenants can expect to pay a fraction of their earnings towards rent, with subsidies covering the balance. Although enticing, the long wait for such residences necessitates early application.

Availability ranges from specialized complexes to private properties, with property management or landlords determining eligibility, and prioritizing those with families or children. These units typically reside in more secure vicinities and may host fellow students or university personnel.

#2. Off-Campus Housing Options

Students often find that off-campus housing is a cost-effective option. Off-campus housing includes a range of choices from sharing a house or apartment with other students to having your own apartment. Some of the Off-campus housing options include:

  1. Apartment Hunting: Shared Units and Studios

Essential Tips for Affordable Housing for PhD Students in the USA
Photo credit: istockphoto
Affordable Housing for PhD Students in the USA

If shared housing is not available or is not something you would consider, a studio is usually the next most affordable option. Studios are often less expensive than one-bedroom apartments and are widely available in the university district and surrounding neighborhoods. However, they can be small and lack privacy when used as a shared living space.

A shared two-bedroom apartment is the most common and viable option for a two-person living situation. The cost per person and the utility cost are usually less than with a one-bedroom unit. The situation is most often shared with a friend or roommate known from the same or similar department. Apartment units appropriate for students can often be found through the university or local property management companies.

  1. Renting a Room: Sharing Costs and Space

Eligible students at most institutions can also choose to rent a house or apartment from a private landlord. Types of housing vary significantly by cost and personal space. Renting a room in a house with other students and/or a family is a low-cost option. Renting a room is significantly cheaper than taking on a lease by yourself, and hence, you’ll save money.

In addition to saving money, you’ll likely be able to find a place close to campus. The other upside to renting a room is amenities, which will vary. You’ll likely have access to a kitchen, as well as a washer and dryer. Sometimes, renting a room will include a meal plan and provide many of the comforts of an apartment or house, for less money.

  1. Subletting: Temporary Solutions

Defined as a tenant giving its property to a different person for a fixed period, subletting may be an attractive option for individuals seeking short-term housing that does not require the commitment of a one-year lease. In a sublet situation, the original tenant remains liable to the landlord for the rent and any damages caused by the person to whom he or she sublets.

If the person subletting the property does not pay the rent, then the original tenant will have to make up the difference or risk default. This makes subletting a somewhat risky option, although if the terms of the original lease are met it can be a viable way to offset housing costs. One advantage of subletting is the possibility of obtaining a furnished unit because the subletting tenant can often use the belongings of the original tenant for the duration of the sublease.

  1. Consider Homestays: A Cultural Experience

Homestays, a form of off-campus housing, are typically arranged through an agency where a student is placed with a family to live in their home. This can be a fantastic opportunity for international students looking for inexpensive housing options or any domestic student who is interested in learning about a new culture.

Homestays also typically include a private, furnished room that often includes a desk, meals, and laundry facilities. Some homestays can be located a bit far from the university, which can create a bit of a commute. This can deter from social events and late nights at campus, so when selecting a homestay, consider the location of the home.


Navigating the housing market can be fraught with stress and complexity, considering the multitude of factors involved. Many housing platforms are inundated with listings, lacking efficient filters for duration, size, location, or cost. The overwhelming quantity of details to process poses its own obstacles, yet this can be alleviated by focusing on the most critical factors tailored to distinct circumstances.

This article represents an initial stride in erecting a detailed guidebook catering to the varied housing needs of international postgraduate students in the USA, thereby aspiring to facilitate more informed decisions in subsequent searches.


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