Not quite ‘home free’ for students seeking NYC housing

Photo courtesy of Danielle Bukowski.

While Vassar’s four-year housing plan is a central part of college life, it’s not always the best way to become accustomed to living on your own. With room and board paid in one lump sum, it’s easy to take for granted the costs of water, heat and electricity. And though room draw can be a pain, Vassar alums will attest that it’s far easier than sifting through dead ends on Craigslist.

For Lorena Lomeli ’15, it was worth the headache.

“I’ve dreamed of living in New York City since I was about 12 years old,” Lomeli, who grew up in Santa Barbara, Calif. wrote in an emailed statement. Last summer finally provided her with that opportunity when she interned at Magnet Media, a film production company.

Danielle Bukowski ’14 had been planning on living in the city for as long as she’d known she wanted to go into publishing. After graduation, she had a relatively smooth transition into living on her own. “My parents lived in Pennsylvania, so I moved back home after graduating and starting interviewing for jobs in NYC, and moved in once I got a job in July,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

The initial search process for housing for others can be the most difficult part of the transition. Evan Einstein ’14, who moved to New York City immediately following graduation to attend New York Medical College Einstein, agreed. He wasn’t even sure he was going to need housing until midway through the summer. “It was a mad rush because I was accepted off the waitlist in late July, and orientation was within two weeks of that.” Being able to live with his girlfriend from Vassar, Emily Denn ’14, who is attending Cardozo Law School in Manhattan, however, made the move a little less stressful. Einstein added that, in general, living with other people is an easy way to make things cheaper. “Splitting rent is a good way of reducing costs. The more roommates, the easier it usually gets,” he wrote.

Lomeli wasn’t as lucky when it came to finding Vassar roommates. “A couple of friends and I did some scoping on Craigslist day in and day out,” she wrote. “We had to go into the city a couple times to look at apartments and that got expensive really quickly. We decided that looking for whole apartments just wasn’t as easy and so we each ended up subletting rooms in different parts of town.”

She added, “I actually didn’t even know where I was going to be living until two days before I left Vassar. It was rough.”

Lomeli ended up living in Harlem with professional dancers she met through a Facebook page. It wasn’t what she had planned on, but she said it worked out in the end. Bukowski noted that having clear priorities can be helpful. “I highly recommend figuring out where you want to live in a city before you start seriously looking at apartments or it can be really daunting. What do you prioritize most: being in a cool area, having a large living space, having a short commute, living in a specific borough?” she wrote. Bukowski lives in an income-controlled building with two Vassar roommates in South Harlem bordering the Upper West Side.

Living directly in the city was a better call than commuting, which could get expensive. Bukowski wrote, “Commuting isn’t actually that much cheaper in NYC, depending on where you live: I was commuting from my parents’ house for a few weeks, and they didn’t charge me for rent, but daily train tickets, a MetroCard, and food all added up to close to what I pay now to live here.” She added, “Commuting is also a painful time-suck, especially when you’re working entry-level hours. Living at Vassar could have worked but even then, commuting would have been pricey.”

Nonetheless, living in the city provides its own obstacles and there’s not always someone to show you the ropes. Lomeli wrote, “You don’t know much about signing leases or looking at neighborhoods, etc. Moving into the city was a crash course in all that, which was a somewhat scary if ultimately rewarding transition.”

She added, “Most college graduates have experience renting apartments, commuting distances to class/work, and handling their own apartment wear and tear, but if you live in the dorms and then senior housing you don’t gain those experiences until you move away.”

To make things easier, Einstein wrote, “If you live in NYC, you should adapt pretty quickly as there are many VC alums roaming around the city. Many of your friends will probably be there with you.”

Bukowski added, “All of the cheesy cliches are true—transitioning is hard but you will find a new home and a new safe space and a new group of people with which you want to surround yourself. I Skype with far-away friends regularly. But an unsung glory about living in a really awesome place with a Monday-Friday job? WEEKENDS. They’re not just for homework and VSA meetings anymore.”

Einstein had a few tips regarding housing as well: You can’t get away from the fact that the apartment search can be expensive and a bit hectic, but if there’s an available apartment in your budget, get it before anyone else does. “Also, try to be as transparent as you can with the person showing you the apartment. Drill them with questions and make sure they aren’t trying anything funny (like showing you an apartment that’s already taken, so that they can then show you another apartment that is more expensive),” he wrote.

Most of all, Einstein, Bukowski and Lomeli agreed, enjoy your time at Vassar before it’s over. ”I always felt excited for graduation, and post-Vassar life is good. But savor your time at Vassar,” Einstein wrote, “It’s a special place.” “Last summer was a test run to see if I could survive working two jobs, living on my own and balancing fun with that too,” Lomeli wrote. “I’m graduating in May and will have to do the whole process all over again, but now I know that I can.”

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