My First Apartment

Two years ago I sat in my Penn State dorm room with a calculator and a question: is it cheaper to live on campus, in my small but comfortable dorm, or in an apartment complex off-campus?

As I crunched numbers, the answer emerged: moving out of the dorms was best for my bank account. For the first time, I went apartment hunting.

I ran upstairs to grab a picture of the college student's living room. In hindsight, the mattresses and giant paper Christmas tree might not be average. Courtesy: Dulce-Marie Flecha

Like cramming for a final exam, I had to learn a volume of real estate terminology in little time.

In hopes of diminishing another "First Timer's" stress, I've compiled Apartment Search Cliff Notes, specifically, a glossary of important rental terms to bring on your tours:

Cosigner: A person who agrees to assume equal legal and financial responsibility for a rental contract which for many college students and recent graduates are their parents. Basically, if you mysteriously disappear without paying your rent, your cosigners will pay.

Credit Score: A number based on your credit report banks, businesses, and landlords use to gauge how reliable you may be paying debts such as loans, credit cards, or your monthly rent. As with a final exam, you want the highest score possible.

Grace Period: Rent is normally due on the first of the month (do you remember that Bone Thugs-N-Harmony song?). Often times renters have a penalty-free window--about five days--without racking up a late fee or interest. Reference point: when your professor lets you submit an essay a few days late without losing points.

Length of Lease: The amount of time--normally one year--you are legally responsible for the apartment.

Security Deposit: An amount that can be equal to one month of rent that serves as "proof of intent" or a guarantee you will not destroy the property or not pay utilities.

Most deposits are refundable minus cleaning and repair--you'll get it within a limited time period after you've vacated the apartment provided there aren't damages. This is separate from first and last month's rent, which landlords will ask you to pay in advance.

Sublet: Studying abroad? Going home for the summer? Rather than pay for an empty room, many students will find subletters to live in the apartment and pay at least a portion of the rent for a negotiated time period. But be careful! You, not your subletters are still legally responsible if anything should go wrong.

Utilities: This refers to miscellaneous apartment costs such as gas and water. Always ask your potential landlord to define "utilities."

Getting your own apartment can be scary, but using this glossary will give you confidence and the tools to make an informed decision.

The Wise Latina Club’s Dulce-Marie Flecha is a rising senior at Penn State. When she is not writing her honors thesis, she is trying to learn a fourth language, feeding her fashion obsession by Googling her favorite designers’, or begging the Yankees to hit with runners in scoring position. Click here to read more about and connect with Dulce-Marie.

When you moved into your first apartment, what did you not know then, you now know?