Yale students in Barbados. Michigan students in Brooklyn. Berkeley students in Las Vegas? Off-campus housing is way off-campus now.
As the fall semester begins, many college students will be attending classes from the relative safety of their family homes. Others have arrived to live on university campuses, with varying amounts of success; even schools that enforce strict social distancing guidelines are seeing outbreaks of the coronavirus.
But some students are pursuing a third option: Renting giant houses with friends — sometimes in far-flung locales — and doing school remotely, together. Call it the rise of the college “collab house.”
Two groups of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, have rented large houses in Hawaii for the fall semester. Six rising seniors at Columbia University will be living in a house in Portland, Ore. Several rising seniors at Harvard are renting property in Montana. There are at least seven large houses that have been rented in the greater Salt Lake City area alone, filled with students from different colleges.
These houses range in scale from lavish and pricey productions to smart, budget-friendly solutions for first generation, low-income students.
“The reason people my age are really gravitating toward doing this is we all want new experiences, but that’s been hard to come by,” said Erik Boesen, 19, a rising sophomore at Yale who is living in a house in Durango, Colo., with other Yale students.
His reasons for pursuing this off-campus housing alternative are shared by many students living off-campus this semester: They’re looking to escape their families and replicate at least part of the college experience.
“Everyone has been cooped up in their houses,” he said. “We’re all looking to do something that’s a little unique.”
Building the Dream Home
Living and working together with a group of friends in a massive house is a dream for many young people. It’s an aspiration they see modeled by YouTube stars and influencers, who have formed collaborative living arrangements all across Los Angeles. Moving into an off campus house in college is also a milestone for many young people and a way to assert their independence.
When Yoni Altman-Shafer, 20, a rising sophomore at George Washington University, found out in July that all of his classes would be online in the fall, he felt trapped. The prospect of being cooped up in a tiny dorm in the middle of Washington, D.C., didn’t sound appealing, nor did spending another year stuck at home with his parents in Milwaukee.
“Most college students don’t want to be home anymore,” he said.
So, Mr. Altman-Shafer and five friends of his quickly devised a new plan: They’d rent a big house somewhere “adventurous, beautiful, warm and, most importantly, cheap.” The group put together a detailed PowerPoint presentation to convince their parents, which addressed all major concerns they could foresee — such as how they planned to eat, adhere to safety precautions, get schoolwork done and observe Jewish holidays.
“Your student could truly have it all this semester,” the presentation read, “by joining her friends to live in a fully furnished home out west and taking classes remotely. Beautiful scenery, wide open spaces, all from the comfort of a safe and lovely house with Wi-Fi and equipped with all the amenities we would need.”
It worked. Mr. Altman-Shafer and his friends will be living in an Airbnb rental home in Colorado this fall.
Mr. Altman-Shafer’s house remains unbranded, but other groups of students have named their college houses and made them social media official, creating shared accounts where they plan to post about their lives together.
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