Congratulations! You have just been accepted and will soon be paying a high price tag for a worthy education at Columbia University in upper NYC.  As if waiting to get accepted didn't already make you nervous and sick to your stomach, you now have to deal with the realities of ACTUALLY attending the university.  At the top of your bucket list is going to be dealing with the fact that you will need to move to NYC into an off campus housing situation ideally as close to Columbia University as possible.  


The Areas and Locations That Will Interest You For Columbia University Off Campus Housing


One top criteria each student is going to have for off campus housing is going to be the proximity between where you live to the university campus.  And by proximity, the term is generally around commute times and how quickly you can get from home to campus.  Generally, everyone can agree that an ideal commute time would be right around the 30 minute, maybe 40 minute mark.  No one really wants to spend that much time commuting unless they absolutely had to.      


Locating Columbia University On The Map


Before getting into the specific areas that will be of interest, let's take a step back and look at where Columbia University is located in Northern Manhattan.  The main area of CU starts at 114th street through about 124th street all on the west side of Manhattan.  


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In retrospect, even though Columbia is actually IN Manhattan, it is far away from the real hustle and bustle mean streets of NYC that begins in Midtown Manhattan and goes all the way down to the bottom, which is what is usually depicted on television and in the movies.  Though it's not far in terms of distance (4 miles | 6.4 km), its just that every neighborhood in Manhattan is so dense that it forms its own identity.  In NYC relative terms, the area of Columbia University is far away from the craziness.  


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Commuting By Subway


Commuting to Columbia University by subway drastically expands the off campus housing options.  It allows you to consider multiple neighborhoods North and South of campus.  NYC subways are quite fast and run frequently.  We're talking about a subway arriving every 5 minutes which means you rarely have to follow a schedule, stare at the time or rush to a subway because if you miss one, you know another one is arriving shortly after. 


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Your best friends are going to be the subway lines: Red 1 | Blue A, C | Orange B.  As long as you live near any of these subway lines, your commute time to campus will be within 30 minutes and you will get off at any of the subway stops right around the corners of campus. 


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You can look for apartments as far North as 181st street or go down as far South as 66th street.  As long as you are sticking to the west side of Manhattan, you will be walking distance to one of those subways that gets you to campus very quickly.  


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Commuting By Bus


The bus opens up off campus housing options East of campus and could lead you to areas in East Harlem.  There are more affordable housing options in the area but is also considered as one of the more 'sketchy' areas of the city.  Generally has more riff raff, feels a little less safe, and just seems dodgy. 


As long as you live around the 116th street and 125th street crosstown buses, it will keep you within that 30 minute commuting period.  


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Commuting By Walking


One of the best case scenarios of course is to find an apartment that is within walking distance to campus.  The running adage is that it conservatively takes 2 minutes to walk one NYC street block and 5 minutes to one NYC avenue.  That puts the off campus housing range of options at the 90s to the 140s north and south and then as far east as Malcolm X Boulevard.


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What Are Your Actual Columbia Off Campus Housing Options


Realistically, off campus housing for university in NYC comes down to a few solutions:


Rent An Entire Apartment


You get your name signed onto the main lease agreement with the landloard/property owner.  Whether you are renting alone, with a significant other or have found a few prospective roommates to live with, the idea here is to have the apartment be your own by getting your name(s) on that lease. The vast majority of people go this route because the assurances of long term housing is more guaranteed considering most lease agreements are a minimum of 1 year.  This time frame rightfully aligns with university programs that range between 1-5 years.  How do you find these off campus apartments?  This is also narrowed down to two solutions:



  1. Get help.  NYC rentals are tricky.  Many students opt for assistance in the form of a local real estate broker for guidance.  However it will cost money in the form of a broker fee which will run any renter a few thousand dollars.   It is very well known that it is a costly but perhaps worthwhile option.  There are hundreds of brokerage firms and thousands of brokers.    

  2. Otherwise, if you are cost conscious and are willing to do the work yourself, do the online research and the ground work, such as viewing the place yourself, gather all your documentation together and get that apartment yourself.  There are many no broker fee buildings in NYC where you can rent directly from property managers to bypass the broker fee.  Transparentcity.co is a key source for no broker fee buildings.  There are hundreds of buildings near Columbia where you can rent directly from property managers without having to pay the broker fee.         


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Rent By Taking Over Someone Else's Apartment Entirely


Mainly as a sublease.  This means looking for an apartment with an existing renter who is looking to get out of his/her apartment for whatever reason and take over the place.  This is almost entirely done online and can be researched through different platforms.  



  • joinery.nyc

  • leasebreak



    Renting Rooms Within An Apartment


    Mainly shack up with people you don't know.  There has been an explosion in NYC co living over the last 5 years with the success of coworking space WeWork.  Startups have taken the same concept and have applied it to residential renting.  The options range from renting an empty room, to roommate matching, to subleasing a room from an outgoing tenant.  This is also entirely done online.  There aren't brokers to assist with this process.        



    • Aggregator sites

      • roomi



    • Landlords who control the leases

      • roomrs

      • big apple

      • roomeze




    What Are Good Online Sources To Use


    Of course you have Columbia's own housing resource guide which has been edited and kept up over the years.  Interestingly enough, it may just lead you back to transparentcity.co  


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    What Are The General Requirements To Rent Off Campus Housing For Students


    For Foreign Students


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    There has been a gradual bump in international students over the years.  For example, in 2017, Columbia's ISSO program alone had over 14,000 international students all whom need housing.  What type of documentation do  you need in order to get off campus housing?



    • Proof of savings (2 months to a 1 year of bank statements)

    • Approved loans

    • Fellowships

    • Scholarships

    • Guarantors - Varies between landlord on whether they accept out of country guarantors

    • Even though there are new rent laws stating landlords can only take 1 month up front, it isn't being fully enforced yet and the rules are still vague.  


    For Out Of State Students


    Almost exactly the same as foreign students but with a handful of exceptions



    • Your U.S. Credit Score will get checked

    • U.S. guarantors are basically guaranteed to be accepted by all property managers