Dinner Dialogues: Family Edition – Off-Campus Student Services

Dinner Dialogues: Family Edition is a new initiative within the Office of Parent & Family Programs to connect you to more resources to better support your USC student. Each month new information will be published surrounding a main topic. January’s topic is Off-Campus Student Services. There will be articles and videos shared on the Office of Parent & Family Programs Facebook page, within the Parent & Family app and on the website for you to gain better knowledge on these campus resources.

We recently sat down with Dave Foster, Assistant Director of Off-Campus Student Services, to discuss the off-campus housing search and how families can best support their student through this process. A video can be found at this link. Here’s what we discussed:

Office of Parent & Family Programs: Thank you for being with us, Dave. Can you tell us a little bit about the Office of Off-Campus Student Services?

Dave Foster, Assistant Director of Off-Campus Student Services: Our office helps educate students about moving off campus, living off campus, and thriving off campus. Over 70% of our student population does live off campus, so sophomores, juniors, seniors, graduate students, international students, the majority of those students do move off campus. One thing that we try to provide is information and education that helps students advocate for themselves and make a smart, well-informed decision about where they’re moving off campus and also understand their rights and responsibilities while they live off campus.

OPFP: Great! So, when should students start thinking about their living options for the next school year?

Dave: We recommend that students start thinking about their living options for next year around October or November. The on-campus housing application goes live in October, so the off-campus housing search mimics that timeline. We have a ton of programming geared towards those students looking for housing, perhaps their first time, but we like to think that if students can sign a lease by Spring Break, they will get the options they are looking for. Now, between that October/November range and Spring Break, that’s a time when students really need to go out, tour some properties, take a look at the safety of the property, and really see if it is a good fit or not.

OPFP: What do you wish students and parents considered when researching off-campus housing options? What should they know or what do you wish they knew?

Dave: There are tons of off-campus housing options and it can be a little overwhelming, but there is no one-size-fits-all; there is no one place that we recommend for students to live. A student really has to figure out what their needs are as a person and as a student. We have really awesome resources on our website. We have an amenities chart on pages 46-47 of our Off-Campus Living Guide that goes through 17 local apartment communities and a student can look through it to see what these places provide, therefore making a more-informed decision. We recommend that students take some tours of these places. We don’t recommend they sign a lease based on a picture that they saw online or a friend’s recommendation. We really want students to go out there and make a decision that’s right for them. Another thing is that students will most likely be using their parents as guarantors for a lot of these apartment communities. A guarantor is needed when a potential tenant doesn’t make more than three times the monthly rent. That is pretty standard policy, so you’re going to be a big part of this conversation with your student. We hope that your student has already come to you about this topic because they are going to look to you to help them with finances and help them navigate their first off-campus housing search.

OPFP: That’s an awesome point you just made, Dave. So, how can families support their student through this process from afar? Half of our students are out-of-state students, so how can parents really help their student through this while being away from them?

Dave: Sure. I know what it’s like to navigate a housing search from afar, I had to do that when I moved down here and it’s difficult. It’s difficult as a parent if you don’t know the lay of the land in Columbia, it’s difficult to provide your student with recommendations and support from afar, we understand that. One of the ways that we really want families to help their students is to make sure the student is advocating for themselves. The best thing a parent can do for their student is stay on them about, “have you toured these properties,” and “what questions did you ask.” Parents can rely on their experiences renting and buying houses, but also, encourage students to come to our office where they can meet with a Student Community Ambassador. Our Student Community Ambassadors can help them one-on-one so even though a parent could be living in Philadelphia, they can still help their student advocate for themselves down here. One of the ways students advocate for themselves down here is by utilizing our resources and Student Legal Services if they have to.

OPFP: Can you go a little bit more into Student Legal Services and what all they provide our students?

Dave: Student Legal Services is an awesome service that the university provides. It is built into tuition and fees, which means your student is already paying for it. We know students move off-campus and if a student feels their landlord is not making repairs or their landlord is withholding money, sometimes a security deposit – they feel their landlord is being unruly. Students can go to Student Legal Services, they set up an appointment online, and then they meet with them to talk about their options. Student Legal Services, which is real legal counsel, can help them with that. It’s located right in Russell House, which is where most of your students go every day and they can have someone take a look at their lease. Just to make sure they are covering themselves when it comes to policies at the apartment community or policies the landlord has.

Students and their families can connect with the Office of Off-Campus Student Services through their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter. They can also be reached by telephone at (803) 777-3366 and by e-mail at saocss@mailbox.sc.edu. Keep your eye out for the next Dinner Dialogues: Family Edition.