Degree In Sight

The life of a psychology graduate student can seem nomadic as you jump from city to city in pursuit of higher education. Though relocating is common, it can also be stressful. Here are a few tips to simplify your next move.

Work your connections. Students' No. 1 tip for finding safe, affordable housing is to contact students or interns in your future city. You might be able to take over a fellow student's lease or find an empty apartment in his or her building. At the very least, these contacts can recommend neighborhoods.

Your graduate school or internship site should also be able to advise you on housing. Many keep bulletin boards or online lists of open apartments or even have staff dedicated to the topic. If your program is part of an academic medical center, you can check to see if they have a program for medical student and resident housing, advises Joyce Corsica, PhD, psychology internship director at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "They are well accustomed to having a large number of people coming and going who are always looking for housing or roommates," she says. "And someone who's already in the academic environment will tend to be busy with studying instead of up all night partying."

Research the neighborhood. Before moving into unfamiliar territory, look up crime stats, says Jenny Glassmire, a graduate student at Argosy University's Washington, D.C., campus. Glassmire learned this lesson the hard way when she jumped at the chance to join an inexpensive D.C. group house. She enjoyed her housemates, but within a few months the house had been robbed and a roommate was mugged. Fed up and scared, she and a friend moved to a safer neighborhood. "Jump in with your ears and your eyes wide open," she advises. "Talk to a lot of people and be aware of what you're getting into."

Other students recommend calling the police department or visiting its Web site to research crime statistics.

Spread the word. Tell everyone you know that you're looking for housing, says Corsica. The more eyes and ears you've got helping you, the more likely you'll find great opportunities. This strategy is particularly useful in large cities where apartments are so in demand that they're "handed down" among students and interns.

See for yourself. If at all possible, travel to your new city before school or internship starts. Although apartment communities often have video tours and photos online, nothing will show you if you're comfortable in an area more than visiting it, says Glassmire. And trust your intuition — if a place doesn't feel right, keep looking until you find one that does. Your academic commitments will be challenging, and a supportive home environment is important to your success.

"My first semester was really stressful, and part of it was I didn't have a stable, comfortable place to go home to," says Glassmire. "I suggest students ... try to move a couple of weeks before school starts to get to know the area before jumping into the stresses of school."

Tap Craigslist, with caution. Most graduate students have already discovered Craigslist (www.craigslist.org), the online, city-specific forum where you can easily search for roommates and apartments. But as helpful as this resource can be, it sometimes attracts scammers. If a listing looks too good to be true, there's a good chance it is. Also, steer clear of landlords who are unwilling or unable to give many details about the parking and public transit situation or whether the neighborhood is suitable for families, says psychologist Candace Genest, PhD. "Talk with someone who had lived in the apartment or house first," she says.

Call in the pros. What many students don't realize, says Corsica, is that they can enlist an apartment service or real estate agent to handle their housing search — and often for free. Try a Google search for "apartment service" and the name of your future city, or get a personal recommendation. Apartment finders usually earn commissions for each match they make, so they may direct you to larger buildings rather than the eclectic digs you can find through Craigslist.

During one of her moves, Corsica and her husband spent weeks researching places online and visiting homes that turned out to be duds. Finally, they went to an apartment service, which interviewed them about their needs and then drove them from apartment to apartment.

"In under two hours we had toured several places that met our criteria and settled on a great place in a terrific neighborhood," she says.

By Erika Packard
gradPSYCH Staff