Cecille Lopez, a psychology freshman and first-generation student, waited until the last minute to secure off-campus housing because she was waiting for a housing offer from UT. When Lopez didn’t receive a contract, she didn’t know what to do.
Many incoming students have the same problem.
More than 86 percent of UT students live off-campus. Off-campus living offers a lot of benefits for students — cheaper options, larger spaces, more privacy. But this also means more responsibility and, for many incoming students, the need to find off-campus housing fundamentally hurts their
UT doesn’t have enough dorm rooms for every student who wants one. So the school is forced to decide how to allocate the existing space.
According to University Housing and Dining, the University reserves between 80 and 85 percent of available dorms for incoming freshmen, while 15-20 percent are reserved for returning students.
UT needs to prioritize more spaces for incoming students — both freshmen and transfers.
While first-year students are given priority in the housing process, almost 20 percent of dorms are given to non-freshmen, who — with notable exceptions — benefit less than new students from on-campus housing.
Living on-campus your first year in college gives you time to adjust to college life. In a community of almost 50,000 students, incoming students can struggle to find a place at UT, and living in a dorm is often the best way for students to carve out their community. Most of us meet our best friends in our dorms, and off-campus housing simply doesn’t have the same atmosphere.
Living on-campus your first year not only gives you an automatic community — it puts you close to your classes and eliminates the need for you to also figure out how to navigate a new city while adjusting to college.
Perhaps most significantly, not getting a spot on-campus your first year means apartment hunting while in high school.
The housing market around UT is notoriously competitive, and all UT students recognize the importance of securing on-campus housing as early as possible — often in October or November of the year before they expect to move in.
When Lopez did not get a housing contract from UT, she signed a lease at the last minute with a complex deep in West Campus. Like many apartments near UT, it offered low quality at a high price.
Not only are incoming students without dorm contracts a few months behind to rent near campus — most of them are apartment hunting from a distance. This makes it far more likely they fall victim to some of West Campus’ well-documented predatory leasing practices.
UT students often learn how to navigate West Campus leasing during their freshman year, as most of our fellow students work to secure housing for the next year. Incoming freshmen don’t have access to any of these resources — and by the time they hear back from UT that they don’t have a spot, they’re already late to the game.
This means students like Lopez are left scrambling for options without fully understanding the system. It creates a situation where some incoming students live in housing they can’t afford, or in housing that unnecessarily complicates their first year at UT. First year students shouldn’t be forced to commute long distances or rent an apartment when they aren’t ready for this level of responsibility.
It’s not unreasonable for parents to assume their freshmen children will be able to live on campus when they enter college. Some parents understand the precarious nature of UT’s on-campus housing, but a lot of parents don’t. Parents who know how restrictive on-campus housing is push their kids to apply early — long before they know where they’ll attend school — for fear of waiting too long and missing the opportunity.
This puts first-generation, non-traditional and out of state students at a significant disadvantage, as their parents probably aren’t aware of how tricky it is to secure a room on UT’s campus.
UT needs to work harder to ensure more incoming students can get a spot in a dorm if they want one.
By increasing the percent of rooms allotted for incoming freshmen, UT can ease students’ transition to college.
Of course, some upperclassmen should still get priority in on-campus housing. Students with disabilities, students with on-campus housing-specific scholarships or students with military funding should be considered first when choosing which upperclassmen get spots.
But right now, too many upperclassmen get spots they don’t need.
Most UT students live off-campus by choice, and many incoming freshmen are among them. But it isn’t fair to punish high school students for not understanding UT’s complicated housing system by forcing them to look elsewhere.
When UT fails to provide incoming students with housing, they feel like they’re entering UT alone.
As always, if you have questions on this issue or any other, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.