The most talked-about part of the offer my graduate school sent me was the graduate housing guarantee. Having read it, and gone on to read the most recent internal committee report on the housing guarantee, and then read the rates quoted on the website, I thought that this meant that I would have some variety of affordable housing. Barely affordable, but affordable.
What I didn't read was the noise-filled, flash-intensive website of a private subcontractor, who runs the other graduate housing units, the ones that the university doesn't actually own. The rent is much higher in these privately-run "luxury apartments."
Seriously? You're going to use the word "luxury" in describing graduate student housing? Someone's priorities are messed up. If I had gone on to read those rates, and realized that my school was going to put me in one of the expensive apartments, and that they would be asking for two rent payements prior to even moving in... well, the offer would have looked a lot less attractive.
The margin for housing to be considered "affordable" is 30-35% of income. By that standard, in order for the cheapest rent in the housing run by the private subcontractor to be considered even marginally affordable by Federal terms (35% of income spent on rent), you need an income of $26,000. Which is more than they pay graduate students. And to afford a single? Over $40K. This is enormously different from the units the university actually runs themselves.
And may I go back to the front-loading, and the silly fees? Application fee of $20. Security deposit of $150. $12.95 extra for them to process a credit card payment through a fourth party (how many middlemen are taking a cut?) and the first two months' rent due August 1st and September 1st when the move-in date is September 19th. Graduate student orientation? Guess. It's the 17th, and if you want to move in early, you get charged extra.
If I had known all of this earlier, I might have decided that thal school's financial support was simply unworkable. As is, now, I will find a way to manage to make ends meet, but you can bet I'm not happy about it. The fees are the most ridiculous part. I'm paying an 8.6% fee to reduce your paperwork? Even Paypal does not charge so much - and taking it out on the payee?
Perhaps in California, students are accustomed to going neck-deep in debt to afford housing, and it's considered essential to have a "resort-style" swimming pool at your apartment complex, etc. But where I come from, graduate students aren't interested in paying an extra $300-$500 per month to live in more luxurious digs. They're interested in having enough left over for groceries and just maybe putting something aside to work on those student loans they accumulated as an undergrad.
I know, I know, this is how the subcontractors make a mint and get their boat payments. But you'd think if the university was aware that problems affording housing both drive away prospective graduate students and prevent existing graduate students from making it through the program in a timely fashion (or at all, in some cases), they'd try to make sure the housing they were offering was affordable. And they are aware. I read the survey results cited in that report.