Group of college students walk on campus

Renting to college students can be a smart move if you’re prepared for some of the unique property management challenges and can offer in-demand amenities. 

Off-campus student housing is often seen as “recession resistant” and has seen strong performance recently, says Ryan Lang, vice chairman and head of New York-based commercial real estate firm Newmark’s student housing group. 

Total enrollment at degree-granting postsecondary schools is projected to rise 1.6% between 2022 and 2028, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But where those numbers will land depends on the region and type of institution. 

Here’s what to look for as you evaluate student housing markets. 

Appealing school offerings

When Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments invests in student rentals, the business analyzes the specific university as carefully as it does the property, focusing on unique campus characteristics and student demographics, says Miles Orth, COO at Campus Apartments. 

Most investors look for schools with at least 20,000 students and powerhouse athletic programs, like those in the Big 10, Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast conferences, Lang says. 

“Students want to go to schools with great access to amenities and entertainment,” he says. 

Enrollment data and projections

Universities often share enrollment numbers online, and Lang encourages investors to check whether a school has a strategic plan indicating whether enrollment is expected to grow, creating a need for more student housing. Another source for data on enrollment and other university characteristics is the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator tool

Don’t forget to consider whether the college is considered a “commuter school.” If a large share of the student body commutes from home rather than living locally, there might be less demand for student apartments. 

Local and school regulations

Whenever investors consider expanding into a new real estate market, it’s important to research local legislation and rules affecting rental properties. When it comes to off-campus student housing, it’s also smart to check the college’s policies on student housing. For instance, any rules that require living in university housing for a portion of a student’s time on campus will affect demand for nearby apartments.   

Market competition

To get a sense of the local market for off-campus apartments, tap into the resources students use to find housing. Some colleges and universities have off-campus housing departments that share apartment listings and other local resources. 

It’s also a good idea to leverage local market data to get an understanding of rents, vacancy rates and operational costs at competitive properties. 

Consider the full university community

Undergrads aren’t the only people looking for rental housing close to campus. Harbor Property Management, which owns small- and medium-sized apartment buildings near the University of Chicago, often rents to graduate students and faculty. Harrison Cohen, co-founder and principal, says Harbor doesn’t target properties to specific groups within the university community, but a property’s location — for instance, whether it’s near the law school or close to the undergraduate campus — often influences which group it attracts. 

Read more from this series on student housing for real estate investors: 
3 things to know before investing in student housing 
What students want in apartment rentals