How do I find cheap/free housing while in a full-time medical program?
June 27, 2019 10:33 AM   Subscribe

The second year of my (pre) med program begins in a few months, and I am unsure if I can afford to return to school due to the expense of rent (not to mention tuition). This summer I'm saving all of my rent money up by being a live-in catsitter and paying nothing in rent, but if I don't find something reasonable soon I likely won't be able to return to school. How do I hack this? Details within.

Basically, I have been paying $390 in rent (plus utilities, at least another $100, more in the winter due to heating) in a small Philadelphia rowhome in South Philly while working and attending a pre-med program at a university in Center City. However, the coming semester entails Physics, Organic Chemistry, and Biochemistry and it has been suggested to me that I will not be able to work under the duress of this courseload in the fall and spring. Knowing that I need to quit my job, which already pays very little, I am quite concerned about finding housing for the fall. At present, I found a subletter for the room in the house where I am a leasee, and am a live-in catsitter for the whole summer; as such am able to save all of my rent money up.

But, this money will not last long once fall rolls around and I still need a place to live once my lease is up at the end of the summer (and my subletter moves out) and this cat sitting/housesitting gig is over. Is there any kind of low-cost housing (lower cost than my current rent) in Philadelphia that I might be eligible for? I have SNAP and Medicaid already and am definitely fall under the poverty line as defined by the government. I would also be willing to pay to rent a room in a house in a more informal capacity, perhaps for empty-nesters or elderly folks who would like to have a younger person around. I would also be fine cat sitting as I am now, but it seems unlikely that I could line up cat sitting gigs back to back in such a
way that enables me to not be homeless at least part of the time. What are my options here? Should I go around canvassing neighborhoods closer to my school and just...ask...if people have a room available for rent? It would be great if I could just pay like, $300 all inclusive in cash monthly to someone, as I am rarely home when I'm in school anyway.

Additional loans to fund housing during school aren't an option for me, as I have already maxed out my Federal Loan limits and do not have a good enough "income to debt" ratio to qualify for private loans, nor do I have anyone willing or able to cosign on a private loan for me, either.

Seeking ideas for housing so I can continue my education! Any ideas welcome. Thank you!
posted by erattacorrige to Education (11 answers total)
Some other jobs that might include rent: property manager or live-in caregiver/personal attendant for a disabled or elderly person.
posted by hydra77 at 10:43 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you talked with your departmental advisor? There are sometimes sorta-jobs within the department offices where you can get paid to perform assistant level work which isn’t as demanding as having an off-campus job-job (for example, I opened the department offices, made coffee and photocopies, sat at the front desk and worked on my courses when I was a broke undergrad). If there’s no floating positions like this, there may be emergency funds out there, though what this looks like for undergraduates is hard to say.
posted by zinful at 10:54 AM on June 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is one of those YMMV things according to how private a person you are, what type of facilities your school has, parking, local (police) attitudes, etc, but I know personally looking back one of my bigger mistakes in school was not living out of a van. I rented but took so many credits that I woke up, commuted to school, spent all day there in class, library, or sports/hobbies, then commuted home and immediately went to sleep. The room I rented was unfurnished so I literally just used it to store my belongings, sleep at night, and use the bathroom in the morning. Morning showering, etc. took place at my uni's gym washroom after practice anyway so I wouldn't even have missed that, and I had access to a break room with a cooktop and microwave. Weekends I was either sleeping elsewhere for sports/hobby stuff or in the library studying.

"Vandwelling" is the thing you'd google to find more info. I know it sounds ridiculous at first, but both logistically (I had a ~45min walking commute) and financially it didn't make any financial sense for me to rent a room with how I was personally using it.
posted by ToddBurson at 10:58 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Most people manage this by taking out loans. If that's not a good option for you, you might look into whether any local community college credits can be transferred into your program... the premed programs near me accept a number of them. Taking only 1-2 a semester would likely be more affordable for you than going part-time in your current program.

Nanny work sometimes includes housing, but would be time intensive.

Have you looked into roommates of the literally share a room sort?
posted by metasarah at 11:20 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just flagging for you the possibility that going to school full-time and not working may jeopardize your SNAP benefits, unless your school is a community college or you are over 50 or have a dependent.
posted by praemunire at 11:30 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

+1 for zinful - when I was in school, I got paid about 4x minimum wage at the time to sit in a room and work on school work. Occasionally if a window in my screen went red, or if someone called in I rebooted the appropriate supercomputer and made sure it came up correctly. Only downside is students only got the shifts from 5pm - 8am.
posted by nobeagle at 1:17 PM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

+1 work/study or other on-campus work. I was a TA, grader, and Math Tutor and it was so great to stay on campus all day and get course work done.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:17 PM on June 27, 2019

Is this a post-bacc program, or an undergraduate premed program within the auspices of a university? The latter usually has more resources for things like work-study jobs. Most post-baccs are funded 100% on loans and because you are not an undergrad, you are often not eligible for undergrad aid.

A personal attendant/home health aide type job is actually a lot of work and usually requires a background check (at least, if hired through an agency) but if you have a community support network or church/temple, you might able to find a "companion" type role where you live rent-free or super-low-rent in exchange for taking an elderly person to doctor's appointments and light housekeeping. My great-aunt had someone like this live with her for about 10 years.
posted by basalganglia at 3:25 PM on June 27, 2019

Are you in a post-bacc that leads to a certificate/something else that isn't a degree or is it a Special Masters Program? If it's the latter, you should be eligible for GradPLUS loans regardless of whether you've hit your Stafford Loan limit.
posted by blerghamot at 5:58 PM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is a post-bacc program that will lead to a certificate and seems to be counted as undergraduate when financial aid processes my financial aid materials.
I have already considered living out of a van, but that would require quite a bit of start up money in order to pull off, and then parking it around a city where nearly every spot it heavily metered and monitored and ticketed would probably end up costing more in the long run, ultimately. It's not off the table, though, if a cheap van strayed across my vision.
In terms of working at school- that's a good idea; I am currently working for the school but in a less consistent capacity, but I should be looking for additional jobs it seems.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:50 AM on June 28, 2019

This is why it took me a long time to finish premed prereqs--I had to work to support myself. The good news is that I'm starting residency on Monday, so keep at it.

I do not recommend it because it's super-draining, but you may be able to find an after-school babysitting gig that comes with cheap rent. Pick up the kids from school and care for them until the parents arrive home.

Look for "intentional communities" and "cohousing" in Philadelphia--basically communes where work in the community MAY offset some of your rent. A quick google revealed at least one.

Feel free to memail me to talk further! I supported myself via tutoring and babysitting in NYC. These were the highest combo of hourly rate and flexible schedule.
posted by 8603 at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Make our trip to Scotland Amazing: Glasgow...   |   Using accented words in an American company name.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.