The Graduate: A memoir of University-owned grad housing

When I first stepped into my furnished apartment, assigned by University of Chicago Real Estate Operations, the blood rushed to my head, and I thought I might pass out. I was not fainting with joy.

I tried to breathe and interact like a normal human being as long-time custodian Silvio Stepancic showed me around. But I couldn’t help replying to every question or remark like an automaton. “Uh-huh. Oh. Hmm. Wow.” Meanwhile, desperate disappointment ran through my head voicing parallel responses like, “Gasp, Agony, Horror, Shock!”

I was too polite to ask the questions I really wanted answers to. Why exactly do I have a tin-can kitchen, painted a faint piss-yellow? The cabinets are metal, the shelves are metal, and even the counter is metal. Putting away the dishes creates a cacophony of metallic clamorings that are not for the faint of heart.

Thank God for my internal censor. Besides, it wasn’t Silvio’s fault that my stove looks like the tween version of an Easy-Bake Oven or that modular furniture is thoroughly depressing.

But I signed the lease anyway. All my possessions were in the back of my car, and my boyfriend, who came along for the 2,066-mile cross-country trek, was flying back to Seattle in two days. If I wanted help moving in, I didn’t have time to shop around. This would be my home for the year.

I penned the lease with melodramatic resignation, and then went upstairs to lie on my sagging mattress and wallow for a solid fifteen minutes.

Then something clicked. Somewhere inside me I remembered a lesson gleaned from numerous movies as a kid. You have to make a place into a home. Even a bleak little apartment. I decided to focus on the positives–high ceilings and closet space that would make Carrie Bradshaw jealous–and get to work.

That’s when I started to discover some great things about grad student housing. Management replaced my sagging mattress the day after I complained about its stained and sorry condition. Eric Boyle, assistant manager, came up, took one look, apologized and the next day a brand new mattress and box spring appeared–tags still on–courtesy of Silvio.

My $300 deposit was immediately credited to my first month’s rent, and I enrolled in online auto-pay two days later, which works like clockwork. The laundry machines on the first floor always seem to be open; I have never had to wait for a machine in seven months.

Although I still think my kitchen is laughable, I have grown fond of Old Ironsides and grad student housing, too. Silvio has helped me out of countless jams, from jump-starting my car to fixing a water leak. Problems usually get fixed within a day or two of requesting service. Even my friend who had mice got her kitchen replaced in a matter of days.

Grad student housing may not be particularly glamorous or new, but it is clean and well-cared for. The staff is helpful and reacts to problems quickly. Best of all, when I graduate in June, I can terminate my lease without penalty or the hassle of subletting.

Who knows, I may decide to stay on through the summer until my lease is up at the end of August. Because, now, it feels like home.

University of Chicago Real Estate Operations –
Grad Student Housing

Location: Over 1,300 units in 28 buildings + New Graduate Residence Hall (1307 E. 60th St.)
Amenities: Heat and water included in rent, pay rent online, furnished and unfurnished units available.
Rent Range: $532-1,625 for studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments
Pros: Flexible lease options. Leases end the quarter you graduate or at the end of the academic year (Aug. 31). Don’t worry about signing a yearlong lease when you only need a place for nine months. Avoid the hassle of subletting or paying rent for an apartment you don’t need.
Cons: $300 deposit applied to first month’s rent; housing is only available to full-time graduate students. See FAQ section of for the definition of “full-time.”
– BE SPECIFIC: “I welcome a more specific application because then I know what you’re looking for,” says Ellen Huckelberry, an employee of UofC Real Estate Operations for 35 years. “The more specific, the better.” If you know your friend is moving out in July and you want her exact apartment, you can request it. Enter the pertinent info under the “Specific Requests” section of the application, and you’re all set.
– EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM: The bulk of the applications come in during March and April, but you can send an application sooner as long as you are enrolled (or will be) as a full-time graduate student. REO keeps applications on file and will assign you the apartment when it comes open.
Contact: Graduate Student Leasing Office, 5316 S. Dorchester Ave. (773)753-2218.