Aaron Williams' height makes him a little choosier when looking for apartments.
The freshman at California State University, Stanislaus, said he needs a large enough bedroom and king-size bed to fit his 6-foot 6-inch frame. That's why he declined dorm life for an off-campus apartment his first year in college.
"I like being on my own," said the business major and basketball player. "And a teammate is my roommate, so we have similar schedules."
Williams lives in Boardwalk Apartments, which border the university at Crowell Road and Christofferson Parkway in Turlock.
Though many valley students live with their parents or families while in college, others search each spring for apartments or houses to rent. For many students, finding a low-priced place close to campus is the ultimate goal, according to students, real estate agents and property managers.
"You definitely want to find something as cheap as possible. You have to pay for your education, too, and your food and stuff," said Williams, whose apartment sports the college-life staples -- multiple televisions, cables for the Internet and TV strewn across the hallway carpet and a George Foreman grill.
Turlock and Merced have two of the lowest average monthly rents in California -- $832 and $706, respectively -- making it a little easier to afford attending CSU Stanislaus and the University of California at Merced.
Living close is convenient -- no hunting for parking on campus or paying for parking permits -- and students also save on gas.
"It's a matter of convenience. ... Students want to be able to get up, throw their hair in a ponytail and head out the door," said Shannon Teekell, community director at Boardwalk. Half of Boardwalk's residents are college students. Rent for the two- and three-bedroom apartments ranges from $850 to $965 a month.
Another student housing trend has popped up in recent years -- because many students work to put themselves through school, they look for housing close to their job, whether or not that's in the same town as their college, said CSU Stanislaus housing director Jean Grech Conde.
The Cal State Stanislaus and UC Merced housing markets have different sets of characteristics.
Cal State Stanislaus is surrounded by residential and business neighborhoods in northern Turlock. A commuter college, many younger students live at home with their parents or are older with their own spouses and children. Students are scattered in houses and apartments across the city.
However, there are apartment complexes heavily populated by students bordering the university, such as Boardwalk, Parkwood and Park Place apartments. Others, such as Briarwood and Park Knoll are within a mile of campus.
Newer houses north and west of Cal State Stanislaus see a lot of student renters.
Williams and two basketball teammates are moving across Christofferson into a house next year.
"As long as it's within bicycling range," he said.
UC Merced is a newer campus, built northeast of the city. Growth is planned to fill in the agricultural land between the two, but until then, the closest off-campus housing is newly built houses in north Merced's Bellevue Ranch, about two miles away.
Though housing within a half-mile radius of UC Merced is said to be some of the most expensive in the area, the housing downturn is playing in renters' favor. Four- and five-bedroom homes managed by Gonelli Realty rent for $1,200 to $1,300 a month, said property manager Kathy Lewis.
Students who live in town face a 15- to 20-minute commute through traffic. Popular apartment complexes include Village Landing and Village Terrace near Merced College in north Merced, about 12 miles away from campus.
Granville Apartments opened two years ago, a year after UC Merced opened. Off Highway 59, the complex is about 13 miles from UC Merced. Billed as luxury apartments, about 80 percent of residents are UC Merced students, said Lisa Fullerton, property manager. With 86 units -- from one to three bedrooms -- rents range from $730 to $955 a month.
Resident Brenda Ramirez schedules her classes so any breaks in between are short enough that she can stay on campus and study. Granville's amenities are unbeatable, including the six Jacuzzis, washer and dryer hook-ups and a dishwasher, said Ramirez, a UC Merced psychology junior.
Roommate Vickie Tsai said she liked the security provided by their gated, surveillance- camera-equipped apartment complex. The place was a deal, too, though it is a 15-minute drive to campus, said the UC Merced psychology junior.
One dynamic Merced has that Turlock lacks is that its junior college -- Merced College -- is less than 15 miles away. Despite the proximity, students from both campuses live at the same complexes, but you won't find many rooming together.
UC Merced students said they've noticed tension with Merced College students. The two sets of students hardly interact, except at parties, and UC Merced students said they sometimes get the cold shoulder from Merced College students, who say they were there first, Ramirez said.
Home hunting by college students starts with classified listings, Internet searches, Craigslist ads and word of mouth. UC Merced also offers online database searches for off-campus housing; Cal State Stanislaus is planning one.
As Cal State Stanislaus and UC Merced grow, new houses and apartment complexes will pop up. Administrators are planning a "university community" of houses and apartments to the south of UC Merced.
In Turlock, an upscale apartment community is under construction on Christofferson next to Highway 99. To the south of the university, a developer is renovating a former hotel into an apartment complex of studios and one-bedrooms -- geared toward college students.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.