First of all, I want to say congratulations to all the new admitted students. I decided to write this post at this time to give you some more information on what I’m sure is a very important part of your decision-making process: where to live.
I did a lot of research before coming to Chicago, because I absolutely did not want to get stuck with an apartment I didn’t want. I was successful; I don’t plan to leave my apartment as long as I live in Chicago, unless I have a very compelling reason to do so. I live in an awesome neighborhood for a fair price in a very nice unit. I suggest not using services like ApartmentPeople and the like, even though it’s more convenient. This is something I think you should go into with as much knowledge as possible; after all, you’re going to be living there!
Most people think of the places to live to essentially exist along two train lines: the Red Line (Lincoln Park and north of there) and the Blue Line (From Chicago–with a bus–to Logan Square, roughly). Some people also live on the Brown Line around Ravenswood/Lincoln Square, which are neighborhoods, not stops (sorry to switch terms). The neighborhoods going north on the Red Line where most people live are Lincoln Park, Lakeview (which includes Wrigleyville and Boystown, basically), and parts of Uptown. Some people live north of Uptown, but I’m not at all familiar with those areas. Off the Blue Line, going Northwest (the direction the Blue Line goes) people live in Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Logan Square, with a little bit of bleed into parts of Humboldt Park.
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I’ve given you more than enough to Google from there, and I suggest doing that and reading the Wikipedia pages for the neighborhoods to get a feel for the neighborhood boundaries. In broad strokes, the Red Line gets less expensive as you go north and the blue line gets less expensive as you get away from Wicker Park/Bucktown. In general there are more artists and less chains along the Blue Line from what I can tell, which can be good or bad depending on your tastes. I live in Bucktown and wouldn’t trade it for anywhere.
My advice for how to choose an apartment: research the neighborhoods, pick one that sounds interesting. Get on the ground if at all possible. Preferably, get on the ground after you’ve determined the market in the area to see if you can find a price point that fits. If you don’t mind roommates, you’re starting around $500 in all likelihood. For a single apartment, you’re starting around $700, again to my knowledge. This is from when I was searching and your mileage may vary.
To check the market for neighborhoods, I suggest PadMapper. This lets you see where the listings from various websites are and lets you filter by price, etc. I would check any address you’re thinking of living at on EveryBlock. This is to check out the community, the local stories and restaurants, as well as the crime in the area. You should always get on the ground, but these statistics can help you decide if the safety vs. price vs. proximity to cool stuff balance is right for you. Be smart about it: people can get mugged walking by themselves late at night anywhere. However, it’s good to have all the information you can get your hands on, and that site has a wealth of it.
Good luck, and again, congratulations to the newly admitted students!