Deciding on where you will live for the next few months is a tough decision, especially since you will be in a new country with a different language and a completely different university setting.
In Milan, I can recommend to live in an apartment instead of living in the university dorms. The international dorm is quiet a distance from the university. All the students I have met who at first signed up for the dorm, eventually decided to move to an apartment in the center of the city (causing them to lose their deposit but it was worth it, as they say).
Most exchange students come here having nothing more than a hostel reservation and then spending the next couple weeks before classes begin, searching for an apartment. You won’t be the only one!
Your two survival tools will be your new local cell phone and a city map. There are advertisements around the university offering rooms for rent, and the quickest way to find out if you like the place or not is to call the number listed and go see it! Usually the landlord or students who sublet are really easy to reach and will be able to see you that same day. Most of the places advertised around the university are there because they are in close proximity to the uni. In other words, you can see multiple apartments in one day; public transportation is relatively plentiful in Milan, so getting around won’t be a problem.
Besides being close to the university, having an apartment allows you to go outside of your comfort zone and meet/live with locals and other exchange students. Many of us tend to cluster with our own nationalities when we go abroad. Though making friends and hanging out with other Americans could be a great thing, just remember that it’s more rewarding if you break out of the circle and try to get to know the other nationalities (and there are many!). That’s something that’s harder to do here in Milan, if you decide to live in the international dorm. The name is slightly misleading because the international dorm is actually majority American students.
If anything, finding an apartment in Milan could be quiet an adventure. You’re guaranteed to have at least one memorable story.
helpful link for renting in Milan: http://www.easystanza.it