Chicago, the country's third largest city, offers a variety of living opportunities. If you're checking out apartments in Chicago, here's what you need to know before your hunt begins:

The stats
The vacancy rate in the Windy City has been hovering between three and four percent for the last few years. This means that everyone's renting, so you'll face stiff competition in your search, especially in the prime neighborhoods on the north side. Also, although the average rent in Chicago is about $1,200 per month, which is relatively low compared to New York and L.A., it will be difficult – if not impossible – to find a one bedroom for that price in the most sought-after locations. 

There's wide variability in the necessary paperwork, but you don't often need more than a rental application, a credit check (initiated by the landlord for a $30 to $50 fee) and possibly a recent pay stub.

Searching by neighborhood
In this market, it's a good idea to start checking out what's out there at least 60 days in advance. Here's some information about the most popular neighborhoods for young adults to fuel your search:

  • Downtown – This includes the Gold Coast, Streeterville, River North and The Loop. Rent here is some of the priciest in the city – a two-bedroom averages between $2,000 and $4,000 per month. There isn't always a security deposit in these high-rise buildings, but there's often a move-in fee, ranging from $200 to $500 up front. On the upside, these areas are extremely walkable and have excellent access to public transportation, including the El, buses and even water taxis, if you're so inclined. There's no need for a car. People typically start their search online and then contact the high-rises' individual leasing agents.
  • Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wrigleyville, West Loop, South Loop – These neighborhoods are further from the city center and thus, slightly less expensive. A two-bedroom apartment can go from anywhere between $1,600 to $3,000 per month, and public transportation options are abundant as well. 
  • Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Ravenswood, North Center, Logan Square, Lincoln Square – These "hipster" neighborhoods are becoming more popular because rent is much cheaper. They still have pretty decent public transportation, so check them out if you're on a tight budget.

Insider tips
In many of the north- and west-side neighborhoods, like Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park, people choose an area they like and then take a leisurely walk through the neighborhood. It's not uncommon to find "For Rent" signs in the windows of lovely brownstones that haven't been posted anywhere else.

You can typically get a significantly reduced monthly rate by renting from an individual owner, but be prepared to jump on a good deal right away – even waiting 24 hours might not be a good idea.

Living by the lake is always more expensive. Typically, the further you are from Lake Michigan, the cheaper the apartments are.