Apartment-hunting does not have to be a pain, but it often is. The struggle of finding a secure and nice place that isn't expensive is quite difficult! But it can be done--here are the ways I survived looking for an apartment:
Don't wait until June or July to find an apartment near your school in time for classes to start in August! Start searching as soon as you know you're accepted and are definitely going to this particular college. That way, you won't be pressed for time and/or get crowded out of all the good apartments.
If you mention to locals in the community that you're apartment-hunting, you'll find out quickly which neighborhoods they don't recommend. When I was looking for apartments in Greensboro, NC, there was one apartment complex that kept coming up in searches as being the cheapest, and yet it had really nice-looking rooms (at least from the pictures online). I was about to decide to lease there, until I mentioned it to a Greensboro friend of mine. Her response: "Oh, hell no! They're nice rooms, but they get broken into ALL THE TIME. Don't stay there unless you REALLY have to."
The moral of this story: research and ask lots of locals (online and in person) about what apartments and neighborhoods they recommend. Then choose the safest of those options that are still in your price range. Remember, your safety is more valuable than anything!
Make sure you don't get confused and lease a $600/week apartment when you could have had a $600/month apartment! Read ALL the documentation so that you don't get hit with surprise fees, rules, etc. Sometimes people sneak nasty little rules into the fine print. Also, if something doesn't make sense to you, take the documentation to someone who can translate Legalese (like a law student friend).
Insist on this, even if the complex's website offers a virtual tour. If the landlord/complex owner refuses, take your business elsewhere. You can't make a good decision about a place to live if you can't even be in the actual space for a little bit before you sign a contract!
This is not as much of a no-brainer as it seems. Ask if your monthly utilities are included in your rent--if they're not, you'll need to account for those, too. This is how some unscrupulous apartment owners get you paying higher prices.
Your potential neighbors are great resources of information about your prospective living situation, especially the ones who have lived there a long time. You can find out really quick how attentive the landlord is (or isn't), how prompt they are at fixing plumbing/heating/air-conditioning, how often the place gets bug-sprayed, etc. Ask in online communities or spread the word through local friends--or, if you're brave, go meet said potential neighbors in person!