From basic living to upscale extras, apartments offer lots of choices. You're wise to start looking early. Once you determine the area you'd like to live in, visit several locations and do some "comparison shopping."
The Atlas Apartment Comparison Checklist (pdf) tells why you need these things. Print a copy for each complex you visit and record your findings. But don't stop there—knock on doors and introduce yourself. Are the neighbors friendly? What do they think about the way the complex is managed? What do they say about noise?
Once you find the apartment you want, be ready to act. Have your checkbook, proof of income, references, and credit report on hand. When you meet with the manager, be punctual, neat, and friendly. The good impression you make will work in your favor.