Leaving Cert students who began their exams last week have already searched, found and are paying rent on their college accommodation, experts say.
The frantic search for third-level accommodation has started earlier than ever, the Sunday Independent has learned. Housing experts believe some students are being forced to pay rent during summer months "to hold on to the places they've got".
Student officers say the deepening crisis is now an access to education issue and is damaging Ireland's academic reputation abroad.
New figures from College Cribs - a website featuring property listings for third-level colleges - shows an 18pc rise in activity compared to the same time last year.
Co-founder Edward Thurman said: "The trend we've noticed is that things are happening at least a month earlier than usual. Student complexes were already full by the end of April which we haven't seen before.
"There is a good chance this includes students in Leaving Cert who are forward-thinking and book places before they get their course," he said, adding that the vast majority of those hoping to secure a room are current students.
From a market point of view, Daft.ie economist Ronan Lyons anticipates that students will "get squeezed" over the coming months.
"My suspicion is that it's going to be very tough this autumn. I certainly don't think the problem has alleviated in any meaningful way," he said.
Mr Lyons argues that the current crisis is limiting choices for parents and students.
"It would be naive to think it doesn't impact on people's decisions -and that impacts on career opportunities," he said.
"People turn down college courses because they're worried about being able to pay the rent. Students may have more bargaining power on smaller campuses in Munster and Connacht," he said.
Many cash-strapped students are now paying rent during the summer months to retain their existing residence.
National Housing Charity, Threshold, have linked this situation to an "unusual decrease" in calls about ending leases and deposit retention.
Stephen Largeof Threshold said: "There has been a noticeable decrease in those types of queries this year and the rationale is that people aren't leaving and are holding on to their existing properties.
"For more and more people their only options are going to be staying at home and accessing a different course locally, going abroad or deferring until they save money," he said, adding that the crisis is an "unnecessary and unfair burden" on Leaving Cert students.
Mr Large advises Leaving Cert students, and their guardians to avoid booking a place before college offers are released.
Currently there are an estimated 165,000 full-time students in Ireland. This figure is set to rise to about 200,000 in the next 15 years.
Last year, USI successfully linked 400 students with private home owners in Dublin to help stem the crisis. The USI is promoting the same short-term measure by appealing to homeowners to rent out a room in their house for a year, tax-free (home.usi.ie).