Heading off to university is one of the most exciting times in life - you’re about to study something you really love, make a ton of new friends, and get a shot of independence. Once you’ve decided on which university you want to go to, it’s time to nail down the accommodation.
It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by your options though, so here’s what to know and what to look for when choosing the right accommodation for you.
The nitty-gritty bits
First things first, you’ll need to choose what’s most important to you for your student digs. Who do you want to live with? Do you want your own space, or an en-suite? Is your budget tight? Would you like the freedom of cooking for yourself? Is living on campus essential?
It’s okay if you don’t have answers to all these questions. Order your priorities to help make your decision quicker and easier. The top things to keep in mind when you’re on the search for student accommodation are:
- Location (including transport links)
- Price (bills included in rent or not?)
- Any extras (en-suite bathroom, communal facilities, etc.)
Location, location, location
If you’re desperate to be in the heart of the student action, living in student halls is probably your best option. You’ll live either directly on campus or in a student village just outside. If city life is more your style, private halls or private accommodation are your best bet.
When you’re looking at the location of your accommodation, make sure you check out the transport links. Can you walk to your lectures or do you need public transport, and if so, is there a bus or train you can hop on?
It’s also worth checking out the neighbourhood, if you’re not planning on moving into university-owned accommodation, to make sure it’s safe and friendly for students.
Budgeting & bills
It’s understandable if price is your number-one driving force. Be realistic with the accommodation you can afford in order to avoid the unnecessary stress of tipping into your overdraft. This will also give you more money to spend on groceries, socials and any personal little treats - bonus!
If the thought of handling your own finances makes you panic, university or private halls will ease the stress by including all your bills in the rent. Just check up on the terms of any accommodation so that you know what you’re getting for the price.
If you’d love to wake up to breakfast on the table and come home to dinner, catered accommodation takes away the hassle of having to think what to cook, let alone master the kitchen!
Yet if you’re itching to try your hand in the kitchen and have been inspired by Come Dine With Me or The Great British Bake Off, self-catered accommodation will give you the freedom and challenge of cooking for yourself. This may be particularly important if you have special dietary requirements or preferences.
Private accommodation instantly guarantees that you will be in charge of your own kitchen, whilst many university and private halls offer both catered and self-catered rooms.
All the extras
Things like having an en-suite, a plaza TV in the lounge, or access to a communal area shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all, but it’s worth factoring up what each accommodation has to offer. Avoid being dazzled by all the extras, as these may bump the overall price up.
Consider the plunge only if the extras are worth paying for!
Types of student accommodation
Now that you know the kinds of things you’re looking for, it’s time to choose what type of accommodation best matches what you want.
You’ll find all the first-year accommodation options on a university’s website or by flicking through their prospectus. But don’t feel limited to this! Your four main options are:
- University halls
- Private halls
- Private accommodation (a shared student house/flat)
- Living at home
You may have a preference to one of these straight away, but hold on one minute to read all the pros and cons of each.
The most popular option for first-year students is to head straight into university halls. They provide the perfect balance of gaining independence by being away from home, without launching you out into the big wide world too quickly.
You’ll benefit from the extra support of the university: bills are thrown into the rent price so you don’t have to worry about managing or monitoring these, and universities offer round-the-clock staff to help with security, maintenance and general queries or concerns.
University halls are normally in the heart of the uni campus too, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Lectures may be just a hop and skip away but things could get noisy and messy with so many other students around – especially at night.
Living with a mixed bunch of students gives you the chance to meet lots of new people and make new friends though, which is one of the best parts of the uni experience! In university halls you won’t get to choose who you live with, but as everyone’s new to the university it’s the perfect time to get to know other first-years.
Private halls often have the same great mod-cons, perks and facilities that university-owned halls have, alongside the main pros and cons. The major difference is that they are run by a separate company that is not associated with the university. It is important to do your homework on what the company offers, their prices and their maintenance policy in comparison to university halls.
You can usually live closer to the city centre or in a trendy area of town when you pick private halls, but this means you may end up living with students who don’t go to your university or aren’t fellow first-years. And prices may be slightly higher for the added luxury of cosier, roomier interiors and a more central location.
Sharing a house or flat with a couple of others is usually the top choice for students after their first year, once they’ve built up a social circle. Private accommodation is perfect for mature students or those wanting to live outside the grounds of the university, as well as a backup for those who’ve come through Clearing.
With private accommodation you have direct control over where you live, but unless you already have a group of people to move in with, you may end up living with students you don’t know, in the same way as halls.
The main concern for many students looking at private accommodation is the reliability of the landlord, as maintenance problems can take longer to get fixed if your landlord is not the organised or attentive kind. You’ll be thrown into the deep end to manage your own bills, cleaning and cooking, but this can be a good way of getting to grips with life away from home.
Living at home
Let’s not forget living at home. If you’re planning on heading to a university in or close to your home city, living at home can seem like the best or easiest option. Although it will take away many of the stresses of living independently, staying at home can make it harder to make friends and join in with social events, as you’ll be separate from studentville.
With more and more great student accommodation choices opening across the country, you’ll be spoilt for choice! Keep in mind all of our tips when narrowing down your search, so that you have the best university experience you can.
A Bit About Our Contributor: The Student Housing Company
The Student Housing Company provides private student halls in cities across the UK and in Dublin, giving you a vibrant, social and comfortable place to stay during your time at university.