A while back, I wrote about the guide to Moving into a Student House or Apartment, but what if this is your first time and you have to choose where you want to go? There’s a chance you got to sample the different types of accommodation on your campus open day – but if you’re still unsure or perhaps you’re looking to apply next year and want an idea of how students live, here’s a short guide to how you can spend your first year at University.
As the usual disclaimer, every country may approach this a little differently so the following knowledge comes from my UK experience and shared experience of the American college perspective from various friends and helpful internet peoples. Your results may vary.
Halls of Residence
Perhaps the most typical of student pads, the halls of residence offer a great way to build a community amongst your fellows studying in the same subject or at least on the same campus and hopefully will help to form a new circle of friends and connections.
The combinations of halls are as varied as the hotels they can resemble from the outside and each one will offer a different feel. Often named halls come in a small complex divided into ‘blocks’ that will contain a varying amount of amenities. These may include a laundrette, a security office, a lounge or hangout area, a bar, a shower block (should your bathrooms not be incorporated into the buildings itself), a post room/concierge and car parking facilities. Check with your accommodation office to find out the specifics.
At one end of the scale you’ll find the fully shared option – famously seen on TV and found around the American College campuses amongst other areas, Dorm rooms offer shared accommodation with one or more room-mates sharing the same sleeping quarters and working space. Having this setup means you won’t be short of company and for those that shared a bedroom with siblings or wider family growing up will have a familiar feeling (albeit on a more adult level) . The flip side to this of course means you’ll have to set ground rules and agree boundaries for decor and space and visitors.
At the other come single rooms along long corridors that share a common floor door and occasionally storage and kitchen facilities. Some halls also share bathrooms, whilst others will have them en-suite in some or all of the rooms. The responsibility for the upkeep of the floors/half floors and communal areas can vary here depending on if you’re cleaning your room, cleaning the corridor or helping to keep the kitchen clean.
A common middle-ground to these two extremes are the concept of “Flats”. These blocks tend to have floors will be divided into small groups of single rooms that share a kitchen and dining/living space and are often responsible for the upkeep of the general area as a smaller team.
Halls are often maintained by university staff, from having the kitchen and floors covered for basic cleaning, with you the tenants responsible for your own dishes, excess mess, bedrooms and bathrooms if you have one of your own with many institutions running regular inceptions to ensure contract rules are adhered to.
Finally, there’s different catering options. Self catered places do pretty much what is said on the tin – you’ll get a cooker, a fridge and sometimes smaller appliances such as microwave ovens and toasters provided to you in a kitchen and it’s up to you to feed yourself by some means. There’s also fully catered meal plans available in some halls often loaded onto a prepaid card that is handed to the cashier of the outlet of your choice at set mealtimes or in stores around campus. This prepaid plan may have some limitations often creating a partial-meal plan where you may have to fend for yourself for weekends or certain meals.
For more information on understanding this, take a look at these 2 clips from the University of Kent and YouTuber Katie Golan:
Courtesy of the University of Kent on YouTube
Courtesy of Katie Golan on YouTube
Large Managed Accommodation (University, Private Owned or Both)
Occasionally if your university is in a thriving city or a town where local business could benefit the university (which in turn should help local businesses thrive), accommodation is at the front door, with private companies often building their own residential blocks nearby and offering student rent similar to a halls of residence. The difference here is the owners are practically free to build out the layout how they wish, often offering more or more of services than standard university services will (even partnering with certain universities to connect to their campus networks for file/intranet access).
The other difference with these facilities is that they’re not tied down to your specific institution, so if there’s two universities in town or a a large college – there’s a chance students may be accepted from each, which could play out really well in terms of making new friends, but also interesting for rivalries and pranks.
Occasionally some accommodation may be owned privately, but the university will act as the landlord, kind of like a managing agent for a rented out house. The beauty of this means that you’ll be guaranteed certain standards with your place and will often pay your rent to the university like you would with halls – super useful if you get a maintenance loan/grant in the UK and in some cases this can be taken care of automatically.
Private accommodation effectively replicates what most people do when they first move out of their childhood home outside of university or after graduation, in which you’ll move into a flat/apartment or house owned by a landlord, pay them directly (or via a management agent) and follow their own set of contract rules. This is potentially the most individual of accommodations where rules can vary from having a live in landlord on site to everything is in working order (including yourself if you want your deposit back) all the way to never meeting your pad owners beyond handing over the keys and contracts at the beginning and end of your tenancy.
What you will have to pay for beyond the standard rent in these varies from property to property, although these tend to me more generous than the general housing you’ll find online – occasionally bills may be included with the rent as well as insurance or furnishings.
If you choose to go down this route, be sure to read the advert description carefully and to ask plenty of questions on a house tour to ensure you’re getting everything in the deal that you want to know.
A really useful website I and my housemates found useful during an accommodation search in my MRes years was Studentpad in the UK, which I would highly recommend if you’re new to taking the big step in a place that’s almost your own. Outside of the UK, the appropriately named accommodationforstudents.com allows you to do a countrywide search by university cities or the institutions themselves and aims to match to the requirements you need. If you don’t find any results in the automatic search, a form pops up allowing you to create a listing with your requirements in the hope a landlord may get in touch with the place you’re looking for.
Stay At Home
Finally, if you’re going somewhere local and you’re more of a homely type, there’s no harm in staying where you are. There’s nothing to pack, nowhere new to get used to (granted your parents may ask you to take some responsibility, or start paying rent, or both) and you’re in a familiar environment. Plus you’ll never worry about having to give up stuff or losing things in transit, because it doesn’t move.
There are flip sides to this as well such as the bonds often shared with housemates and camaraderie shared in living with people that you get to choose (kind of). With that said, there’s nothing stopping you visiting your friends in their accommodation and going to their parties, with the advantage of not having the responsibility of cleaning it up afterwards!
Returning students – where did you choose to live. New students – where are you planning to live at your respective space? Feel free to let me know in the comment box below and share some of your regrets or benefits you have for making your choice of living.
Why not take a tour of what’s available. Have a look at your respective University to see if they have any multimedia available or any clearing-style tours left to explore what’s available on or around your campus. If you’d like some inspiration, take the Kent video above for the full spin or check out the ones below from the University of Hull (cameo appearance) and the University of Nottingham.
Courtesy of the University of Hull, Scarborough Campus (RIP)
Courtesy of the University of Nottingham
Good luck finding your pad! Once you do, don’t forget to check out this previous post on how to make it your own!