Daniel Mason, Senior editor
May, 2016

Explore the pros and cons of different types of student accommodation and make an informed choice about where to live while at university

It can be a little scary leaving home and moving to a new place with new people, suggests Claire Henshaw, from the academic and student services team at the University of Northampton.

Therefore, it's vital that you fully investigate what accommodation is available and which type suits you best.

Choosing where you are going to live is one of the most exciting and important decisions you will make at university

Discover your options

As Heidi Cooper-Hind, head of student services at Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) says, 'Choosing where you are going to live is one of the most exciting and important decisions you will make at university.'

You can usually start your accommodation application once you've accepted an offer of a place on a course, but check with your university for details of the process.

'It's always wise to do a little research,' advises Claire, and you should start this as early as possible. 'We advertise the dates that applications open and "how to" guides as well. The university website is a great way to gather information and make sure you are well informed.' Alternatively, get in touch with your university's accommodation office.

In general there are three main options: you can live in university-managed accommodation (typically halls of residence), a privately-rented house or flat, or at home.

Halls of residence

Halls are large blocks of flats housing hundreds of students, with individual furnished bedrooms organised around corridors or apartments with a shared kitchen. In some cases bathrooms are also shared, although en-suite rooms are increasingly commonplace.

They are usually managed by the university or in partnership with a private company, and the quality is generally good as they have to comply with national codes, notes Heidi.

Many universities guarantee a place in halls for full-time first year students and international postgraduates, as long as you meet application deadlines. However, this will vary between institutions - for example, you may be ineligible if you've come through Clearing.

Halls are especially popular among new students who are living away from home for the first time, says Heidi. 'Bills are usually included, so you know exactly what you are budgeting for, and it's easy to arrange your accommodation by applying directly to the university - normally online.'

As they're typically located on or near campus, living in halls puts you at the centre of student life. It's a great way to make friends and easy to get involved in social activities. While your bedroom may be small, all the facilities you need (for example a laundrette) are usually on-site, and the university accommodation team is on hand when it comes to maintenance.

On top of all this, a number of universities provide some catered accommodation. This may be worth considering if you don't feel ready or able to cook for yourself, though it will of course increase the cost of your rent.

However, in return for the convenience of halls, you may find yourself paying more than you would in a private house or flat. You don't get to choose who you live with - which can make things tricky if you don't get on with others on your corridor - and with so much going on, halls aren't necessarily the place to be if you value peace and quiet.

Bear in mind that internet access sometimes comes at an extra cost, and you'll need to buy your own TV licence. Heidi adds, 'Remember that you'll be collectively responsible for the communal areas in your halls, which means you may have to contribute to repairs.'

To find out how much you'll pay in rent, see your university's website, as the costs vary significantly depending on location and facilities. To give one example, an en-suite room in a self-catered hall at the University of Sheffield will cost £5,415 for a 42-week contract.

If you intend to live in halls or in private accommodation while studying, then you will need to save up some money

Private rented accommodation

You may prefer to live in a privately rented house, which usually accommodates around four or five people. This is the path followed by most students from the second year onwards, but also by some first years.

Heidi says one advantage is getting to choose who you live with (for second-year students this usually means moving in with friends made in first year), which can make for a better experience.

Another benefit is that you'll have more choice over where to live. You'll probably be further from campus, but the popular student areas of most university cities are served by good transport links, as well as lots of shops, bars and food outlets.

Your university accommodation office will be able to help you identify available houses. 'It's a good idea to view the properties you are considering before signing up', cautions Heidi, to ensure everything's in order.

There are a few other key points to remember. 'Usually the rent is cheaper than halls, but you'll pay bills on top,' says Heidi. It'll be up to you to sort your payments for things like utilities, internet access, contents insurance and TV licence. (Though remember that as long as everyone in your house is a full-time student, you don't have to pay council tax.)

As well as managing your budget carefully, you'll need to be comfortable getting in touch with your landlord or letting agent to sort any issues or arrange repairs. Be sure to read and understand your contract and be aware of your rights as a tenant.

For instance, Heidi explains that landlords must use a tenancy deposit protection scheme, and the local council can insist on repairs if your landlord doesn't maintain reasonable standards.

Living at home

For many people, leaving home - and the feeling of freedom that brings - is one of the key attractions of going to university.

But if you've chosen to study locally, staying at home can be a great alternative. It will save you money on rent and bills, it's convenient, and you'll avoid the stress of moving out of the family home to live with new people.

Don’t forget, though, that you'll probably be further removed from student life, and it may be more difficult to make friends away from the social hub of halls or a student house. To make it work, you'll need to take part in activities such as sports clubs and societies to feel involved.

Making your decision

This isn't an easy choice to make, so get advice from as many sources as possible. Family and friends who have been to university before are a good starting point.

'Many universities, including AUB, invite you to attend accommodation days ahead of the start of term, where you can meet other students and take a look at some of the local rental properties available,' Heidi says.

Claire adds that you shouldn't be afraid to contact university staff if you have any questions on halls or private accommodation.

Meanwhile, it's never too early to start preparing financially. 'If you intend to live in halls or in private accommodation while studying, then you will need to save up some money,' says Claire. 'Most universities will ask you to pay an upfront rent payment or deposit when you apply for accommodation.

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