University of Essex - Birks Grange Village self-catered kitchen via Flickr (CC By SA-2.0).
Choosing where you want to live in your first year of university can impact your enjoyment of your time at university, and the friends you make (perhaps for life!), so consider your options carefully. We mention the three most common options for first year students.
As there is so much to mention, we've split this section up into first year, and second and third year. It may be that you choose to live in halls in either your second or third year (or both) or live in private accommodation in your first year (see types of accommodation for your second and third year for more information).
University Halls of Residence
Accommodation in universities commonly consists of catered or self-catered halls of residence. Halls of residence are accommodation blocks offering private study bedrooms to large numbers of students. The rooms will be grouped together around some shared facilities, which will depend on whether you choose catered, or self-catered. They all have security and generally have a warden who lives on the premise who will be able to help, advise and look after you. Some halls offer the option to share a room, which can help reduce costs.
Facilities will include a single room with a single bed and mattress, wardrobe, desk, desk chair and storage space. Some rooms will have their own sink, some even their own en-suite, while others will share bathroom facilities. You will also share kitchen facilities, and the kitchen facilities available will depend upon whether you are catered or self-catered. If you are self-catered, your kitchen will consist of an oven, fridge, freezer, microwave, toaster, etc., while in catered you'll be provided with more limited facilities. You will need to bring your own cutlery, plates, bowls, cups, pots and pans, and tea-towels, and what you need will depend on whether you are in catered or self-catered - if you don't know what your halls will provide it's best to arrive before shopping for all your bits and bobs. You will also have access to a telephone line and internet, most probably have a basic cleaning service and have laundry services on site. You will also have a common room where you can hang out, meet other people, play games or watch TV, or some sort of social area. Most halls also provide contents insurance (check with your university to confirm this) and utilities such as electricity and water should be included in the price.
Most halls will be mixed, but you may have the option of at least single sex corridors or even flats. When applying for accommodation, universities will try to place you in the most suitable hall, by asking you for your top choices or whether you want catered/self-catered, ensuite etc. They will also ask you a few questions about yourself so you'll be more likely to live with people you'd choose to be friends with.
With the advances of technology it's also possible to speak to those you'll be living with before you leave home via facebook or twitter - many halls have their own pages - so if you've any queries about living away from home or want to know what your friends-to-be are like, there are a million ways to get in contact with them.
Halls offer you a ‘halfway’ house between living away from home and being independent, and, if you’re in your first year they are a great way to meet new friends and live with other people for the first time. You’re time in halls prepares you for living in the outside world with real responsibilities and bill paying!
Halls are typical student accommodation for first year students - most universities don’t offer second and third year students accommodation in halls.
University of Exeter - Birks Grange Village self-catered studio via Flickr (CC By SA-2.0)
Catered or Self-Catered
The food you get in catered halls varies from university to university, but it will be likely to include breakfast and evening meals during the weekdays, with lunch at the weekends. Students will pay extra for catered halls of residence, although it does work out slightly cheaper, and you do not have to worry about what you are going to eat and will save time as you've not got to shop or cook. However, if you're looking to do lots of activities, you may find the schedule rather restrictive. Self-catered halls gives you the option of eating what you want, when you want, but you'll have to find time in your day to cook and shop. You’ll also have to spend a bit of money at first buying some basic equipment for your kitchen.
If you do go for the self-catered option (or if your university doesn't offer catered), it's also likely that you'll be able to buy a food card or a meal plan. A meal plan card allows you to buy a certain number of meals a day at a university catering outlet, and you'll be able to choose from a number of different options depending on how flexible you want to be, while a food card allows you to pay-as-you-go for meals within the university. This may be an easier option than having to cook everyday, but it may be more expensive than either cooking yourself or taking the fully catered option.
- Halls offer you the chance to meet lots of people in a town/city you might be new to. They might also organise social events such as bbqs and cinema nights so you can hang out with the crowd.
- Halls eases you into full-time living away from home, with the ability to plan your own schedule, without the hassle of bills and, if you're in catered accommodation, cooking.
- If something goes wrong or you are not happy, there will be plenty of trained people you can talk to.
- Even though you are often asked about your personal preferences, you might end up living with people you don't like.
- Even though you are asked about where you would like to live, you might not get your preferred option. This is especially true if you've gained your university place during clearing.
- If you're an introvert or ultra-tidy, you might not enjoy the noise and mess of other people.
Many universities don't have their own halls so they are offered by a private company instead. This can either be in agreement with the university, or through an entirely separate private organisation. Those that are offered in agreement with the university are advertised on their website and they market them along with any of their own.
Private halls are mainly self-catered, and offer more amenities than university halls. They are more likely to consist of single, en-suite rooms, and there is also often the option of a studio flat which will have its own small kitchen. Otherwise approximately 4 to 6 rooms share a kitchen, along with a communal area. Private halls still maintain on-site security, while they may also offer a number of additional facilities, such as a gym.
If you're moving to university with friends from home you may also be able to move into a flat with your friends. While as they are not only for first year students you might also have the opportunity to meet students from other year groups, postgraduate students and international students, and students from other universities in the city.
Private halls have similar pros and cons as non-private halls, while some extras might include:
- private halls are more likely to be up-to-date, with fresher decor. As well as bedrooms and kitchens, they might have more facilities, such as an on-site gym.
- Private halls are more likely to be situated near to your lectures and therefore offer a better location.
- Private halls are more likely to be more expensive than university halls, as they are more up-to-date and kitted out with better equipment. Deposits with private halls are also likely to be higher - as much as 6-8 weeks rent.
University of Exeter - Holland Hall via Flickr (CC By SA-2.0)
Living with your parents
With rental costs rising and maintenance loans hardly covering these expenses, more and more students are choosing to live at home. Santander have estimated that more than 22% of students live in their family home. If you choose to live at home don’t worry, you’re not alone.
The main perk of living at home is saving money! You may have to give your parents money to cover your costs, however this will be far less than what your friends at uni will be paying for their rent! You'll also be able to come home to home-cooked meals, and don’t have to worry about laundry, utility bills or the tv licence.
However, it can be harder to make friends, especially if you have a long commute, so try and join as many clubs as possible and get involved in activities inside and outside the classroom. You might find the travelling a burden after a while, with public transport unreliable and expensive! Also you’re under your parents’ rules, so having friends to stay, or having a boyfriend maybe more of a challenge.