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Accommodation

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Take this seriously!

For two reasons. Firstly, where you live makes a huge impact on the quality of your student experience. The friends you make in the first year are frequently the ones you keep, and where you live plays a large part in meeting them. Secondly it costs; it is difficult to over-estimate the impact of your accommodation costs (rent and bills) on your total student budget.

Most universities house you for the first year. What you get depends on your university − there may be university halls (on or off campus), university-owned or managed accommodation (eg local houses), privately-run halls or private-sector housing – or a mixture of all of these. Some universities and colleges have very little accommodation and a few have none; a handful (eg most Oxford and Cambridge colleges) house students for their whole course.

University accommodation

Go for living in university housing if you can. Standards and rents vary but it is easier to make friends, you have more clout with the landlord and it may be closer to the students’ union and teaching areas.

What’s on offer?

Usually you have a choice of rooms in different halls at different rents. Traditional halls are based on corridors; modern halls are usually clustered in flats and many rooms have ensuite bathrooms (although the rent will be higher). Most university accommodation is self-catered but catered halls are sometimes an option. Check our university descriptions for a summary of what is on offer, and the university’s own website for detailed descriptions. If at all possible, go and see the accommodation you are applying for. And find out before you arrive what is supplied and what you need to bring with you (eg bedding).

How much does it cost? From around £55 a week for something basic in a cheap area, to £170+ pw for an ensuite room with broadband connection in swish new halls somewhere pricier.

The other variable is the number of weeks your contract runs. This matters. Some contracts are on a term-time contract (perhaps requiring you to move out over the Christmas and Easter vacations) − which is fine if you have a home to go to in the holidays, not so good if you haven’t. Other contracts are for the 36–40 weeks of the academic year − best if you want a base for most of the year and plan to travel in the summer. Some are for the full 52-week year − a must for those with a family or with no other home but a great waste of money for others.

How do you get university accommodation? It usually involves filling in yet another form –usually online. You may be asked about your interests, whether you smoke etc, so the accommodation office can attempt to group compatible students together. Make sure you get your application in well before the closing date because some accommodation is allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Private halls

In cities with lots of students, there are commercial student halls managed by private companies eg UNITE. They are usually central and purpose-built, and you may share with students from a number of other universities in the city. They are often towards the upper end of the price range.

Private accommodation

When you need to rent privately, the university accommodation service will almost certainly help and, if you are lucky, may also have vetted the accommodation on its lists. Colleges without first-year accommodation sometimes organise ‘housing days’, where new students come and meet each other and local estate agents to sort out house-shares. There is much information about local prices on our university descriptions; also look at some of the national websites covering major student cities (www.studentpad.co.uk or www.accommodationforstudents.com).

Cheap rented accommodation is harder to find in eg leafy suburbs or holiday areas (where term starts before the holidaymakers go home). Self-catering accommodation is usually cheaper, so long as you know how to feed yourself cheaply and don’t end up eating out every night. Remember to add in the travel costs when assessing rents (no point in something dirt cheap if it costs a fortune getting to lectures).

There’s lots to think about when looking at accommodation (and you must look). Here are a few pointers to start you off.

  • Security – is it in an area where you will be able to get burglary insurance; is it on a bus/tube route; and will you feel safe walking home from your nearest stop?
  • Electricity/gas/water safety – sockets, pipes, wiring and appliances – do they look safe and regularly serviced? Particularly look at gas water heaters and fires; landlords now have to have gas appliances serviced annually and provide you with proof of this. (If you are concerned about a gas appliance, look on the Health and Safety Executive website www.hse.gov.uk/gas or ring 0800 300 363 for gas safety or 0800 111 999 if you smell gas).
  • Fire safety – smoke alarms, exits, windows and doors.
  • Damp – any sign of it? Ventilation.
  • Vermin and pests – signs, smells, etc.
  • TV licence – has it been paid? If not, it is legally down to you.

Get yourself sorted before the start of term if you possibly can; you will be at a long-term disadvantage if the course starts while you are still sleeping on a friend’s floor.

Living at home

If it’s close enough, it will almost certainly be cheaper to live at home. But you may miss out on some of the social facilities and be less involved in student life. You should move out if you do not have proper study facilities – a room of your own as a start.

Buying

Some mortgage companies have special packages for students who can afford to buy a flat or house and sub-let rooms. You may need a parent to act as guarantor. Some parents find that paying your mortgage is the most cost-effective way of making their contribution to your annual course costs.

Other options

If all else fails, renting a caravan can be an option in some rural areas. Or you may be able to join student squatters; whilst still legal (except in Scotland), the law needs watching. You can get a copy of The Squatters Handbook and advice from the Advisory Service for Squatters (www.squatter.org.uk).

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