So it’s probably getting to that time of the year – where most upper sixth/year 13 students are finalising their UCAS options for next year and are starting to create their imagined life at university this September.
The first place to start: where will you live? Having spent a year at university (not to scare you) but I would say choosing accommodation is one of the most important decisions you will make at uni. For some universities this may be more important/influential than others – but I think it’s fairly realistic to say that the accommodation you choose will have an impact on your university experience – from the people you meet, from your proximity to your university. These are factors which must not be ignored: I have 4 weeks left at university and someone has just transferred to my hall – it meant that much to them.
But the whole thing can be quite overwhelming, so I’ve broken down the factors involved in choosing accommodation at any university to make the whole process a bit easier. I’m too kind.
1. Catered or Self-catered
Here are some quick pros of each (I’ve left out the cons because normally the con is the opposite – i.e. a pro of self-catered is that you get more independence over budget, so a con of catered is that you don’t get to control your food budget)
1) More independence & control over your budget, the food you buy and the times you eat.
2) Communal kitchen area – good for socialising and pre drinking.
3) Fully equipped kitchen to cook in.
1) Very sociable – meet more people through meal times & meals ensure you get to see all of your friends: perfect if you have a busy schedule or 9-5 lectures
2) Saves time & hassle – don’t have to worry about buying food and if you’ve had a long day the food is ready prepared for you
3) Stops impulse buying & snacking – catered hall students don’t go food shopping much so you’re less likely to impulsively buy some half price cookies
I have tried to be objective, but I admit I may be a little biased – I am in catered halls and I would 100% recommend it. Originally when applying to uni I thought catered halls was an awful idea, mainly because I saw it as restrictive (set times), no freedom (over how much you spend or what you want to eat) and potentially annoying because of wasted meals if you’re away (i.e. going home for the weekend).
Yes these things still apply but they are not massive negatives, in fact having restrictive times is good – it helps give my day structure & actually makes you get out of bed (usually breakfast times at halls finish at 10am) so I find I’m more productive and get a lot of work done.
But the main reason for choosing catered is definitely the social side. Think about it: self-catered flats are nice and cosy, and you might make some really close friends there (normally flats average between 5-8 people). But in catered halls there is so much potential to meet way more people; one of my best friends I met in the queue for dinner. It also avoids the risky business of getting a ‘bad’ flat – imagine you turn up in freshers week to your small 6 person self-catered flat and find that you don’t get on that well with the people – yes there will be the flats above and below but it’s harder to integrate. Catered halls tend to be much bigger – they’re often long corridors with lots of people (I have 30 on mine) which is great – it means there’s always people around, even at weekends, and nights out are great fun because there’s a whole group of you. I’ve met so many more friends through being in a catered hall because you’ll end up just sitting next to someone elses friend and next thing you know you might really get on well. Lots of catered halls have fun opportunities to get dressed up for ‘formals’ i.e. black tie with wine & three course meals which makes things more fun.
2. En Suite or Shared Bathroom
En Suite PROS:
1) Privacy – at uni you’ll be around people 24/7; you can’t really put a price on privacy
2) Spread out – you don’t have to worry about people stealing your stuff, especially if you’re a girl you can leave your make up etc everywhere – it’s your space
Shared Bathroom PROS:
1) Cheaper – en suites are often way more expensive because privacy is a luxury, even if you’re not on a strict budget – is it still worth an extra £20-£40 a month?
2) More communal – most shared bathrooms are a big room with a couple of toilet and shower cubicles in them, this is always a nice communal space where you can get ready together before nights out (girls at least) or even pre-drink in there!
For me en-suite was almost non-negotiable, I couldn’t imagine having to share with people – mainly because I got carried away imagining all these awkward moments (i.e. being ill) when the last thing you would want is a communal toilet. As it happens I ended up with a shared bathroom and I can honestly say it’s not a problem. In fact more than that, it’s almost better than en suite – having visited people with en suites it can make the atmosphere feel a lot more isolated because essentially once you’re in your room you don’t have to leave, so some anti-social people just lock themselves away. Plus I share 2 bathrooms between 14 girls (!) and have maybe only had to wait twice (and even then only for 5 mins) to use a shower or toilet – every other time they’re always free. Remember you’re all in the same boat, and no ones in there all the time, I would say 95% of the time when I go to the bathroom it’s completely empty. It’s just not worth the extra money.
Other factors to consider
Facilities: not all halls are the same, even within the same university. I couldn’t decide between two seemingly identical catered halls for my second choice, but I discovered last minute some info on their separate facilities – the hall I chose had a library, a cafe and a gym whereas the other hall had nothing extra – and both were the same price! You might not consider facilities but it can be very useful having a gym and cafe on site if available.
Cost: It’s important you choose a hall that you feel is right for you – somewhere that has everything you need and that you feel you will enjoy. But you still need to be realistic and plan ahead – don’t choose a room which has an en suite, fireplace and a double bed if your student loan or extra money from parents won’t cover it. You’ll create way more problems for yourself and may have to use a big overdraft or be forced to take on part time work which may interfere with your studies. Do some quick calculations (the loan plus any other finance you might be getting from parents, savings, potential job earnings) to work out how much you actually have – and remember you don’t always have to spend the maximum, any money you have left over will be a bonus once you’re at uni from food costs to nights out.
Room size and type: if you have a lot of clothes, is the wardrobe big enough? Can it fit a desk in it for times when you can’t face the library? Think about extra storage space – your uni might not have any & if you’re a skier or surfer your room might have to accommodate your equipment.
Location: is it near university? If it’s a campus university is the accommodation on site? Think about transport costs if it’s really far. I live 40mins from uni – luckily my uni provides a free bus but there are times (especially exam period when you want to just get up & head straight to the library) when it can be annoying. But still, at my uni most of the halls are outside, so I would still choose to live outside because it’s more sociable than the smaller, individually spread out halls in town. Remember you can always ‘live in’ or get closer when you move into a house in 2nd year.
Reputation of halls: don’t use this as your only factor for decision making as obviously reputations aren’t 100% accurate – each year brings new people. However, people do consider reputations and therefore choose according to their personality & what they want so it is a good idea to ask anyone you know at the uni or look on online forums to get an idea about what certain halls are known for. I.e. at my uni a particular hall is very posh & ‘rah’ so naturally it attracts certain types of people (it doesn’t mean they’re bad people but you might find you don’ t have as much in common or you might find yourself feeling a bit uncomfortable if you’re surrounded by lots of public school people who lead extravagant lifestyles). Similarly if you prefer early nights in and like to keep to yourself, you might want to avoid the stereotypical party halls.
Finally…do a double check on your hall before you finally make your choices and apply. Often you’ll be made to pick a second choice – do that carefully as there’s still a large chance you may end up with your 2nd choice (as I did) and you don’t want to be unhappy; changing halls can often be difficult or sometimes isn’t possible until once you arrive at uni and that’s the last thing you want. Make sure that you’ve double checked any updates on the accommodation’s website – I discovered too late when I arrived at my halls that they were embarking on massive construction project to build a whole new hall next to ours – which means 8am drilling every day, not ideal.
Let me know if you have any further questions!