Some students will head for private sector accommodation because they have to or choose to. Always take someone with you to view accommodation and do not rush to sign on the dotted line for the first one you see.
What to look out for:
- How safe is the district? See our advice on staying safe and secure and crime statistics.
- Check out public transport and the journey time to and from the university. What is the traffic flow (or chaos!) like at weekday peak times as compared with a quiet Sunday morning?
- For some students living in private accommodation, travel might mean not only time but also money.
- A recent survey of travel time between term-time accommodation and the university concluded that students fared best in Wales (86 per cent less than 30 minutes away) and, not surprisingly, worst in London (50 per cent more than 30 minutes away and 17 per cent more than an hour).
- Make sure that you aware of any Student Travel Card for local travel and the university or students' union transport system when returning to your accommodation late at night.
Try to spend some time in the area, perhaps by staying at a bed and breakfast or a YHA hostel for a few days, preferably when students are in residence. Locations can look – and be – very different in the vacations and after dusk.
There are legions of accommodation agencies and individual landlords in university towns and cities in response to the continuing growth in student numbers.
- Private associations such as UNITE rents and manages apartment blocks housing more than 40,000 students in over 24 university towns and cities.
- You can rent for the whole year – or for the duration of your course if you like.
- Many have long since abandoned their cottage industry image and competition from some major property developers has created a much greater professionalism.
- It is illegal for them to levy a joining fee but they may charge a booking or reservation fee on an agreed property, and perhaps a fee for references or for drawing up the Tenancy Agreement.
As well as providing halls specifically for individual universities, UNITE and others offer students secure and flexible accommodation of their own with a wide range of payment options.
This style of living can be somewhat more expensive but is purpose-built and of high quality: you might expect as standard for your room to be ensuite with high-speed internet access, satellite TV and a phone line, and for your shared kitchen to have all mod cons.
Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go to match some American universities where the more exotic offerings include in-room movies, bubble-jet tubs and personal trainers. One even invites parents to submit their offspring's favourite recipes to incorporate in their gourmet menus!
The University Accommodation Service will have an approved list and some work closely with local councils to develop best practice for student housing in their areas through Student Accommodation Accreditation Schemes.
- These schemes usually require the landlord to have mandatory gas and electrical safety certificates and guarantee basic standards of security and fire safety. You should give priority to a landlord who has joined one of these schemes.
- There is a specialist National Code for private sector halls of residence and you should try to rent from a provider who is a member.
- Over 130,000 bed spaces are covered by this scheme, and there is a list of halls which are part of it on the website.
Next page: Shared Student Housing