Student halls and houses
A guide to university accommodation – weigh up the pros and cons of student halls and houses and know how to pick the right flatmates.
Where should you live at university?
Most universities provide places for first-year students in their own halls of residence that are safe, comfortable and good value. These are usually furnished flats with a shared kitchen, toilet, bathroom, possibly a lounge area and en suites. They're either catered, part-catered or self-catered, mixed or single-sex, and can house any number up to 800 students.
University-managed, self-catering properties offer a more independent lifestyle, but you may find you have to pay bills separately to rent in this type of accommodation.
Pros and cons of student halls
University halls of residence are great places to make friends and be part of the social scene, and are great for support should you need it in those first few weeks and months away from home. However, they're often loud and distracting well into the beginning of the academic year.
Many universities will guarantee accommodation if you've firmly accepted their offer by a given date in the summer, though this isn't always the case if you come through Clearing.
You'll generally be expected – and, most probably, will want – to move out to other accommodation at the end of your first year. However, at the collegiate universities such as Oxford or Cambridge, it's quite common to live in your college for a further year or two.
Many students view en suite accommodation as essential before they arrive, but it can be an expensive luxury – sharing with others (most universities offer single-sex flats if required) is a good way to make friends on the way to the bathroom or in the queue for the showers.
While the largest number of first-year students live in halls, some prefer smaller, self-catering properties owned or managed by the university.
University halls of residence are often in or near the campus itself, so travel costs to and from the university are minimal. As a general rule, older universities tend to have much more housing stock.
We don't recommend first-year students choose private halls of residence if university halls are available, unless there's a specific agreement on support and other first years are likely to be there too.
Make sure to take full advantage of open days to see the housing situation for yourself.
Take someone to view the accommodation with you and don't rush to sign the dotted line for the first one you see. Remember to consider transport to and from the uni at a busy time, and also the costs.
Useful things to know:
- UCAS publishes an annual guide to open days, taster courses and its own education conventions
- Opting for university accommodation or the bigger private providers often gives the distinct advantage that it can be arranged at a distance, even on-line, whereas much of the private housing requires you to be on the spot to secure it
- The university can't sign a tenancy agreement on your behalf
- The university accommodation or housing office will have literature describing the facilities in detail, and many have websites containing valuable information on student housing provided by both the university and the private sector
All university-owned accommodation, and many private sector halls, are covered by one of three accreditation schemes that cover essential issues like how the halls are managed, health and safety, and security.
After the first year most students move into shared houses or flats, either for the independence they offer or because halls of residence are only available for the first year.
Most university towns and cities have a wide range of private rented accommodation available through agents, individual landlords or in private halls.
Your university or student union should have a list of recommended or accredited landlords. This should be the first place you look. Many produce specialised booklets to guide you through things such as deposits, signing a contract, utility bills, housing standards and who to share with. Make sure you've picked up a copy and are fully informed before you commit to renting a property.
These landlords will usually have agreed to meet higher management and property standards. If there's a problem, there will often be a complaints procedure you can use.
You can find a list of accreditation schemes on the Accreditation Network UK website.
Shared properties for three or more unrelated people (known as Houses of Multiple Occupation, or HMOs) have additional standards placed on them by the local authority.
Houses for five or more people, over three or more storeys, require a level of security, fire detection, and appropriate kitchen and bathroom amenities suitable for the number of tenants and are known as licensable HMOs.
By law, the license obtained from the local authority should be clearly displayed in the property.
Choosing you housemates
You can't choose your family but you can choose your housemates, and you never know someone until you've lived with them.
When applying for university halls, it's common to be asked about your lifestyle, and universities may try to group similar people together.
You should approach living in halls with an open mind and be prepared for a lively environment where you may have to compromise your personal preferences. After the first year, most students chose to move into accommodation with a group of friends of their own choosing, often with friends they've made in halls.
Here are some things to bear in mind when choosing your housemates. Could you live with:
- Mess? Student tenants falling out with each other over the state of the kitchen or bathroom isn't uncommon
- A smoker? A quarter of students smoke
- A nocturnal TV addict? Remember you’ll need a TV licence
- Someone who leaves the heating on all day? Fuel bills aren't usually included in the rent so this could be a source of arguments