The roof over your head directly affects your quality of life. If you haven’t got one it affects it even more. Fortunately, very few students end up homeless, but that doesn’t mean they’re satisfied with the homes they’ve got.
You can love your course, the town you live in and have the best mates in the world — but if your ceiling leaks, your floor creaks, your heating’s bust, your tap drips (when it’s on or off) and only delivers cold water at the best of times, your roommates are a different species and basically you live in such a dump that you can neither sleep nor work there... then it can not only make your student life miserable, but ruin your studies. Especially if you’re paying a lot for the privilege.
Most student housing isn’t as bad as that, but even the best of the best leaves a little to be desired.
Some things vary a lot from university to university, some things vary less. Where and how the students are housed is one of the things that varies most of all.
Because it’s a big part of student life, and it’s easy enough to work out what’s likely to suit you/how that fits in with what each university has on offer, it should be a big factor when it comes to picking a university.
Whatever living arrangements you think will suit you, choose a university that not only offers that arrangement, but offers plenty of it at a cost you can afford.
So, given that each university makes different accommodation arrangements, what’s the spread?
The first big issue is: do you want to live in or live out?
The two basic alternatives for students – they break down into endless complicated subsets, but let’s not spit in the Evian right now.
Students can either live in or out. The ‘in/out’ bit refers to university accommodation – housing that belongs to your university or college or is at least managed by them. Or at least by someone else on their behalf. Told you it got complicated.
If you live out, you have to find your own accommodation, deal with your landlord personally and generally get involved in the whole homemaking business for yourself. An altogether more real experience - read slugs on the carpet and damp on the walls. But on the plus: it feels more like your own pad and will better prepare you for post-uni life.
If you live in, the university will lay on all sorts of extra benefits. For example, there may be someone who empties your bin and runs a vacuum round the floor every once in a while. There may be a canteen, common room, a bar even. And, what’s more, your bills will probably all be included in your rent. It's not uncommon to get an en-suite room now either.
As a rule, living in works out much cheaper. It depends on what the university is charging, but it’s rare that once you’ve allowed for bills, meals and anything else they throw in, it works out on the wrong side of what’s available locally. Another benefit is that it’s usually easier to manage your finances if you live in. Because bills are usually ‘all in’, you don’t have to worry about brown envelopes landing on the doormat threatening to cut off your heating and light, unless you pay the electricity bill. (What’s worst is they’ll probably pick the middle of EastEnders to throw the switch on you.)
’Living in’ means living in housing owned or at least run by the university. As a wild and inaccurate generalisation, most traditional first years want to live in because it makes life so much simpler to start with. By the second year, they’re happy to move out.
When it comes to the final year, they often wouldn’t mind coming back so that the university facilities are close by as they approach their final exams.
However, the choice is rarely entirely theirs.
While some universities like Exeter, Essex, Surrey, Stirling, and a few others, can house all their first years and most (if not all) of the finalists too, others (such as Bournemouth, Bristol West of England, Central Lancashire, Glamorgan, Glasgow Caledonian, London Metropolitan and plenty more besides) can’t even give a guarantee to every first year student who wants to live in. Depending on the availability of housing locally, that can be a real downer.
Generally, the pros of living in are reckoned to be as follows:
- It works out cheaper — usually — not just because rents tend to be lower than if you rent privately, but also because, apart from the phone, all the bills are included (which also means you’re less likely to have your heating cut off because you forgot to pay the gas bill). But, mostly, it’s cheaper because you only get charged for term-time (or lower rents during vacations anyway).
- It’s more sociable, because you’re usually in housing shared with loads of other students.
- It’s closer. If you’re in halls on campus, you may be able to roll out bed at 10.55am and still make it on time for an eleven o’clock lecture. This definitely isn’t always the case. Some universities’ accommodation is miles from anywhere useful to anyone. (London University has halls in Rotherhithe, for example. Okay, it’s more central than some students can find otherwise, but it’s not near any teaching or other facilities.)
- It’s more convenient, because most basic facilities are laid on for you — such as kitchens and/or a cafeteria, launderettes, common rooms and furniture in your room. There’s also usually someone to empty the bins and clean the hallways (occasionally even your room).
- It’s more reliable. In theory at least, if anything goes wrong, you don’t have to wait six months for your Rachmanite landlord to send round a bloke with a trouser cleavage who only ends up making it worse.
- It’s safer. It’s not just the safety in numbers thing, but the university can generally afford precautions like ID-entry and CCTV.
- It’s noisier. By the time you’re knuckling down to your finals, you may not appreciate off-key Adele renditions from your neighbours at three in the morning. During freshers’ week, on the other hand, it’s cool.
- Rules. Some universities outlaw the weirdest things in students’ rooms. To name but a few that some places frown on: smoking, gambling, the opposite sex, (yeah, right) pets, growing marijuana, burning effigies and, most heinous of all, blue-tack and drawing pins. Okay, so maybe they’re not that weird, but they’re still rules and rules get me down, dude.
- Because universities have to make these places pay for themselves, they often rent them out to conferences during vacations — usually academic gatherings or boozefests for knicker salesmen. This means that, at the end of every term, students have to ship everything home only to bring it back a few weeks later. Fortunately, universities have realised how much this gets on students’ wicks and tend to do it only when they have bookings rather than every vacation. Some don’t do it at all.
- You don’t get to choose your housemates, nor their attitude to hygiene, and given that you may well be sharing a bathroom and kitchen with up to 20 other people, there’s pretty much bound to be one who conducts extra-curricular mould experiments in the fridge.
- It’s just not your own pad.
Living in comes in many different shapes, but not every university offers all of them. Far from it. Usually there’s a ‘choice’ of just one or two different options.
When we say ‘choice’, what we mean is that students (especially before they arrive at university) don’t always get asked anything beyond ‘do you want to live in?’ They might just get dumped somewhere.
In particular, students who arrive through Clearing are more likely to get dumped wherever’s available on a last-come, last-served basis. Another good reason to avoid Clearing.
Apart from the grub and the kitchen facilities, your rent should include a few other things. For example, a launderette (although you’ll have to pay to use it). You may only wash your undies once in a blue moon — that’s your affair — but it’s a right pain if you have to drag your kecks halfway across town in search of a simple wash and tumble-dry.
It’s worth checking out how much say you have in the matter before choosing a university. Do your options, for example, extend beyond whether you live in or not? Ask:
- Can you choose to pay for the cheaper options or do you have to pay for whatever you get dumped in? (For instance, you may be willing to trade the en suite shower for the extra tenner a week.)
- Can you choose between the different types of housing?
- Can you choose between the different individual buildings within the types?
- Can you choose whether to share your room or not?
- Can you choose single or mixed-sex arrangements?
But first, what are the main options?
Student halls are the most common student accommodation in universities and all the pros and cons of living in come in trumps. For the most part, it’s first year students that end up in halls.
The classic example is a series of 8’ by 10’ boxes arranged along corridors with shared bathrooms and kitchenettes. In each room, there’s a contraceptive bed (so-called because it’s so narrow), a desk, a wardrobe, a sink, a desk-lamp, a bookshelf, an insufficient number of power points, a chair that doesn’t fit between the bed and the desk, magnolia paint and orange or purple or orange-and-purple curtains.
It’s student heaven, that is.
Actually, that’s a really basic room in a hall of residence. These days most of them are quite a few notches better. A bit larger, better décor, a few more props, wifi and a socket for ethernet access, en suite shower room, bay window, satellite TV socket and so on.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the hall, there's a bar, TV room, snooker room, squash courts, bike shed, storage rooms, snack shop, launderette, cafeteria and fully equipped kitchens for every half-dozen rooms.
Now we’ve gone too far the other way, but in fact everything mentioned above is available at some universities in some halls — but not necessary all at the same time and definitely not at all halls.
Most universities have both newer halls (quite high spec, so they can cash in on the conference trade) and some that are a bit more run down. It’s always a good idea to find out which are the best halls and put in a request to stay there.
Generally, if you want more, you pay more, but you don’t always have the choice. (Also, be a little wary of halls that are too plush. You probably have the conference problem every vacation and won’t be allowed to breathe without being told not to damage the paintwork.)
Sometimes food is laid on if you’re in halls. Sometimes you’re expected to cook it yourself.
Students who live in sometimes have to share whether they want to or not.
If you do, your rent should be lower – a lot lower – not least to make up for the cost of having to get on pretty damn well with whoever you’re sharing with. Everyone needs their own space sometimes, so this is not a satisfactory option for most student, especially light-loving, commercial radio fare-listening Annie who ended up sharing with veggie-loving light-loathing goth Clara.
However, sharing isn’t that common these days, even in halls of residence. And if you state on your accommodation application that you don’t want to share, you’ll usually not have to. Even those who do need to share are normally sent questionnaires by the university so they can make roommate matches as harmonious as possible. If one of these drops through your letterbox, make yourself sound as anti-social as possible. That way they’ll probably have to put you on your own (or, failing that, with someone else pretending to be anti-social).
A word of warning: if you get into university through the Clearing system, you may end up dumped in whatever accommodation the university couldn’t foist on anyone else. Depending on the options, it’s almost always safer to take a year out and apply again the following year. That way you can get your housing application in nice and early while the competition are still brushing up their A-Level revision skills.
The term ‘village’ is a bit optimistic. It conjures up visions of cottages, a couple of shops, a pub, a cricket green, maybe a post office. While you might find all of those things somewhere around the university (especially at a campus university), student villages are usually stuck at one end of a site and consist only of houses.
The houses themselves are usually modern and are pretty much the same as halls, only smaller and more, well, house-like. As a rule, student villages are self-catering, so there’s usually a shared kitchen (everyone gets a cupboard which they keep padlocked if they don’t want their Walkers going walkies) and sometimes a common room.
This set-up is a kind of half-way house (or series of houses, really) between the convenience of living in and the independence of living out. But try repainting your room and you’ll soon be reminded who owns the place.
It combines the big hall community with the element of close-knit sharing where everyone’s either tight as Andronicus or at each other’s throats.
Even within a college though, there may be a number of accommodation options ranging from blocks that look suspiciously like halls to rooms grouped in, well, shared flats.
Colleges, however, also have some unusual arrangements of their own. For instance, apart from the unique architecture of Oxbridge colleges, some have ‘sets’ — pairs of connected rooms so you’re kind of sharing a room, but not quite. Then of course, there are the rooms in the castle at Durham University. We weren't joking.
For more information on the local layout of universities, click here.
These are called head tenancy schemes — the university acts as landlord, making sure that rents are fair, standards are decent and that the students pay up. It’s less hassle for the owner and, for the students, it’s not only less of a lottery than the open market, but is more liberating than being in accommodation on campus.
Some places have two-ring hobs that have to be shared by a dozen students, all of whom have to bring their own pots, pans, plates and paraphernalia. Others have cooking facilities you’d be pleased to find on Masterchef.
The more people you share a kitchen with, the more potential for cooking up trouble. There are washing up wars, disappearing dairy disputes and full fridge fights.
On the other hand, the kitchen table is often the students’ equivalent of the psychiatrist's couch.
If, however, you’re more Jamie Redknapp than Jamie Oliver, you may either want to practise your drizzling rather than your dribbling or opt for a catered alternative.
For all Push knows, you’re a budding Delia or a nascent Nigella, in which case find out whether cooking for yourself is a possibility. At some universities, it’s simply not an option if you’re living in, especially in the first year.
Usually these schemes are backed up with at least half-decent catering facilities so that students can cook for themselves if they want, but if they’d rather not die of food poisoning, they can resort to the cafeteria where they pay only when they eat.
There’s often a convoluted voucher scheme involved and sometimes certain meals are pay-as-you-eat while others are paid-for-already-so-you-might-as-well-eat.
The disadvantage of these schemes versus full catering is that most don’t guarantee to feed you when your readies run dry. However, that’s rarely a problem.
At some universities as many as a third of first years who live in have to share a room with another student. Some are so pressed for space that they triple-up in a few rooms. We mean, two’s company, but three’s a dormitory.
As a rule, most students would rather have their room to themselves, but there are some who find it a comfort to have an instant companion. ‘Instant’ is one thing. ‘Constant’ is another and whether the companion feels the same is another matter. It’s also usually cheaper to share.
We’re talking same sex sharing here, not couples. Most universities ask if you mind sharing (they won’t necessarily take any notice) and some even try to pair you up with someone compatible. So, if asked, claim to have a strange religion, be an avid fan of heavy rock and practise the tuba at night. If they manage to find you someone compatible, don’t worry, they were probably lying too.
No, not sex in rooms. Sex in corridors. Well, the two sexes. Some students would rather not lived in mixed accommodation, and that's totally fine, but check that your choices cater for this.
Not every university will give you the option and the safety zone may only be a gesture and not enough to avoid the socky stench. It may be that all corridors are single sex, all floors, all flats or even that there are entire halls or colleges that are exclusively X (or XY) chromosomal.
Often you can express a preference for mixed or single sex housing, but don’t count on it and, if a university’s choice is limited, you may not get what you want. To improve your odds, choose a university where what you want is the norm or at least in plentiful supply.
You may, of course, have other objections to your neighbours — such as preferring no smoking halls or ones with lots of international students, lots of Welsh speakers or halls with good facilities for disabled students. You should be able to find all of the above and more — if you choose the right university for you.
It’s pretty unlikely that if you’re not married (or at least living together) before arriving that any university will let a couple live in the same room. It’s a sort of not-under-my-roof policy.
As it happens, plenty of couples are happy to have two rooms and make one their bedroom. The university — or more particularly, the cleaners — will turn a blind eye. But they’re pushing their luck if they think they’re getting a double bed.
Even if couples are married, the university will often turn round and say, ‘sorry folks, no can do’. They simply don’t have the facilities.
Some do, however. Some have flats specifically for couples or even families, even if only one of them is a student. They charge more, naturally, and Push doesn’t know of a single case where couple/family accommodation is anything but self-catering.
As a rule, couples and families don’t do a whole lot better living in than out, but, particularly if there’s a shortage of cheap local housing, it’s definitely worth making it a factor in your choice.
Didn’t we discuss Cars already? Cars are evil, polluting devices of death. Unless, of course, you’ve got one. Then they’re really handy.
If you have a car, you may not be allowed to park it. Or you might be allowed to park it, but only a considerable walk (or even a taxi ride) from where you live in the middle of a congestion charging zone, in which case, what’s the point?
Most universities discourage students, especially first years and more especially first years living in, from bringing cars. And often they’ll use charges to make the discouragement stick. Some just ban it.
Others, however, don’t mind so much and even recognise — especially if they’re a bit remote — that they can’t really expect students to cut themselves off completely.
It’s generally down to space. If they’ve got it, the first priority is rarely providing parking for students’ cars. (The Vice-Chancellor’s car? Now that’s a different story.)
There are exceptions: students with disabilities, of course, but even then policies differ from place to place. Also, universities will generally try to let students park somewhere when they arrive to move their stuff in. In some places, though, even that’s difficult.
If you have a car and bringing it to university is important to you, you may have to take that into consideration when choosing where to apply.
Living out is — you’d never guess this — the opposite of living in. It covers any option that doesn’t involve the university: renting, buying, squatting, whatever. (By the way, squatting is generally illegal and therefore a bad idea.) As you might suppose, the proportion of students who live out varies exactly as much from university to university as the proportion who live in — after all, if they’re not in they’re out and vice versa.
But what also varies is the availability of housing, the cost, what kind there is, what standard, how close it is to anywhere useful, how safe it is, how easy it is to find and how much help the university will give you to find it.
Most universities have some kind of accommodation office to help with house-hunting and advise about landlords from hell, rooms with roaches and so on.
You’d have thought that the more difficult it is to find somewhere to live and the more students there are needing to do it, the bigger the university’s accommodation service would be. You’d have thought that but, no, some universities are far better than others on this score and the need for the service doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it.
If you’re picking a university where you’re going to have to live out for at least a year (i.e. almost any of them), it’s worth finding out whether their service consists of a dedicated team of experts with a database and legal advisors on standby, or a photocopied sheet of last year’s vacancies.
Anyhow, apart from avoiding the cons of living in, the pros of living out are:
- It’s your pad. Or more usually you’re sharing it with other students.
- Your housemates often become your best mates. You can usually choose who you want to live with, but the point’s just as true even if you don’t.
- You can do what you like when you like. Meals, for instance, aren’t served at a set time.
- It’s not really your pad. Most students rent from private landlords, which is like walking into a minefield. Dodgy geezers, unsafe electrics, crooks — you name it, it happens to students, although, fortunately, most of them do just fine. Especially if their university has a good accommodation service to back them up.
- The classic problem is getting back the deposit when you move out. The deposit is the money you put down when you move in to prove you’re going to look after the place and there are plenty of landlords who regard it as a tidy little extra that they will hang on to even if you’ve kept the place spotless (which, to be fair, most students don’t).
- Housemates often become your worst nightmare, even if you chose them (nothing splits up friendships like living together).
- It’s usually more expensive and more hassle than living in.
When students live out, there are as many options as you can think of and a few more besides. Everything from housing associations to housing shelters, from campsites to communes.
Students, however, tend to stick to a certain part of the market — as described below — although a significant proportion also live at home (i.e. with their parents or in their own place).
Some universities have rules about where their students can and can’t live. For instance, quite a few (especially the more traditional universities) say that unless you’ve got permission, you have to live within, say, ten miles of the university during term-time. Most need to know your address (which means you have to have one). And some may even have rules about not living in brothels.
What’s available depends very much on where you study. For instance, in Edinburgh and Glasgow there are plenty of elegant tenement flats with high ceilings and a staircase to climb at least twice a day. In Newcastle, you’re more likely to be in two-up, two-down, back-to-back terraced Victorian housing.
The standard of what’s available within a student’s budget is all over the place, depending on the demand and location. Since you’re likely to have to live out for at least some of your time at university (except possibly at Oxbridge), you should check out how easy and cheap it’s going to be, what you’re likely to get for your money and whether the university will help you find it.
The classic set-up is a place shared by between three and six students, splitting the rent and falling out over the bills.
Each house makes its own rules (or often they evolve by themselves) but, if you can avoid the pitfalls of arguments, it can be more economical and less hassle to share the cost and effort of shopping and cooking.
If you live out, even sharing a room may make financial sense because, rather than just getting you a discount, it should actually halve the price.
Some landlords, however, especially if they’re providing two beds in one room, charge per person, not for the room. It’s immoral, crooked and there’s nothing you can do about it. Never share unless you know you can get on with your roommate. That goes for boyfriends and girlfriends too. Otherwise it can be like living in a room with no heating. You’ll end up blowing more money because you can’t spend any time at home.
Little things, like, perhaps, having home-cooked meals or being able to use the washing machine rather than visiting the university launderette, are not only a lot nicer and more convenient, but they also save you time and money. However, students living with their parents aren’t entitled to the same size student loans.
Having said that, unless their parents are more understanding than a multilingual shrink, students who choose to stay at home may miss out on a big chunk of the student experience. Many students won’t mind. Many will even be positively grateful. But if that’s not your idea of student life, then staying home will be a false economy.
Apart from anything else, you may be limiting your choice of universities if they have to be within daily tripping distance of home. That’s no problem if your local uni just happens to be ideal in every way, but if not, you should open up wider possibilities by considering moving out.
Many students who live at home do so not because they’re still waiting to cut the umbilical cord, but because they’ve got other things tying them to one place — family, kids, work, houses with mortgages and so on. As a rule (with so many exceptions that it must by now be proved), mature students tend to study locally for precisely these kinds of reasons. But then for mature students it’s rarely a case of staying with their parents anyway.
Increasingly, privately run hostels are turning up around the country and offering something very similar to life in a hall of residence only, usually, a bit smaller. Hostels tend to house no more than a couple of hundred students and often as few as a couple of dozen.
You lose some of the advantages of living out, because there’s still that big brother element of having to do what you’re told. But in this case it’s not the university playing the role, which could actually be a bad thing. (At least it really is in your university’s interests not only that you pay the rent, but that you’re also happy and successful). It could also be a good thing if you want to get away from the university a bit.
These hostels work best at universities where their own accommodation is limited and there are students who want to live in, but can’t. Often students find they’re not the only ones in the hostels and that they’re sharing with local public sector workers — like nurses or young teachers.
Actually, it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. Some parents are in a financial position to guarantee a mortgage and, that way, not only does the student get the ultimate in independent living but, when interest rates are low, the mortgage payments may work out cheaper than rent.
Meanwhile, the student home-owner can now do the landlord thing and get a few other students in as housemates, charge them a going rent and maybe even wipe out their own contribution altogether. If they’re really lucky, the property’s value will go up and they can sell it when they move out, clearing their student debts with the tidy profit.
Sounds great, eh?
Unfortunately, it’s full of pitfalls. Even the process of buying a property can cost more than a year’s rent, and it’s a sackful of hassle too. Then there’s finding the readies for furniture.
And, once you own it, you can’t complain to the landlord when the boiler blows up or the roof collapses. You could have a situation where you can’t even live there yourself, let alone charge rent to anyone else, unless you find hundreds of quid to mend your plumbing.
Meanwhile, although being a live-in landlord isn’t as bad as just being in it for the money, there’s a bundle of red tape to deal with — contracts, safety and all the rest.
Finally, as they say in the small print, the value of your investment can go down as well as up.
Strictly for the wealthy or risk-junkies.
The room is usually an extra one in someone’s home, in which a corner has become a kitchen and a washing area simply by adding a sink and a camp stove.
If you’re lucky, you get a decently done-up granny flat recently vacated by some old dear who’s been shipped off to a home.
Bedsits aren’t as popular as they were. It’s not hard to see why.
If you aren’t using the university’s property service to find accommodation, at least get them to check out your tenancy agreement before you sign it. In fact, nag them with questions if anything to do with your living arrangements is bugging you.
Get your landlord/lady to give you confirmation that everything’s in satisfactory working order (a boiler certificate, for example) before you sign anything and whenever something goes wrong pester them till they sort it out. Especially if it’s dangerous or costing you money. Tenants have rights and you shouldn’t have to put up with faulty plumbing, blocked drains, a leaking roof or rising damp.
Make sure you get an inventory of everything that’s there when you move in and make sure it doesn’t have anything on it that isn’t. Your landlord will check it all when you leave and if there’s anything missing, they’ll charge you for it.
Before you move in, you’ll have to pay usually a month’s rent in advance plus a deposit. The deposit is usually the same as a month’s rent (and by law it can’t be more than two months’, though they can ask for advance rent as well) and it’s there as protection for the landlord if you either trash the joint or do a runner. Take pictures when you first move in to show the condition of the property - that way if there are any quibbles about the iron print on the carpet or dodgy decorating you can bring out the proof to show it was there when you moved in.
A reasonable amount of wear and tear shouldn’t cost you your deposit, but specific breakages and party damage will. It’s also not a deposit-losing offence if the roof falls in or the boiler blows up, unless it was clearly your fault. (So hide the elephant afterwards.)
Despite what a shocking proportion of landlords seem to think, it’s not there as a bonus for them to keep when you move out. All things being well, you should get the deposit back at the end of the year. However, in the meantime, it can make a hole of several hundred quid in your bank balance.
It's now the law for all Landlords of assured shorthold tenancies to pay into a tenancy deposit scheme. First check you have an assured shorthold tenancy (you most probably will) then make sure your landlord does what they should. The point of the scheme is to protect your money and to keep you aware of where it is. It's illegal for your landlord to not tell you the details of where the money is being kept. Go to http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/tenancydeposit/index.htm for more info.
Never hand over any money (for deposits, retainers, rent or anything else) till everyone’s happy with all the terms and conditions and has signed on the line. A verbal agreement is legally binding but don't be fooled into one as a student. You're easy prey for wily, charming or – worst of all – apparently vague landlords or property agencies: they’re business people after your money. And it’s not as if there’s much to go around. Don’t give it to them until you know exactly what you will be getting and firmly believe it's right for you.
Cleanliness may not come naturally to you. It may not even be on your priority list at all, but you don’t want to get a call from the landlord saying they’re popping by tomorrow if that’s okay and then have to splash out on a professional house-cleaning crew in order to protect your deposit. Nor do you want the place to become a health hazard, for that matter.
Speaking of surprise visits, depending on your contract, your landlord normally has to give you notice if they want to come round. But usually it’s only 24 hours and, besides, it can be hard to say no in case they ask why.
Your landlord isn’t allowed to put your rent up more than once a year, so if they try, tell them you won’t pay the increase. Then don’t. So long as you pay your agreed rent, they won’t be able to do anything.
Read your tenancy contract and don’t do anything you’re not allowed to. Then you should be fine. And don’t stand for any rubbish from your landlord that’s not in the contract. Always be as friendly and polite as possible and only as rude and firm as necessary – that’s the way.
The cheapest is not always the best. It’s just the cheapest. There is no such thing as a good deal on a ten-by-four-foot room that smells of your Uncle Boris and is simultaneously running as a re-homing programme for the local neighbourhood's man-eating rats. It’s far better to fork out a little extra each month for somewhere you’ll be able to sleep, study and just kick back and relax, without losing a limb. If you can’t, you’ll only end up more miserable and no better off, because you’ll be constantly be paying for the bus to the library and for food and drink when you get there.
When choosing a place to live, sniff about like a dog in a meat-packer’s. Try talking to someone who’s lived there before or is living there now, just to get an idea of what you will be getting for your money. Ask about any hidden costs (such as a heating system that uses fuel but seems incapable of producing heat) and get their opinion on how well – and how quickly – the landlord sorted out any problems they’ve had with the house.
This is another advantage of living in. Universities tend to look after their tenants better than most landlords and it’s easier to find out the problems up front and (usually) easier too to get something done about them.
If you’re living out, the more people you share with, the more the cost of the bills can be spread and the smaller your own proportion of the rent. There is the danger of increased tension amongst housemates, but more people can also mean that tensions are spread more thinly.
A huge factor in the amount of rent you actually pay is how long you’re there:
Find out if you have to pay rent during the holidays. Most privately owned, off-campus accommodation requires that you do, but university digs usually have 30 to 38 week contracts that match the length of the terms.
Don’t rent over the summer break, unless you absolutely have to. You could slog your guts out all summer, working for Peanuts (the local cornershop) only to see most of your wages disappear on rent. By not renting for more than the nine months of the year that you actually need, you might save yourself more than £1000.
Private landlords are likely to want some of your cash over the holiday, but it’s worth asking for a summer reduction (try for at least half price) if they don’t offer one. And if you do have to pay rent over the holidays, there is nothing to stop you staying there and finding work rather than going home, though a better option might be sub-letting to cover the costs then work at home instead.
Calculate what accommodation is going to cost you over the year, before saying yes to any landlord or hall. Multiply the weekly or monthly rent by how long you’re actually going to live there and add appropriate amounts for anything that’s not included (such as bills or furniture).
'Location, location, location.' The same mantra but different stipulations apply for the student as much as the millionaire couple after a house with the requisite gorgeous view.
How far is your accommodation from the university? Or at least, how far is it from whatever part of the university you need to go to most regularly? Bear in mind that lots of universities are based on more than one site – sometimes considerably more than spitting distance apart (unless you know anyone who can project a loogie more than five or ten miles).
If you’re too far from the action, you’re either going to be paying to get around or spending a lot of time walking and cycling.
If you can’t find anywhere close (as is sometimes the case), what’s the local transport like? Are there buses or trains and, if so, are they regular and do they operate until late into the night? If not, you’d better put taxis down as a pretty big item in your budget plans.
Obviously the closer, the better – another good reason for living in (although university housing isn’t always where you’d like it to be).
Even if you’re on or near campus, are you anywhere near other essential services such as shops, a cheap and friendly pub, a supermarket, an Indian takeaway? Is it a popular student area – will the social scene be good? Again, if not, you’ll spend half your time and/or money travelling. What’s the crime like in the area? Steer clear of anything too dodgy, even if the house itself seems pleasant enough. Mistakes like that can be false economies.
You get what you pay for, so if you’re getting a big, plush room with en suite bathroom, crystal chandeliers and shag-pile carpets, then expect to plunge deep into the debt pool or have a silver spoon hanging out of your mouth.
Most student houses are notoriously bog standard (and often sub-standard), but occasionally you may be lucky enough to find hints of luxury. Don’t laugh, but en suite shower rooms and toilets are becoming pretty much standard in newer housing.
Don’t expect to get it for free, however.
If you’re living out, most student houses come equipped with the basics, although if you want a washing machine, TV, DVD player, sauna and so on, you’ll have to make your own arrangements. (Oh, and if there’s no plumbing for a washing machine, check that you won’t have to carry your knickers halfway across town to find the nearest launderette.)
You may well also need to provide your own kitchen equipment – everything from knives and forks to pots and pans. But not usually including the kitchen sink.
If you go in with a sizeable group of housemates, you may all want to chip in to buy or rent a microwave and/or a freezer if there isn’t one provided. Renting one is usually pricier in the long-term and if you own it, you can at least sell it on to the next bunch of students or even your landlord when you leave. However, rental does avoid arguments about whose TV it is – especially if it gets nicked.
You should expect central heating, with fully functioning radiators in every main room. Your room should have, at the very least, a bed, a radiator, a desk, a chair and a wardrobe. Fashionably spartan rooms (Push believes the word is ‘minimalist’) are the norm and don’t expect brand new spine-friendly mattresses or top quality furnishings. Expect orange carpet, purple curtains and brown walls.
It’s up to you to give it your own personal makeover to make it feel as homely as possible, but ask the landlord’s permission before doing anything expensive or permanent or you may end up paying again to reverse it. If they like your plan, they may pay for it.
Super safe storage for your stuff - perfect for the holidays. Student discounts are available. It's also big and yellow.
Easyroommate lists rooms all over the UK allowing you to post and search. It also has great statistics on how much average rent is for lots of locations over the country - allowing you to see how expensive it is going to be to live there, and figure out if you're getting fleeced.
A dedicated student halls search engine, providing students free access to compare and contrast hundreds of high-quality student rooms and halls.
Shelter is a national charity which campaigns to keep roofs over heads. Click here for particular advice for students, or call the free advice line on 0808 800 4444.
Study in UK
Tips for finding good accommodation as well as a handy table showing the average monthly rent for cities in the UK
Student Accommodation in the UK
Good search facility for properties across the country – the majority of which seem to be letting agency listings. Site requires free registration to see all details. Perhaps more a second resort after trying the university accommodation or housing service.