A step-by-step guide to choosing your student accommodation

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So you’re off to university. But hang on a minute, isn’t there that small matter of where to live? While many universities offer accommodation on campus in there first year, you'll still have lots of options to choose between – and you may need to find your own.

It’s not an easy task, especially if you’re not familiar with your chosen city, although your university should be able to provide plenty of guidance along the way.

We spoke to The Student Housing Company, who helped us put together this detailed guide to finding a place – the right place – to live.

Look around the different accommodation on offer

Every university will have at least a couple of kinds of accommodation on offer for first-year students, such as:

  • Catered halls.
  • Self-catered halls.
  • Self-catered flats/houses.

There’s no better way to help you decide than by actually looking around the accommodation and viewing the rooms. It’s quite common for this to be part of your open day, but if you haven’t yet had the chance to or can’t remember the options, it’s worth asking your university again.

All of the details and photographs of each accommodation should be easy to find on the university’s website or in the prospectus in case you forget.

What if I got a place through clearing?

Finding student accommodation might be a little bit harder if you got your place at university through clearing. Some universities will reserve a number of spaces for clearing students, but if this is not the case there are other options available outside of university-owned properties.

Your university should be able to offer suggestions of private accommodation providers, whether this is private student halls or private student house-shares. Make sure you book viewings for these properties where possible too, so that you can get a better idea as to whether they are suitable for you, and be sure to ask any questions of the landlord or provider if you aren’t clear on what the rooms include.

Know what you want and don't want

It’s good to have an idea about what you really want from your student accommodation, and most importantly what you don’t want. All student properties should come fully furnished with everything you need, so you don’t have to worry about organising bulky furniture. There are a few key things you do need to consider though:

  • Catered/self-catered.
  • En-suite bathroom.
  • Shared or single room.
  • Communal space.
  • Storage/parking facilities.

If you’re uncertain about cooking for yourself, catered accommodation might be your best option, but if you have specific dietary requirements it may be simpler to have the freedom to cook for yourself in self-catered accommodation.

Student rooms vary dramatically, from those with en-suite bathrooms to those with shared wash facilities, and big rooms to box rooms. Having more space or your own bathroom may bring the cost up quite a bit, so it’s important to assess whether these luxuries are affordable.

Some universities offer shared rooms alongside the more common option of having your own room. If you really don’t want to share a room with someone else, make sure you specify this on your application.

A lot of accommodation options have communal spaces. In halls you may have to share with a large number of people, but in house-share situations you may only be living with up to six others. It can be daunting moving in with complete strangers, but having a shared living room/dining area can make it easier to meet with your housemates and get to know them.

If you are planning on taking a car to university then you will need to check that there is parking at your accommodation or nearby. Likewise, if you are taking a bicycle with you, ensure there are safe storage facilities. Many universities are now adding bike shelters across campuses.

Factor in cost and location

With a few basic factors now in mind, you can start thinking about the price and location of each type of accommodation you think is suitable. Price is incredibly important – try to stick within your budget and student loan allowance, avoiding any unnecessary extras if you are struggling with costs.

Always check whether the cost is weekly or monthly, whether or not this includes bills, and how many weeks it covers. Some catered accommodation or private halls may appear to be more expensive, but this might be because they include all of your bills in the full price.

Also, certain university-owned accommodation may require you to move out during the Easter and Christmas holidays, so it is important to check how long you are paying for. Never enter into a 12-month contract – you’ll only be at university about nine months of the year.

If you don’t know the university city very well, it is essential that you double check where the accommodation is exactly. In some of the bigger cities you may find that there is no specific campus and that lecture buildings and accommodation blocks are dotted all about the city. Research transport links from the accommodation to your lectures before you book anything – this will prevent future stress over getting to your lectures on time once the term starts.

Contact your university or accommodation provider

Once you’ve weighed up all of the pros and cons of each accommodation, you’re ready to choose the most suitable one for you. If you are picking somewhere that is owned by your university, there may be a specific form you need to fill out to secure your room. It's worth contacting the university first to check this if you're unsure.

If you have opted for privately-owned student accommodation, contact the provider or landlord to organise your contract and book your room.

Before you sign a contract, be certain that you have read through all of the terms and understand what the costs cover. Then it’s time to get excited for moving-in day! If you want to be really prepared, why not make a list of all the things you need to pack and anything you need to buy before the move.

Now you've got accommodation covered, make sure you're up to speed on student finance.

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