Moving across the world to study is the choice of many young people today. The world is shrinking and our global ties are making it easier (at least for some) to study abroad. One of the biggest headaches of moving to a new country is finding somewhere to live. Unless you have enough money to visit your soon to be new home, before actually moving there, you have no ability to view potential flats or meet with future flatmates. If you are moving to the UK to study, there are a few options open to you, each with its pros and cons.
Most universities in the UK offer accommodation to all of their first year students, and most choose the option to live in university flats, halls, rooms, dorms or whatever else the university has chosen to call their accommodation. Some unis also offer accommodation to Erasmus, exchange and Postgraduate students, especially if they have not studied at the university in question beforehand. Choosing uni halls as your living space for a year has certain benefits to it. First of all, as already mentioned, most first year students will end up in halls. This means you have a plethora of future friendship possibilities at your doorstep. There are also obvious drawback. First of all, university accommodation usually has a very strict timetable of moving in and out. Some offer only 9 or 10 month rentals, which means if you want to move in before the term starts, then bad luck. If you are a master’s student then check whether you will be allowed to live there during the summer, when you will be writing your dissertation (the same stands for private student accommodation). Other drawbacks include the style of architecture, tiny rooms, single beds and an overall feel that is far from homely. Most of university halls have not been repainted, refurbished or replaced since the 90’s (at least that is my impression) and there is a distinct feel of “this has been used before” to some of them. There is one, often overlooked benefit to this situation. Living in student halls gives you stories like no other. Not just of drunken parties, and student drama, but also golden anecdotes of broken things. My university experience gave me buildings being evacuated because a stray candle during a romantic dinner set fire to the curtains, helping innocent exchange students check for rats in their room, pipes clogged with a pair of jeans, and my personal favourite: a handyman coming to fix a bathroom tile and in the process breaking the bathroom so bad that he flooded the rooms below. Comparing how bad your room is can be an instant ice breaker and a start of a beautiful conversation.
Private Student Accommodation
This is a bit of a weird one. These buildings are just like student halls but are not operated by universities. They are essentially private companies which operate buildings that rent exclusively to students. They do not have to, but some of them are, affiliated with universities. Theoretically this could mean your neighbours/flatmates will study at a different university, especially in cities with many universities. The biggest difference with uni provided accommodation is the standard of the rooms and the price. They are much more expensive, but also generally nicer, as most of them have been built in the last ten years. You also get more choice between where you want to live, as big cities will have a choice of different private providers.
The biggest benefit of both types of student accommodation for somebody coming from abroad is the ease of arranging it. The process is more trustworthy than trying to find private accommodation, and is not a popularity contest. You will simply be given a room in a flat full of strangers.
You might want to opt for privately rented room in a flatshare not at all affiliated with the university. Using a site like SpareRoom is your friend here (see my previous guides on renting). Surprisingly, this can be the cheapest option. However, the difficulty of arranging this from far away, especially if you cannot view the flat, puts many people off. An added drawback is the difficulty of arranging the lease agreement and deposits in a trustworthy manner. You should not just trust people over the internet, so unless your flatmates or landlord agrees to call or Skype with you in person be careful. Another good tip is doing a search on your landlord’s name and address and see if they match with what they told you.
To wrap up, here are some things to consider when choosing your student accommodation provider. Think about the location and transportation to university. You will want to be “on campus” at least five days a week, therefore should calculate whether the cheaper but further away option is really worth it. Look at the area surrounding the halls, think about shops, pubs and general student life. You may also want to consider how many people will be sharing the flat with you. Remember that both uni and private student halls will have different room types that will vary in size, bathroom access and price.
Whatever you choose, budget well, expect some really weird stuff to happen, and you will be fine.