Student accommodation: what happens when you start university?

We’ve all been there. You get your UCAS confirmation e-mail, you celebrate the fact that you got accepted at a university, but after all the joy and excitement, you are compelled to face one simple question: “And now what?”

Well, this is when the annoying part of the process starts.  The decisions you have to take. The choices you have to make. And one crucial part of it all is, quite obviously, accommodation.

For some people, the answer is rather simple: they stay at home. There are just too many perks: home-cooked meals, no need to do your own laundry and you don’t have to give up the comfort of your own room.

This might be a bit of a stereotype but the truth is last year 18 % of students decide not to leave the nest , according to a King Sturge research from 2010. I also did a poll in order to find out where people had been living the past year (September-present) and about 20 % of those who voted still live at home. An article in the Guardian revealed that, according to a 2008 Eurostat survey, about 40% of young adults in the UK still live at home, a low rate compared to other countries, like Portugal, in the EU.

But for peole who want their independence, or who simply have no other choice than leave home because they are moving to another country, for instance, two options immediately spring to mind: student accommodation (which includes university halls and private facilities such as Unite or Nido) or flat-sharing.

Photo: Courtesy of Stay in Buenos Aires

Flat-sharing is especially popular in the UK, I have noticed. However, most people choose to go down this road either if they already have friends to get a place with or in the second or third year of university, after getting to know some people and creating new friendships.

Results of the poll I did show that around 32 % of students choose to share a flat with friends or newly acquainted roommates, mainly because that way they are able to combine business with pleasure: it’s practical, cheaper and fun. The research done by King Sturge, which I mentioned earlier, also revealed that the number of students in shared houses has greatly increased in merely one year (from 2009 to 2010), now standing at 52 %.

And now we have come to the most common and slightly controversial option: student and university halls. Some say it’s all part of the college experience, others praise it for it being a great way to socialise, and overall, it is the most popular type of accommodation, gaining 48 % of the votes in my poll.

But however popular, it comes mostly as a necessity, with the majority of the students choosing it for the simple reason that they cannot afford to buy/rent a place or have found no one else to share it with.

Photo by Inês Rainho de Azevedo

Living in halls is a great experience and it can be fun, but it always seems to come at a price. University halls usually manage to live up to the stereotype: “Up to 16 people sharing public bathrooms, fire alarms going off in the early hours of the morning, maintenance workers round the clock”, as one of my coursemates, Christian Jensen, reveals in his blog.

Andrea Amorim, 18, a graphic design student at University of the Arts, London, said: “You suddenly move out from your parents’ lovely house and then you have to live in a tiny, depressing, empty room with people you don’t know. It’s tough at the beginning and the common rooms are always dirty, no matter how many times you clean!”

Another student, Catarina Quental Mendes, 20, who did an internship in London for her Physiotherapy course at University of East Anglia, said: “I had never lived in such low conditions. My room had clearly not been cleaned: the carpet was filthy, full of crumbs; the furniture was dusty, as well as the curtains. I can’t explain how disgusted and depressed I felt. I complained to the accommodation office three times but they were useless. On Fridays I had to leave my room for the weekend, just to keep my spirit and strength up, and maintain my psychological well-being.”

People living in private student halls might live in better conditions but they still have to face many obstacles. Electricity shutdowns, no hot water for days – you name it. What’s most irritating about this, though, is that these private facilities are usually very expensive, and at the price students pay, a certain standard is expected but certainly not met.

Kamilla Nyegaard-Larsen, another coursemate of mine, expresses her opinion in one of her blog posts: “Fellow students might say that I shouldn’t complain as I apparently live in the best halls and the other ones are filthy and old. I’m sure they are, but for the price I’m paying I should be allowed to expect a certain standard. I’m not saying we should have massage showers and tiles on the bathroom floors. I would just like things to work properly.”

As you can see, dealing with accommodation is never easy, especially in cities like London where prices are generally high. But somehow everyone seems to be able to find a suitable solution in the end. So, over to you – what will you choose?

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7 Comments

Filed under Living in London

7 responses to “Student accommodation: what happens when you start university?

  1. lr

    I see you have posted a picture of Canto Court. That’s Unite, isn’t it? Just want to warn all students out there: beware of Unite! it’s a gready, very gready, and not honest company…Believe me, I know what I’m talking about!

  2. troisanneesdanslashit

    I’m a first-year student living in one my uni’s facilities. The building where I live has no kitchen (so we can’t cook) and it is invaded by ants… It’s really awful!

    We have two showers and one toilet for seven people so that’s not so bad. I mean compared to what I read in the article!

    I think that living on campus for your first year is really great. You’re usually close to everything and you quickly make new friends (wW’re all in the same shit, ain’t we?).

    In my case I had no problem with finding an accommodation because the university had accepted my request. However, it wasn’t so easy for everybody. Many of my (English) friends had to find a place to live around campus (city center or elsewhere) because the uni had refused their request. But what was really tragic was that they only learned it after they had accepted their offer, IN AUGUST!
    They had one or two months to find somewhere to live and for some who did not live near Canterbury (where I study) it proved to be really hard.

    Most of them found something but it was not thanks to the uni but rather thanks to facebook, twitter etc… where all the students who had a spared room posted it on these websites.

    So in conclusion… They need to find a better way of doing it.

  3. Personally I don’t see all the fuss about living in halls – my room is quite big, you can choose to live in smaller flats (like I do and it only costs a bit more) and it is generally quite sociable. Yes, stuff doesn’t work from time to time, it can be noisy and it is no where near as nice as my family’s home but for most (in this case I am refering to many UK 18/19 year olds I know) uni halls is the easiest way to getting used to living away from home for the first time.

    • Inês Azevedo

      To be honest, I haven’t had a bad experience either. But private student accommodation like Unite (where I live) is pricey, and they do not live up to the standards expected at all. In terms of uni halls I’m afraid I only know what people have told me, haven’t had the chance to visit any yet. But you’re right, I’m sure sometimes it sounds worse than it really is. 🙂

  4. Kamilla Nyegaard-Larsen

    Urgh, get me out of halls, haha! 😛
    Thanks for mentioning me in your post 😀 x

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