I’ve been through the process of looking for accommodation twice now, in slightly different circumstances. In my first year, like most students, I lived on-campus in accommodation owned by the University. My choice of accommodation would also determine what college I became a part of, so there was more to consider than if I were simply going for private rented accommodation. But not much more. Whatever college you end up in, I promise you’ll love it and hate all the others within two weeks, if not sooner. I want to give you my perspective on choosing between all the different options on offer and to help you work out what you value most.
First, let’s consider bathrooms.
Ensuite v Shared
Your choice here is between ensuite, where the toilet and shower are in a typically small room or alcove in your bedroom, or shared, where there are some number of bathrooms in the house that you share with other people.
I think the instinct here is to view ensuite bathrooms as clearly superior and shared bathrooms as nothing more than what you get left with if you apply too late, but there are actually advantages and disadvantages to both.
First, especially in University-owned accommodation, shared bathrooms have a pretty good chance of being covered by the cleaning services. By contrast, you’ll almost certainly be responsible for cleaning your own ensuite, and this can be unpleasant and time-consuming to have to integrate into your weekly schedule.
Another advantage of shared bathrooms, though this may sound odd, is that they are more social than ensuites. Having a bathroom in your room can very easily encourage you to stay shut in working or procrastinating, and never stretch your legs or interact with your housemates. Being forced outside every now and then makes it more likely that you’ll bump into people in a corridor and have a chat, not to mention the positive impact the change of scenery will have on your mentality.
Finally, having an ensuite will take up a lot of space in your room. If you go for a shared bathroom, you’re more likely to have a roomier bedroom (though this varies by provider, and it’s worth checking photos of the rooms).
Do the maths
One last tip about bathrooms is to find out how many people are going to be in the flat you’re considering, and divide that number by the number of bathrooms to find out how many people will be sharing a single bathroom. You probably don’t want more than three or four to a single bathroom because of the increased risk of Gross Housemate Syndrome, which is a real thing that definitely exists.
Now for a much broader subject: kitchens, and related services. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spending a lot of time in your kitchen.
Cooking is fun, rewarding, and an excellent way to procrastinate (though of course, I would never do that last one). If you’re not comfortable with the idea of cooking at least a few nice things for yourself, dedicate some time to learning to cook before coming to university – everyone can spot the person whose parents have cooked for them their whole life from a mile away, and you probably don’t want that to be you. Not to mention the fact that six months of takeaway, freezer meals, and pasta is just a depressing prospect.
My top tips
- What I learned when I got really into cooking is that a significant number of meals follow the same structure: chop and fry an onion, add some dry stuff and spices, then add some wet stuff and cook for a bit longer. That covers risotto, many curries, most pasta sauces, shakshuka, stir-fries, pie fillings, and so many more.
- Get yourself a decent chef’s knife (it doesn’t have to be expensive), learn to chop an onion, and build your confidence using a stove and an oven – spitting pans are nothing to be afraid of once you know what you’re doing and a few of those inconvenient nerve endings in your hands have been burned off.
- Also, tin foil does not retain heat very well, so you can pretty safely handle it straight out of the oven if you’re careful.
- And please, for everybody’s sake, wash up (and dry, and put away) your things before you leave the kitchen.
Now that you’re an expert home cook, let’s get back to the subject at hand. When looking at kitchens in student accommodation, there are a few important things to consider. These are, in no particular order: storage space, hob type, surface area, cleaning supplies and services, comfort, and state of repair.
State of repair
You want a large comfortable area in a good state of repair. If you look at the photos on the University’s (or landlord’s) website and there’s visible grime on the tiles or stains on the floor, that’s not a great sign.
Space available and comfort
You can also get a decent idea of the space available and other things by looking at pictures and visiting on open days (these days, it’s more of the former than the latter, unfortunately). Some kitchens in the pricier accommodation will have sofas and televisions in them, which can turn the kitchen into a very nice social space. Some of the points I mentioned do require some explanation.
Kitchens should have cupboards and fridges in them, and it’s a good idea (much like with the bathrooms) to divide the number of occupants by the number of cupboards and fridge shelves available to see how many you personally can use. With fridge space, you often have to just negotiate with your flatmates, not steal their stuff, and trust that they won’t steal yours. Regarding hob type, make sure you’re familiar with how that works (it’ll usually be electric or ceramic, in my experience) and also make sure you have compatible pans. It’s unlikely your accommodation will use induction hobs, but you definitely want to know about that before you go out and buy a set of non-magnetic pans.
Finally, check what services are included with your rent. On-campus, some accommodation will include cleaning services. For my first year flat, this covered the kitchen and shared bathrooms, but not the sink in our rooms. They also wouldn’t clean our kitchen if we left it in too much of a state. Make sure you know what is covered and what is provided. If your flat doesn’t have cleaning supplies or a vacuum cleaner, you’ll probably want to coordinate with your flatmates to split the cost of this. I’d also recommend keeping a bag of cleaning supplies in your room, especially if you have an ensuite.
With all of this information, I don’t want you to think finding accommodation is like planning a wedding or plotting the perfect crime. There are many dimensions to consider, and some things you’ll inevitably forget about, but the University does its best to make it as easy and rewarding as possible. Consider your budget, think about what you value and use regularly, as well as the things you’ll need to take with you. Moving away from home is a pretty big step, and I hope my perspective helps you through that decision process and gives you a better idea of what to expect when you arrive.
- Read more student blogs about accommodation