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Where to live at university: The complete guide

Trying to decide where to live at university? From uni halls to student houses to living at home, we'll take you through the pros and cons of each option.

student halls flats bedroom

Credit: Michaelasbest (left), Ollyy (right) – Shutterstock

First you choose what course you want to study, then you choose your university - now it's time to decide where you want to live!

Choosing your university accommodation is one of the most exciting parts of the experience, but it can seem pretty daunting. The big 'student halls or student house?' question stresses students out every year.

To make things easier, we'll take you through all the different options and the pros and cons of each. But don't forget, there's no right or wrong answer here!

With students spending an average of £125 a week on accommodation, choose wherever you think will suit your personality and lifestyle best, and don't feel pressured into living somewhere you don't want to.

Don't forget that wherever you choose to live, you'll probably have to pay a deposit before you move in! Here's how to get it back.

University accommodation options

Where you choose to live at university is totally up to you! Our latest Student Accommodation Survey found that the majority of students 44% live in a student house.

27% live in student halls, 12% in private halls and 12% at home with their parents. Here's a quick summary and the pros and cons of each.

University halls

living in uni halls

Best for: The 'freshers experience'
Cost: ££-£££

University halls are accommodation provided by the university itself. They come in all shapes and sizes, but typically you'll be living in a flat with your own private room and a shared kitchen/ living room area. How many people you're sharing your flat with can vary massively - as a rough guide we'd say anywhere between 4-10 people.

There are a number of factors which will affect how much university halls will cost you:

  • Whether you choose an en suite room or shared bathroom
  • Whether you choose halls close or far away to the university campus
  • Whether you opt for catered or self-catered accommodation

Because of this, it's difficult to say how much university halls cost – although our latest accommodation survey suggests the average is £142 a week. But if you opt for an en suite room in self-catered halls on campus, expect to be paying a whole lot more than if you chose the opposite.

Most universities will guarantee a place in university halls to all first-year students, as long as you both apply for the course and accommodation by the deadlines (but this isn't the case everywhere, so check with your own individual uni).

You might not be guaranteed a place in halls if your home address is within a certain distance from the uni, or if you get your place through clearing.

You'll normally be allowed to select your preferred halls of residence, but there are no guarantees you'll be given your first choice (especially if it's a popular choice) so try not to get your heart set on anything.

The most important thing to remember is that you'll be assigned a room at random, and often won't find out who you're living with until you turn up on the first day - which is exciting but also quite scary!

Most universities will have options for mixed or single-sex flats, quiet flats or flats based on religious or cultural similarities to help you feel more comfortable if you wish.

Most unis also have transfer options, which will allow you to switch flats if you really hate where you're living or who you're living with - but this isn't always the case and they often make you stick it out for a few weeks first.

Pros and cons of uni halls

Bills are included in your total rent price, so you don't have the hassle of sorting them outThey can be quite noisy with lots of pre-drinks and flat parties going on
They're super sociable and make it easy to meet new peopleYou don't get too choose who you live with - or where in some cases
They make an easy introduction to renting - without the stress of dodgy landlordsThey can be more expensive than renting a room in a private house
The university will offer support to help you with settling in and dealing with any problemsIn some cases you have to empty your room over Xmas, Easter and summer - check with your uni

In summary, most students opt for uni halls in their first year of university, before finding a group of friends to move into a private house with.

However, most unis will allow you to stay at halls for the full duration of your degree (and some might even offer rent discounts for doing so!)

Student house

living in a student house

Credit: Channel 4

Best for: Cheap independent living
Cost: ££

If you're set on moving out for university, then living in a student house is likely your cheapest option. There are literally hundreds of student letting agents out there who provide houses specifically for students, so it's unlikely you'll be stuck for a place.

If you're going for a student house, you've got two main options:

  • Gathering a group of friends and finding a house together e.g. seven friends in a seven-bed house
  • Finding a spare room in a house (or opting for a one-bed/studio flat)

Obviously, if you go with the second option you can head to a site like Spareroom and find a room in an already-occupied house, giving you a chance to meet your potential new flatmates and suss out whether you'll be compatible.

Alternatively, some letting agents and landlords put a group of individuals students in a house at the same time, like in halls, so you won't find out who you're living with until you move in.

Some landlords offer rent with bills included, meaning you don't have to worry about organising and splitting the bills each month. However, this isn't always very cost-effective, and it's often cheaper to organise bills yourself - check out our complete guide to student bills to see how it's all done.

The main problem with student houses is dodgy landlords and substandard accommodation. Clue yourself up on the top 10 student housing problems, and make sure you don't end up somewhere as bad as this.

Pros and cons of student houses

You'll get the full experience of independent living and you'll be well prepared for graduate lifeDodgy landlords are, unfortunately, common, and you could end up with shoddy accommodation
House parties, movie nights, Sunday roasts and pyjama parties - living with your best mates is a lot of funOrganising bills can be a hassle and you have to remember to stay on top of everything
You can find a house to suit your budget and it's often much cheaper than hallsYou likely won't be as close to campus as uni halls
You can choose an area of the city that appeals to youYou have to be careful not to upset the neighbours with too much noise or you could be fined

It's a good idea to try living in a student house for at least one year of university (if your budget allows), as it will help prepare you for when you eventually fly the nest as a graduate.

Plus, living in a house is usually a lot quieter than halls, as you'll be living with a handful of students rather than a block of 50+ - so much better for studying in your second and third years.

Here's some top advice from on Save the Student reader:

Go into halls in your first year, then rent houses the following years. Try to talk to people in years above to know which letting agents they advise against to avoid stress with dodgy landlords!

Sam, University of Southampton student

Whatever you do, always make sure you thoroughly check your tenancy agreement before you sign anything!

Before you head off for house viewings, make sure you check out our guide on what to look for in your new student house!

Living at home

living with parents

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Best for: Saving money and home comforts
Cost: £

Whether it's a good idea to live at home while you're at university is an ongoing debate - but ultimately it's totally up to the individual (and their bank balance)!

For many students, moving out isn't feasible because it's too expensive, or they might have responsibilities at home they can't leave. If that's the case, you'll still have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the full university experience!

If you join lots of clubs and societies, speak to people on your course and get stuck in as much as you can, you'll make lots of friends and no doubt be offered plenty of sofas to sleep on after nights out if need be.

Here's some advice from STS reader Becky:

I lived at home first and second year, and got a shared house with two other girls in third year. I met so many people through my course so I got the best of both worlds by crashing on floors and contributing towards bills if I stayed over somewhere.

Then I got the house as I was in uni a lot for my course so it made life easier - plus there were lots of 21st birthday parties!

Becky, former student at York St John University

You'll save heaps of money by not forking out rent (although your parents might ask for monthly board money), but remember you will receive a smaller maintenance loan from Student Finance if you live at home.

Pros and cons of living at home for uni

Pros Cons
You'll save a lot of money that would otherwise go on rentYou have to make more of an effort to make friends by joining societies
You can still enjoy your parents' cooking and other home comfortsYou won't have the same level of independence as you would living away from home
You don't have the hassle of moving all your stuff to a new place every yearYou won't get to experience living in a new city
You'll be living in a quieter atmosphere which makes it easier to studyChances are you'll have a longer commute than those living in a student house

If you decide to live at home for personal and financial reasons, check out our guide to making friends at university to help you settle in!

Private halls

living in private halls at uni

Credit: AL Robinson – Shutterstock

Best for: Tailor-made student living
Cost: ££-£££

Private halls are basically the same as uni halls, except they're provided by an independent company rather than your university.

They're tailor-made student living complexes, and they're becoming more and more popular - but also more expensive. These days private halls often come with onsite gyms, flat screen TVs in every room and other luxuries.

You'll mainly find them in big cities where there are multiple unis in one place, and they're also particularly popular with international students who find it more difficult to navigate the student housing market.

Expect the same set up as uni halls, with flats consisting of private rooms and communal kitchen and living areas.

Pros and cons of private halls

Pros Cons
They're mainly new and purpose-built, meaning they're clean, modern and less prone to problemsThey tend to be quite expensive - especially as more companies offer 'luxury' accommodation
They're sociable and you'll get the chance to meet lost of students, including those from different unisYou could end up paying for fancy facilities you never use
You don't have the hassle of organising bills for gas, electricity etcJust like uni halls, you don't get to choose who you live with
They're normally situated quite close to the uni campusYou'll still have to deal with the noise and mess of shared living

Ultimately, private halls can be a great option but if you're looking to save money, they're best avoided.

If you're stressing about being friends with your flatmates when you move out, that's completely natural! But before we leave you to make the big decision, here are some words of advice from one STS reader:

Everyone will tell you that your flatmates will become your best friends, but in my experience and my friends' experience, this isn't true. Sometimes it is, and if so you're incredibly lucky, but please don't be discouraged if you don't gel with everyone immediately or at all.

Natalie, University of Roehampton student

If you've decided you're going to move away from home, it's time to start packing! Here's our ultimate uni packing checklist.


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