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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.

block of flats and woman in bed reading

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

After finding your ideal university and degree, 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 go through all the different options and the pros and cons of each to help you find the best uni accommodation for you. But don't forget, there are no right or wrong answers here!

In the National Student Accommodation Survey 2024, the average monthly rent was £550 per month. Rent is the biggest monthly cost for a lot of students, so it's important to take your time to find the right place for you.

Choose somewhere you think would suit your personality and lifestyle best, and try not to feel pressured into living anywhere you don't think you'd enjoy.

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 your deposit back at the end of your tenancy.

University accommodation options

Where you choose to live at university is totally up to you!

In our latest accommodation survey, 39% said they rented from private landlords, making it the most popular form of accommodation at uni.

24% said they live in university-owned halls, while 16% live in private halls. As well as this, 15% lived at home with their parents.

Here's a quick summary and the pros and cons of each.

University halls

student in a bedroom

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 four and 10 people.

Several factors affect how much university halls will cost you, such as:

  • Whether you choose an en suite room or a shared bathroom
  • Whether you choose halls near or far away from 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. Our National Student Accommodation Survey suggests the average is around £596 per month. But if you choose an en suite room in self-catered halls on campus, expect to be paying a whole lot more than if you went for the opposite.

Most universities will guarantee a place in university halls to all first-year students, as long as you apply for both the course and accommodation by the deadlines. This isn't always the case, though, so check with your university.

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. Contact your uni for more info.

You'll usually 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 building) 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 slightly 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 don't like where you're living or who you're living with. However, this isn't always the case and they often encourage you to stick it out for a few weeks first.

Pros and cons of uni halls

Bills will likely be included in your total rent price, so you don't have to worry about sorting them out.They can be quite noisy with lots of pre-drinks and flat parties going on, which isn't ideal for everyone.
They're super sociable and make it easy to meet new people.You don't get to choose who you live with – or where in some cases.
They're a good introduction to renting.They can be more expensive than renting a room in a private house.
The university will offer support to help you settle in and deal with any problems.In some cases you have to empty your room over Christmas, Easter and summer – check with your uni.

In summary, most students opt for living in halls during 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 in halls for the full duration of your degree (and some might even offer rent discounts for doing so).

Student house

terraced housing

Credit: Pompaem Gogh – Shutterstock

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 loads of student letting agents out there who provide houses specifically for students, so you should have plenty of choice.

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

  • Gathering a group of friends and renting a house together (e.g. finding a four-bed house for you and three friends)
  • Finding a spare room in a house
  • Looking for a one-bed/studio flat (this would be a more expensive choice).

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 allow individual students to choose a room in a house. But, if you pick this option, you probably won't find out who else you're living with until you move in, like with halls.

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 can be cheaper to organise bills yourself. Check out our complete guide to student bills to see how it's all done.

The main problems with student houses are that landlords can sometimes be difficult or unreliable, and the accommodation can be poor value for money. Clue yourself up on the most common student housing problems so you know what to look out for.

Pros and cons of student houses

You'll get the full experience of independent living and you'll be well prepared for graduate life.Difficult landlords are, unfortunately, common, and you could end up with substandard accommodation.
House parties, movie nights and pyjama parties – living with your best mates can be a lot of fun.Organising bills can be a hassle.
You can find a house to suit your budget and it's often cheaper than halls.You likely won't be as close to campus as you would be in uni halls.
You can choose an area of the city that appeals to you.You 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 you prepare for graduate life.

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+. It should make it easier to study at home.

Here's some top advice from one Save the Student reader, Sam:

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 (studied at University of Southampton)

Read our guide on what to look for when viewing student houses. And make sure you thoroughly check your tenancy agreement before signing anything.

Living at home

mother and daughter

Credit: Monkey Business Images – Shutterstock

Best for: Home comforts and saving money
Cost: £.

Whether living at home for uni would be right for you will depend on your individual situation and preferences. But it is worth bearing in mind that you could save a fair amount of money by not paying much (if any) rent.

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 needed.

Pros and cons of living at home for uni

Pros Cons
You'll save a lot of money that would otherwise go on rent.You have to make more of an effort to make friends by joining societies.
You can still enjoy your parents' cooking and other home comforts.You won't have the same level of independence as you would living away from home.
You don't have to worry about moving all of your things to a new place each year.You won't get to experience living in a new city.
You'll be living in a quieter atmosphere which makes it easier to study.You'll probably have a longer commute than those living in a student house.

You'll save heaps of money by not forking out rent (although your parents might ask for monthly contributions). However, remember that you'll generally receive a smaller Maintenance Loan from Student Finance if you live at home.

Here's some advice from a Save the Student reader called 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 (studied at York St John University)

Our guide to making friends at university has plenty of tips for students who are staying at home for uni.

Private halls

private halls

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. Private halls often come with onsite gyms, flat-screen TVs in bedrooms and other great features. Just keep in mind that the more luxuries a flat has, the more expensive it tends to be.

You'll often find them in big cities with several universities. And you can expect the same set-up as uni halls, with flats consisting of private rooms and communal kitchens 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 problems.They can be quite expensive – especially for 'luxury' accommodation.
They're sociable and you'll get the chance to meet lots of students, including those from different unis.You could end up paying for fancy facilities you don't use.
You don't have the stress of organising bills for gas, electricity etc.Just like with uni halls, you don't get to choose who you live with.
They're usually situated quite close to university campuses.You'll still have to deal with the noise and mess of shared living.

For some, private halls are a brilliant option. But, if you're looking to save money, be careful as some of them can have pretty high rent prices.

If you're worried about not getting on with all of your flatmates, that's completely natural! But before we leave you to make the big decision, here are some words of advice from Natalie, another Save the Student 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 (studied at the University of Roehampton)

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

Jessica Murray

WRITTEN BY Jessica Murray

As an Editor of Save the Student, Jessica Murray has written extensively on student money news and money-saving tips. She was co-host of our podcast, No More Beans, and is now a journalist at the Guardian. Her tips and insights range from fun guides for freshers, to information for graduates entering the workplace.
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