Live it up
Accommodation is one of the most important elements of student life, so it pays to get it right.
Monday 18 August 2008
So, the endless reports about the rainy weather and bad food haven’t deterred you yet and you’ve made up your mind to head over to the UK. Aside from your studies, the most important aspect of your time here is likely to be where you live. Not only will it be the place where you eat, sleep and study, but it also has the potential to be the central hub of your social life. There are loads of different housing options available, so we’ve put together a breakdown of the essential information on student accommodation. In addition, over the page is a handy guide on what and what not to do when you move in.
How to apply
Many of you have probably sorted out your accommodation for September already, but for those of you who haven’t there is still plenty of time.
Some universities require overseas students (anyone from outside the EU) to sort out their visas before applying for student accommodation, while others don’t. All universities will have an international office and an accommodation office, where specialist staff can provide you with the information and guidance you’ll need to get your visa and start the accommodation application process.
Rooms at university student residencies – popularly known as halls – tend to go quickly. That said, the official deadline for halls applications is usually not until the first day of term in September. If you miss that deadline, don’t fret. You can put your name down on the waiting list and will be designated a room if and when one becomes available.
For those of you going down the private accommodation route, if you are an overseas student you will need a visa before you are able to rent a property. Finding suitable private accommodation can take time, so it’s advisable to give yourself at least two weeks to look around at what is on offer. There are many different ways to go about it – the most reliable is using an estate agency. Your university will have a list of reputable agencies at their accommodation office, while you’ll find that most agencies will charge you a fee for their services of around £100.
It’s also possible to find private accommodation through social networking websites; Craigslist and Gumtree are popular in the UK.Noticeboards at the student union may also have information on rooms for rent in shared houses.
Examining the options
As mentioned above, you could go for university halls – within which you can chose to go for the fully catered or self-catered option – or private accommodation, where you can chose to live in a shared house, private flat, bedsit, or a room in a family house. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s best to weigh up the options and see which you think is best for you.
People are usually drawn to halls by the social aspect: dozens of your fellow students all under one roof, communal events organised every night – why, it’s a 24-hour party! This can be especially appealing if you are coming from abroad and don’t know many people in the UK.
“In halls you’ll meet people from all over the world,” says Vanisha Chauhan, accommodation officer at University College London. “It’s generally much more friendly and sociable than private accommodation.”
You also have the advantage that the rent you pay covers your bills, although telephone and internet bills tend not to be included. In addition, those of you who are yet to master the art of cooking can go for the catered halls option. While it might not be the home cooking you are used to, there are normally a wide variety of foods on offer.
Alternatively, the self-catering option usually consists of a communal kitchen shared between six people, where you will need to provide all your own cooking equipment and kitchenware.
What some people view as the advantages of halls, others aren’t so keen on. If sharing your living space with hordes of students isn’t your thing, private accommodation may be the way to go. Private accommodation allows you more independence, and freedom to choose where and who you live with.“I chose private accommodation because I wanted the freedom, and to live with people I know,” says Nina Mangalanayagam from Sweden, who studies at the University of the Arts, London.
It’s unlikely to be cheaper than halls, as you will need to sort out bills yourself. If you decide to go through an agency and get your own place, there are certain practicalities that you need to be aware of. Most agencies require international students to provide a UK guarantor, although sometimes students can get around this by paying six-months’ rent upfront.
Both private rentals and halls of residence will require a deposit (about a month’s rent), which will be returned to you when you leave, as long as there have been no breaches of the contract.
If you’ve still not made up your mind as to which option you think is best, fear not. Many university websites have forums on which you can ask former students their advice on accommodation issues.
A warm welcome
If you’ve chosen to stay in student accommodation, the advice from Chauhan is “to go straight to the residence on arrival in the UK. Let the office know when you’ll be arriving beforehand, so that they have your keys ready.”
If you’re going down the private accommodation route you will need somewhere to stay while you search for a place. If you don’t have a friend who will put you up, university residencies offer temporary accommodation until term begins. Your university website will also have links to local hotels and hostels.
“Most universities will arrange an international students’ welcome event, ”says Lizzie Huckle, international student adviser at City University London. “At this event, students can get practical info about key stuff, like accommodation and how to open a bank account.”
You will receive a letter from your university informing you when this event will take place. University accommodation offices are open throughout the year and will be able to help you with any of your housing queries. Don’t be afraid to ask them!
- Do leave your bedroom door open when you arrive in halls so people can pop their head in and say hi / Don't leave it open when you go out
- Do pin up photos of your pets on your wall / Don't accidentally bring them back to uni with you after the holidays
- Do give a spare set of keys to a friend in case of emergencies / Don’t leave a spare set of keys under the door mat
- Do get a stereo system for dancing around your bedroom / Don’t blast out your favourite tunes and make enemies of the neighbours
- Do bring stuff from home that will make your room feel like your own / Don’t bring everything and the kitchen sink
- Do take a walk around the area to get to know your new neighbourhood / Don’t forget your way home
- Do keep a stash of snack food in your room / Don’t leave food to rot in the depths of your cupboard
- Do pop round to your neighbour’s room to introduce yourself / Don’t knock on their door at 6am
- Do put your culinary skills to the test and try out the communal kitchen in halls / Don’t leave the sink full of dishes for whoever’s unlucky enough to visit the kitchen next
- Do throw a housewarming party / Don’t advertise it to the world on MySpace and Facebook
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