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Applying for student accommodation: Q&A

You’ve submitted your Ucas application and your offers have started coming in, but now there’s another important application on your to-do list – your student accommodation. So how does the process work?

With so many options available, deciding where to live at uni can feel like a bewildering choice.

Do you want private halls or uni halls? Do you want a place in the city centre or on campus? And that’s before even you look into when you’re meant to apply and how. But don’t worry, we’re here to help.

Here’s a round-up of things to do and look out for when it comes to making your uni accommodation application. 

Student accommodation: what should you look for?

When you’re looking at accommodation options offered by the uni you're hoping to go to, it can be tempting to go straight for the halls with the biggest bedrooms, the ensuite bathrooms or the ones that you've heard throw the best parties in Freshers’ Week.

But you could be missing out on other options that will suit you better, such as private halls or living at home. Whatever your choices, take the time to think about the following factors: 

Cost

Different accommodation comes in a range of different shapes and sizes – and, accordingly, varying price ranges.

Before you start looking at rooms, you need to work out what you can, realistically, afford. Contract lengths are usually around 40 weeks (you don’t have to pay for halls during the summer holidays – but you will through Christmas and any other holidays). So if you were to pay, for example, £100 a week for 40 weeks, that adds up to £4,000. 

If you’ve got another source of income to factor in – whether savings, a part-time job or the bank of mum and dad – this will increase your options. But make sure you don’t forget about all the other things you need to budget for.

Location

Location is another important factor to weigh up when choosing accommodation, and often impacts on how much you’ll pay. Student digs further away from the campus tend to be slightly cheaper, while cities are more expensive – and London is in a price bracket of its own! You should consider:
  • the proximity to your lectures/the campus: is it walking distance / within a short bus or train ride?
  • transport links: will you be well connected to both the campus and the town / city?
  • the local area: what’s the area like surrounding your halls? Do you want to be slap-bang in the city centre, or part of a student village?

Facilities

Next on your checklist, the facilities:

Catered or self-catered accommodation: This is mainly something to think about when it comes to university halls (although, if you choose to live at home, it might be something you can negotiate for).

Catered accommodation in halls will mean that your breakfast and dinners are sorted (saving you trips to the supermarket as well as time spent cooking and washing up), but self-catered accommodation gives you more flexibility and allows you to cook the foods you like. Bathrooms: Could you manage with sharing a bathroom, or do you really need your own ensuite?

Extras: Are all the bills covered or any there any one-off payments you'll need to factor in? Is there a regular cleaner, for example? In halls, you might have a uni bus pass or access to the uni gym included.

Special requirements: You’ll usually be able to specify any special requirements, such as a disability or dietary requirement, as part of your application, which will be taken into consideration when halls are allocated.

Private halls, living at home and more – your halls alternatives

If traditional uni halls don’t sound like your cup of tea, or you make a late application to halls and miss out, there are alternatives – you might even find they suit you better. 

For example, if you’re really worried about money and you’re going to a local uni, you could consider living at home.

You might also prefer the idea of private rented accommodation – if you’re a mature student who wants something away from the loud hustle and bustle of halls for example.

There are also private halls available – the set-up is very similar to uni halls, but the accommodation is owned by a private company as opposed to the uni. 

When can you apply for student accommodation?

It varies from uni to uni, but usually you can apply once you’ve accepted an offer. Some universities will allow you to apply for accommodation even if they’re your insurance option, although many will only open applications to you if they’re your firm choice.

Although you can’t apply while you’re still waiting for your offer, it is worth doing your research in advance so that you can make your application as soon as they open. Accommodation is usually allocated on a first-come, first-served basis – and some unis can't guarantee all first-year students a place in halls.

Also be aware that unis often have deadlines for applying well ahead of your course start date (around 1 August), so don’t leave it till the last minute to make your application.

How do you apply for student accommodation?

Applications are typically made online. You usually put down a number of preferences – your preferred accommodation residence as well as your preferred type of room (standard, ensuite, catered etc).

Accommodation officers will do their best to match you to your preferences, but some residences will be very over-subscribed, so you’re not guaranteed to get your first choice.

How much is the deposit for student accommodation?

Just like with private accommodation, a deposit is usually required for university halls – which could be anywhere between £150 and £500 depending on the university, and whether the room is catered or not.

Is the deposit for student accommodation refundable?

The deposit for student halls is usually returned at the end of the tenancy, minus any damages or outstanding rent payments.  

Can I stay in student halls over the holidays?

You’ll need to look at the contract – tenancies may be term-time only, a 12-month contract, or something in between. The former could be better value if you always come home for the holidays, but it does mean there are extra considerations like moving belongings back and forth.

It's worth checking if your university offers storage for belongings which you may not need to take home, but may need to move out of your room for those few weeks. Priority will usually go to international students or those living furthest away from the university. 

Some unis also offer the opportunity to pay for additional stay in vacation periods such as the summer for a reduced rate. 

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