Posted Aug. 16, 2012
So you’ve got your acceptance letter, managed to magic some funding out of somewhere and life seems pretty peachy. Suddenly it hits you, "Crap, where am I going to live? Where do I want to live?? How do I find somewhere??? Argh I have no friends, I’ll wind up sharing a house with freaks and druggies!!!!" And then your head explodes. Maybe...
Choices, choices, choices...
Once you know where you’re studying the question of where to live immediately rears its head: halls vs. house, alone vs. housemates. We’ve all heard the horror stories about the trials and tribulations of student accommodation , certain estate agents who’ve acquired a rep for being pillars of integrity in their dealings with students (naming no names, though those of us who lived in a certain part of a certain city know exactly who I mean).
Do your research
Friends of mine unwillingly became involved in The Case of the Disappearing Landlady, who mysteriously made off with several hundred pounds worth of deposit come the end of their lease. On further investigation they found her record to be as pure as the driven snow 3 days later on the edge of the motorway. To say they were miffed would be an understatement, though if this unfortunate event teaches you anything it’s the importance of doing your homework.
Knowledge is key
With a swift Google of ‘postgrad accommodation’ you’re presented with a bewildering deluge of information. Hell, our American cousins seem to have gone one step further and made Youtube videos on the subject (scintillating...).
However on a serious note it’s immediately noticeable that pretty much every British university you can think of has its own detailed rundown of the various accommodation options it offers, making the uni website a good place to start. Going from there, there are three main choices for living arrangements: student halls, offsite accommodation and private housing.
Halls of Residence
Halls are arguably the most straightforward option, and I’m not just saying that because I lived in hall during my Masters. University accommodation is cheaper than living out and you don’t have to worry about paying utility bills or relying on your own DIY expertise. From my own experience living around so many people fosters friendships very quickly and there’s a great sense of community, which is particularly important if you’ve moved university for your postgrad studies and face making friends all over again.
However, recapturing the halcyon undergraduate days is not for everyone, particularly if you’ve come back to university after a couple of years in the real world. For me moving seamlessly from BA to MSc it was an extension of the familiar, however students who had well and truly moved past undergrad found halls restricting and yearned for their own space. As well as being an indication of my continued immaturity it shows that your age and stage of life should be part of the equation when deciding which form of accommodation will suit you best.
Offsite uni accommodation
Universities are also helpful sources for alternative housing; we all received countless opportunistic emails throughout the year via the uni system and the university admin service was good at matching up homeless students with vacant rooms on and off the premises. Often universities have administrators for the specific purpose of managing student housing, and can offer reasonable places to live for the hard-up student.
James Welland, a former music student at St John’s College, Cambridge, lived in a house owned by St John’s, which was suggested by the college’s own accommodation officer, “It was fairly cheap and good value for money – I had a large double bedroom. I would recommend anyone to use the same system.”
However university services, although generally extensive, can’t and don’t provide the answer for everyone. If communal bathrooms and unknown randoms pikey-ing your milk isn’t for you there are plenty of reputable letting agents who have a wealth of affordable student properties on their books that aren’t falling down brick by brick, and who don’t string you along in a dance of dubious morals designed to bamboozle and infuriate.
Alex Paddock, an MSt student in English, describes the letting agent she used as “ excellent, and brilliant value for money, though expensive!” Expense is a recurring issue for those pursuing their own housing arrangements, and it can be a complicated and time-consuming experience. David Frydrych a PhD student in Legal Theory says, " There was much internet searching. We contacted multiple estate agents and viewed several places. It was a long process." However the search was worth it, " I was immediately keen on the unit... two big rooms with double beds facing a private garden; and a spacious common area .
" Although you may have to fork out a bit more for a rented property, in terms of value for money it seems a fair trade-off for a decent place to live and your own space, plus it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to compromise on proximity to university libraries/departments by living out. Chances are halls of residence and your department won’t be cheek-by-jowl, so not living on campus doesn’t have to be an inconvenience, plus you can narrow down the field of potential milk thieves!
There is also the option of a specific private student accommodation provider, for example Fresh Student Living, which is a company that provides privately managed purpose-built student accommodation that includes bills, internet, CCTV and insurance and is a great alternative to university halls and private housing. Fresh Student Living has accommodation in Bangor, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Chester, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ipswich, Kingston, Liverpool, London, Loughborough, Reading, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and York.
Looking for a place to live can be an extra faff on top of a hundred and one other things for a postgrad to think about, however taking the time to get it right will pay off. At least you’re not signing the contract on a house in Tottenham in the midst of the riots, as a couple of my postgrad mates were last summer; the guy manning the office offered the comforting words, "Still standing is it?" If nothing else it turns out letting agents have a sense of humour!