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Student accommodation: catered or self-catered?

Deciding whether to live in catered or a self-catered student accommodation? We look at the important factors you should consider before making a decision.

Eleanor Foulds
by Eleanor Foulds
Last Updated:
02 May 2023

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One of the biggest differences between student accommodation is the option to have either catered or self-catered halls. Not sure which one suits you best? Take these points into consideration when deciding.

The independence you get

Many students choose a self-catered hall due to the independence it affords them. Not only are you unrestricted in your choice of ingredients and their (sometimes experimental) combinations, but you can cook and eat whenever you like. Unlike the catered options which have set meal-times, in self-catered accommodation you’re able to call the shots which frees up your schedule to join evening clubs and societies. 

However, cooking for yourself can be quite thyme-consuming (see what we did there?). After a long day in the library, having a hot meal waiting for you is a great bonus. Plus, it’s an unfortunate truth that ‘independence’ usually translates to ‘spending loads of time washing up’.

Think about money

With paying for catered accommodation comes the cost of wages for all the staff involved in the stages of preparing and serving your food. It'll likely cost you a lot more than if your accommodation was self-catered.

However, the standard uni accommodation cork-board filled with take-away leaflets can very quickly become a quick fix if you’ve forgotten to go shopping. Suddenly self-catered becomes a lot more expensive. Having your meals made for you might save both your wallet and your waist some pounds.

Learn something new

By staying in self-catered accommodation your learning experience goes beyond the classroom. You’ll surprise yourself with how quickly you pick up cooking skills. Even picky eaters find themselves embracing new foods. Cooking is an impressive skill and you might find your spicy meatballs wooing that special someone! 

It is, however, very easy to get stuck in a pasta-rut without the variety that the ever-changing catered menu provides. Quick dishes and ready meals can easily become a daily occurrence and you'll find that you're getting the nutrients you should be that can have positive effects on your brain function.

The social element

There are huge social advantages on both sides of the equation here. With everyone keen to make new friends, the kitchen becomes a social hot-spot which means you can chat whilst you chop, prattle whilst you peel, or gossip whilst you grill. You'll get to know your new housemates remarkably quickly, even if it’s just that they like really weird foods. It’ll also provide ample opportunity for culinary collaboration.

“One Christmas we ended up having an Indian/British fusion roast with curried potatoes,” says Jade, a University of Sussex graduate. “It took three of us an entire afternoon to put it together, but it was one of the best Christmas dinners I’ve had!”

The great advantage with the catered option, on the other hand, is that you can meet plenty of new people outside of your flat. Tom, a Keele University student, found that he met his closest friends in the canteen: “I didn’t get along too well with everyone in my flat, but met loads of people with shared interests at dinner time... It opens you up to new people you’d probably just walk past on campus.”

Which should you pick?

If you're still unsure, think about what your priorities are. If you’re excited to learn to cook or you’re a bit fussy, then maybe self-catered is for you. Alternatively you might decide those skills can wait and you want to spend your first year with the comfort of having food made for you, freeing up more time to study and socialise.


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