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How to find the right student accommodation

Off to uni and haven’t sorted your accommodation yet? Never fear, just take a read of our guide to applying for uni accommodation. We’ll explain what kinds of student accommodation you’ll have to choose from, what you should look out for when picking a pad, and the importance of paying attention to deadlines…

Eleanor Foulds
by Eleanor Foulds
Last Updated:
01 Feb 2023

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First things first, well done you. Getting into uni is a big achievement, so give yourself a pat on the back, or if you’re not quite that flexible, a hearty round of applause instead.

Done? Good. Now let’s proceed. You must be pretty excited now about setting off on your big uni adventure, and trust us, the next three years are going to be loads of fun, but before you get too carried away, you’ve still got one big decision left to make — you need to work out where you’re going to live.

So how do you decide? Whatever you choose, you’ll likely be there for up to a year, so it’s important to get it right. Don’t worry though, because once you know what your options are, like the type of accommodation available and how much it costs, it’ll be easy to decide what the best choice is for you. After that, you just need to make sure you know how to apply (online, in writing?) and when, and you’ll be sorted. Easy, right? If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed though, never mind. Just take a deep breath and read our in depth guide to how to apply for uni accommodation…

Types of student accommodation

First of all, you need decide what kind of accommodation you want to live in. There are pros and cons to all of the different types of student accommodation, but once you see what’s on offer, it should make it much easier for you to decide which will be the best fit for you. For details on the exact accommodation your uni offers, you’ll need to check their website or prospectus, but here are three main kinds:

Uni/Private halls

Uni halls are still far and away the most popular accommodation option for first year students and it’s easy to see why —you’ll arrive to find a fully furnished bedroom waiting for you, plus access to a shared kitchen and bathroom decked out with all the facilities you need. The biggest draw to student halls though is that you’ll be surrounded by people. The average halls of residence will be home to a good couple of hundred students, and you could be sharing your floor with anything from five to 10 or 15 other people. For some of you, that probably sounds like hell on earth (you can probably skip this section, unless a studio flat is more your speed), but for others it’s a great way to make lots of new friends. 

Halls are especially useful for meeting people to head out with at freshers’, as you won’t have met your course mates yet. Plus, lots of halls have a bar where you can socialise with your newfound friends and some even have handy shops too, for when you get home from lectures and the only food left in the kitchen is that suspicious looking pot noodle that no one’s been brave enough to try. Probably the biggest bonus to halls for many students is that there are usually cleaners, so you won’t suddenly have to start doing the vacuuming. The other upside to uni halls is that they’ll generally be either on campus or very close to it, so you can stumble into 9am lectures in your pyjamas if you want. 

You’ll be able to look on your university’s website or in their prospectus to get all the details about the halls they have, but there is a second type of student accommodation that you won’t see in your brochure — private halls. Private halls are very much like uni halls, except they’re owned and run by private companies (this is different from ‘managed’ university halls, where a private company does the maintenance, but the hall belongs to the university). Usually the facilities will be a little bit nicer, which will be reflected in the price you pay, and they will often be located in the city centre or ‘trendy’ area of town rather than close to your campus. Some private halls offer studio flats in place of single rooms — this guarantees maximum privacy but will be quite pricey, and could get lonely if you don’t have lots of friends at uni already.

The main difference with private halls though is that you won’t only be sharing with students from your uni, but with students from any and all of the different institutions in your city. This can either be a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. Living with students at other universities gives you a chance to widen your social circle, but it won’t help you with meeting people you can hang out with on campus or at the students’ union. Only you can decide which is more important to you.

If you want to find out what other students at your uni think about the accommodation, you can read our handy student reviews. To find reviews that mention a specific residence, just enter the name of the halls you want to search for in the ‘keyword’ box.

Types of halls: catered and self-catered

Once you’re settled on halls, you need to decide whether you would prefer them to be catered or self catered. Catered halls will typically cost a little bit more and you’ll usually be provided with at least one hot meal a day — normally dinner — although some halls may provide breakfast as well. Catered halls are a great idea if you don’t trust your cooking skills or if you don’t think you’ll be up to fending for yourself after a long day of lectures (or sleeping off a hangover). The cost shouldn’t be much more than doing a good weekly food shop for yourself, but be wary if you’re a fussy eater, as there won’t be a huge selection on the menu each night.

Alternatively, you can always go fully self-catered, which is the option most students take. You’ll have the freedom to eat what you like, when you like, providing the kitchen isn’t already being used by too many people. There should be enough room for everyone to have their own cupboard and space in the fridge, but if you go self-catered, learn the value of labelling your food — drunk people with the 3am munchies are notoriously poor at distinguishing between their food and yours if you don’t make it easy for them.

Types of room: standard or en-suite

More and more student halls are going all en-suite these days, meaning you’ll have either a toilet cubicle or a small bathroom suite in your room. Most older halls will probably have a mixture of en-suite and standard rooms, where you share a bathroom as well as a kitchen, although the number of people you’ll be sharing with depends on the number of people on your floor or in your block. En-suite rooms usually come at a premium, so check the price difference and decide if the extra cost is worth the convenience — after all, you probably share a bathroom at home, and this won’t be that different. You might also find that there are different levels of standard single rooms on offer, from ‘basic’ to ‘luxury’; what these distinctions mean will differ from hall to hall, so check with your university.

Halls Q&A

To help you decide if halls are for you, we spoke to a student at the University of Leeds about why he opted to live in halls:

Why did you decide to live in halls in your first year?

I decided to live in halls because it's the best way to meet people. The universities definitely have a monopoly on it though, as they know you won't move into a house in the first year so the rent wasn't cheap.

What was the best thing about living in halls?

I think the best thing about living in halls was that you instantly felt like you belonged in the uni environment. The people you meet are amazing too.

What were the downsides to living in halls?

The worst thing about living in halls was something that happened infrequently but was terrible when it did happen — fire alarms. Once in a while someone would either burn down their kitchen (our flat managed to do this at one point), or just randomly decide to wake everyone up. Not great when you're woken up in the middle of the night and have a 9am lecture the next day!

Would you recommend living in halls?

I'd absolutely recommend that new students move into halls. Your uni will make it easy to sign up, you've generally got pretty good security, the atmosphere is great and you'll get to meet some great people that you'd probably never meet in any other way.

Living in halls: pros and cons

      >Pro – Easy to make friends
      >Pro – Bills are included in your rent
      >Pro – Usually close to campus
      >Pro – Cleaners
      >Con – Can be noisy
      >Con – Might have to share bathroom and kitchen with a lot of people

To learn more about living in halls, check out our other great articles:

      >Living In Uni Halls: Everything You Need To Know
      >12 Reasons Why You Should Live In Halls
      >15 Types Of People You'll Encounter In Student Halls

Sharing a student house

Sharing a student house is usually something students do in their second year at uni, but if you want to live away from home in your first year and don’t fancy halls, it could be an option worth investigating. If you choose to live in a student house, you’ll still be sharing facilities, but usually with fewer people than you would in halls. You’ll have your own space in a shared house but you’ll be living at closer quarters with your housemates than you would in halls — this is good for building close friendships with your housemates, but might be a pain if you don’t all get on. A big advantage a student house has over halls is that in most cases you’ll have a living room, meaning you’ve got somewhere to hang out together without having to all pile into somebody’s bedroom. Plus, you’ll only need one TV license for the whole house, even if you have TVs in your bedrooms as well as the lounge, so you can split the cost. In halls, because each room is rented separately, everyone needs their own license.

Needless to say, you’ll be self-catered in a shared house, unless you’re living with a very generous catering student, so you’ll have no choice but to get to grips with the kitchen, or put the local takeaway on speed dial. Living in a shared house also involves more admin than in halls — you’ll need to pay utility bills either monthly or quarterly, as in most cases they won’t be included in the rent, and you might find you need to sort out your own telephone and broadband package when you move in. You’ll also need to apply to the local council for council tax exemption, so you don’t get landed with an unexpected bill. All full-time students are exempt from council tax, all you need to do is contact student services and ask for a certificate that proves you attend university full time. All members of your household who are named on the lease will need to do this.There are also no cleaners in a shared house unless you’re very lucky indeed, so get ready to get the marigolds on and start scrubbing the toilet. Just try not to get stuck…

How to find a student house

Obviously it’s easier to find a shared house if you already know people at uni to live with, but don’t fret if you’re moving up on your own, as there are lots of ways to find a room before you arrive. Gumtree is a great resource for finding flatmates, as is Studentpad, a service specifically designed to place students in shared houses, and SpareRoom can be handy as well, though this isn't specific to students. You can also try leaving a message on your university’s student chat room, if there is one, or contact the accommodation office, as they are always happy to help.

What to watch out for

There have been a lot of stories in the press recently about students living in sub-standard private accommodation, so never move into a property without viewing it first, even if that means making a few trips up to uni before term starts, or crashing with a friend or in a hostel or hotel until you get sorted out. You should also ask any potential landlord to show you the property’s Gas Safety Certificate, so you know that the gas boiler is regularly serviced and is safe, and you should ask for an Energy Performance Certificate, which shows how energy efficient a house is, and should give you a rough idea of what you’ll end up paying for utilities. If in any doubt, check with your university accommodation office — they will often keep a register of approved landlords/private student properties in the area, and will be able to give you advice if something doesn’t seem quite right.

Student houses Q&A

Still wondering if you’d prefer halls or a student house? We spoke to a student at the University of Birmingham, about her experiences living in a shared house in her first year:

Why did you decide to live in a shared student house in the first year?

I chose to live in a shared house because I wasn’t given a place in halls during my first year. I wasn’t expecting this so I have to admit it did take a while to get used to the idea. It was a bit stressful having to find a place to live in a whole new city, but thankfully the accommodation team at the university really helped me out.

What was the best thing about living in a shared student house?

I’d say the best thing about living in a shared house is the freedom and space, plus you can choose the right place to suit you. We even had a house pet — a bunny called Noodles! In halls you’re restricted to a small room/shared flat, and you might have to vacate over the holidays which can be a pain.

What were the downsides to living in a shared student house?

The worst thing was definitely feeling left out and isolated in the first year a lot of socialising happens in halls of residence. They tend to organise loads of activities to help people settle in and get to know each other, which obviously I missed out on. You have to work a bit harder to make friends, like by signing up to societies and chatting to people on your course. I actually ended up setting up my own society for freshers living off campus, which is still going strong today.

Would you recommend living in a shared student house?

I’d definitely recommend living in a shared house, but probably in your second and third years. It’s great when you’re living in a place with your mates, doing your own thing and feeling like proper grown ups. However, just be aware you might feel a bit left out of things if you do opt for this in the first year, as halls can be a great way to make friends in those early weeks.

Living in a shared student house: pros and cons

      >Pro – Sharing with fewer people
      >Pro – Having a living room to hang out in
      >Pro – More independence than in halls
      >Con – Have to pay utility bills
      >Con – No cleaners
      >Con – Not always close to uni, especially if you want cheaper rent


Living at home

If you’re going to uni in your home town or only a commutable distance away, you might want to consider living at home, at least for the first year. The benefits to living at home are pretty obvious — it’s significantly cheaper, as you won’t have to pay for rent or bills (unless your parents are really mean) and you can carry on enjoying coming home to a cooked dinner every night, and having mum and dad do your washing (although at 18, you really should be helping out with the household chores, it’s only fair). Adults always seem to have so much more money for heating too, so it won’t be chilly like student houses often are. However the downsides are also pretty evident — you’ll have less independence living at home, since most parents will still want to know where you’re going, who you’re going with and when you’re going to be back. Also, even if it’s only a short commute into uni in the day, what about at night? If your last train home is at 11pm, you’ll be cutting short a lot of nights out at the students’ union, unless you want to pay a fortune in taxi fares. Living at home is definitely an attractive option for students on a budget, especially if you’re a bit of a homebody, but you could be missing out on some fun opportunities if you stay with your parents, so you’ll want to weigh your options carefully on this one.

First hand experience

We spoke to a student who lived at home while studying at London South Bank University. She told us, ‘Living at home definitely worked out cheaper, because as well as not having to pay rent, I had someone sensible (my mum) around to remind me to spend my student loan wisely, and not to blow it all on alcohol and video games. It was also pretty inconvenient though — being so far away from campus was really frustrating.”

Living at home: pros and cons

      >Pro – No rent or bills
      >Pro – No cooking or cleaning required
      >Pro – Keeping all your creature comforts
      >Con – Less independence
      >Con – Fewer opportunities to make new friends
      >Con – Hard to get home after nights out

How and when to apply — don’t miss the deadline!

When to apply

When it comes to applying for university accommodation, there’s one thing we can’t stress enough — check your university’s accommodation applications deadline, as each one is different! Usually you’ll only need to apply for accommodation at your firm choice, but sometimes your reserve offer will want/allow you to apply for accommodation too. If you can do this you should, even if you’re confident of getting the grades you need to get into your first choice, so check the dates for both. Don’t leave it until the deadline though, as the earlier you get your application in, the better your chance of getting exactly what you want. If you’re looking for a student house it’s a bit trickier — there’s no fixed deadline, but obviously you’ll want to get it sorted out by September. Most student houses become free around July or August but you should start looking before then, even if you can’t move in until term starts in September.

How to apply

More often than not you’ll be sent an accommodation booklet and application form with your offer, but not all universities do this, so be proactive and chase it up if you don’t receive anything; don’t make the mistake of thinking everything will sort itself out. You’ll quite often be able to apply online, which you might find easier, so check your university’s accommodation office website for details.

Things to watch out for

Not all universities guarantee a place in halls — again, each one is different, so check with your institution. Some guarantee a place for all applicants, some only guarantee for firm applicants, and some don’t guarantee a place at all, so know where you stand and have a back up plan (although if you apply early enough as a first year, it’s likely you’ll get a place in uni accommodation, even if it’s not your first choice of hall).

Help, I didn’t get the accommodation I wanted!

Oh no!  Arrrgh! PANIC! Just kidding. Take a deep breath and relax, because it’s going to be fine, we promise. First of all, ask yourself what the problem actually is. If you’ve been offered a place in halls but not in the hall you wanted, relax. Most halls really don’t differ from one another that greatly. It might seem like the end of the world right now, but we guarantee once you’ve settled in you’ll forget all about it. If not, you can always apply for a transfer. People tend to move around in the first year, so it may well be possible to swap.

If you didn’t get a place in halls at all that’s trickier, but still solvable. In the first instance you’ll want to make sure you’re put down on your university’s reserve list, to be considered if anything comes up at the last minute (hey, maybe you’ll get lucky and someone will fail all their exams!), but aside from that, you should still have plenty of time to find a room in a shared house — you can see above for our instructions on how.

If you had a shared house lined up but it fell through, just try not to panic and try again — people will be advertising for housemates right up until term starts. In rare cases your university may be able to offer temporary emergency accommodation, so if you’re really stuck, ask the accommodation office for advice.


Now you’ve got your accommodation sorted you can relax and look forward to starting uni. Time to get excited!

>Read student reviews to find out more about different uni halls

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