The basics
THE UK: Student Accommodation

'Getting through the challenges requires an open mind': Finding a house

Emilia, an international student studying in the UK, talks about the trials and tribulations of student housing...

student accommodation in the uk

Accommodation can sometimes make or break the university experience for a student. Emilia shares her experience with student housing in the UK, including meal plans, dealing with housemates and viewing properties off-campus...

'Apart from leaving home, my biggest worry when starting university was accommodation.  Although I’d heard plenty about halls in the months and years leading up to university, the anecdotes and facts seemed unrealistically pleasant. In the stories, people became best friends with their roommates — because Americans have roommates, sometimes two — if not their entire corridor. The food served in catered halls was always decent, sometimes even with self-serve soft-serve ice cream. I could tell that my university accommodation experience would be different, both because I was studying in England and because I’m not the person who looks forward to group viewings of X Factor or Doctor Who.


My first-year university accommodation adventure began when I filled out the University of Bristol’s accommodation request form in mid-June. This was after I’d chosen Bristol as my firm offer, but before I had secured my place. The brief form online asked for my first and second choices of halls.  All of the options were listed online, including photos of the facilities and prices. Some of the halls are catered — they provide dinner and breakfast along with breakfast and lunch at the weekend — while others are self-catered — you have a kitchen that you share with a group of students. My first choice was a self-catered hall and my second choice was a catered one. I also filled out a few questions about my interests, which would supposedly mean I would have something in common with my corridor-mates.


After making preliminary choices, I waited to see where I was assigned. Move-in was the first weekend of October and I didn’t hear back until early September. I was given my second choice hall, the catered one. It was fine, I thought, at least I won’t have to worry about cooking. I began to pack everything I thought I might need, including sheets and pillows deflated in vacuum-sealed bags.


While a self-catered hall may be better for someone who is particular about food, or has serious food allergies, a catered hall provides a structure to the day that can be helpful for students. During the beginning of the year — especially during the first few weeks — I enjoyed having a time at which to eat dinner and a group of people. The routine reminded me of home.  In regards to the food itself, I still have nightmares about under-baked jacket potatoes with plastic cheese piled on top. It could have been worse, but it was still a difficult transition from the home cooked meals my mother made.


Read our guide to student accommodation in the UK


Sorting out first year accommodation was fine, but figuring out my housing in second year was nerve-wracking. Most students find a group of friends to live with and then search for a house through a student-letting agency. These friends may be from their course, from halls or from anywhere else they met people during the first few months. Most universities also operate a student bulletin board where you can advertise rooms or find a group of people with whom to share a house.  These options sound simple, but they’re complicated in practice.


During my first year the group of people I was planning to live with changed a myriad of times before I finally settled on a group of five people. People kept on changing plans or deciding they didn’t want to live with someone else, leaving us without a solid group until mid-January, which, for Bristol, is very late. We were three girls and two boys. The two boys were on the same course and us girls were just friends. Together we had spent a little time together, but not enough to call ourselves a group of friends.


We looked at a variety of properties from different letting-agencies, all of which were located in similar areas and in various stages of disrepair. Landlords aren’t too concerned with making student properties look presentable.  If they are, then you’ll probably be paying a pretty penny. We decided to book a bunch of viewings for single day and then just decided on the one we liked best. After we saw our future house, we called the agency immediately to reserve it and went into pay the deposit the next day.


The process of finding a house is the easy part; it’s living with people without the neutralizing factor of a hall-warden and senior resident that makes second and subsequent year housing more difficult. There’s no one around to sort out disagreements and, if you have housemates on opposite ends of the tidiness spectrum, people quickly get angry at each other. Everyone has different ways of sorting out these disagreements and the best way to sort them out will vary case-by-case. The best thing, however, is not to get too worked up about the conflicts that arise.


In my final year, I am relieved that I don’t have to sort out housing again. While I’ve loved having my own room (rare in American universities) and enjoyed playing at being an adult with my own house, negotiating with people and with changing spaces has been difficult. Through all the challenges, I’ve reminded myself that no housing situation is perfect. Even that group of friends which seems to be all smiles and laughs have their disagreements. It’s okay if you don’t get along, just try to be civil, be nice and remember that this way of living lasts for only a little while.'



Learn more about the University of Bristol


Read more:

'15 must-ask questions when looking for off-campus accommodation'

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About Author

student accommodation in the uk

Emilia Morano-Williams is a fourth year student of Italian at the University of Bristol, though she comes from New York. When not studying, she writes a travel/coffee blog, works as an international ambassador for her university and works as social media manager for Sweet Lemon Media.


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