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The basics
Study abroad : Student Accommodation

Catered vs self-catered accommodation: Which is for you?

When deciding between catered or self-catered accommodation at university, here are seven top questions all international students should ask themselves.

Catered or self-catered accommodation

So you have found your dream university, got you offer and now you need to choose where to live. The majority of universities offer student accommodation for international students with the option of catered or self-catered living.


Below is a checklist of questions to consider when trying to decide between catered and self-catered accommodation:


What does self-catered mean?


Self-catered accommodation is where you make all your own meals yourself, so you will need to be prepared to cook. There are lots of student websites and recipe books which you can get ideas for recipes from.

Sometimes cooking for yourself or with your flatmates can save money, as you can shop around, and get the best deals in supermarkets (it can also be more fun). However, if you dislike cooking or burn every single meal you make, then you might want to consider catered accommodation where all you meals are prepared for you.



Why should I choose self-catered accommodation?


If you have any specific food requirements like allergies or intolerances, or if you're very particular about what food you eat then self catering might be a better option. Although catered accommodation does cater to people with specific food requirements, it might mean that your choices from the menu will be limited and repetitive. Talk to your university accommodation provider and ask them to see a list of the kinds of dishes they will provide for someone with your requirements. If it seems too limited then perhaps self-catered is for you (provided you know how to cook).


How flexible do you need to be for meals?


As catered accommodation is cooking for often over 100 students, all meals are at fixed times. Therefore, if you are planning on joining lots of different clubs and taking part in many extra-curricular activities, these set mealtimes might not be so convenient for you. However, you can use the set mealtimes to your advantage; if breakfast is always served 7.30-9am, then provided you get up for your breakfast, you have the whole day ahead of you instead of wasting half your day in bed. If you think you might miss lots of meals then it is important to consider if it's a good option for you, or if you would be wasting money on food you won’t eat?


How many people will there be in your accommodation?


Catered accommodation is usually a whole block of individual rooms with more than one hundred students, a dining hall and a communal area. Self-catered accommodation is split into smaller flats of between three and fifteen people, who share a kitchen and sometimes a small communal area.


Some people may such a large group of people in a dining hall in catered accommodation a bit much for them, and they may prefer to be in a smaller group like a flat. However, the difficulty with a smaller group of people is there may not be anyone in you flat who you particularly get along with, while a whole dining room of people gives you more choice of friends.


How does your accommodation provider decide who you share with in your self-catered flat?


Universities tend to have a policy on how they house international students; some pair two students from the same country in the same flat, while others try to separate international students to encourage integration and the opportunity to meet new people. 


If they do try to keep those who are from the same country together, then you will need to consider if you want to live with someone from your country. It can make it easier if you are homesick, are worried about cultural differences or are not very confident communicating in the language of the country you will be studying in. However, by living with speakers of your university’s language, you can learn a lot quicker, as you are forced to speak in that language at all times.


Catered accommodation has a larger number of people to choose from, so it will be more up to you who you socialise with, international or not.




Where are the different accommodation types located?


Depending on the university, you may find that they only have one type of accommodation close to where you are studying. Some universities choose to keep catered and self-catered accommodation blocks together, and others apart; so make sure you are not walking half an hour to all your lectures, while your classmates only have to walk five minutes. Use the university website to research where your faculty building is in relation to the accommodation.


How much does it cost?


Catered accommodation, when comparing the prices, looks a lot more expensive, but you have to keep in mind that this is including at least two meals a day. It may actually be the cheaper option if you don’t think you will be prepared to shop cheaply for your own food.

You need to be realistic about what food or ingredients you would buy if you were cooking for yourself. Maybe go to an online supermarket and put together a shopping basket for a week and then compare that to the difference between catered and self-catered. Does self-catered still look cheaper now?


You can compare the cost of food and living expenses around the world by looking at these handy guides:



Not sure catered or self-catered accommodation is right for you? Check out some other types of university accommodation.