If your child is intending to go to university and is going to move away from the family home, especially if it is the first time they have lived independently, where they end up living in their first and subsequent years will probably be the biggest decision they take after deciding where and what to study.
Much like them deciding what course they want to do and which university they want to study at, your role as a parent/carer is to be there as a sounding board, discuss the various options and advise, but ultimately, as with choosing their course and university, it has to be their final choice. You need to be there for them, but you don’t want to sway their decision.
I supported my daughter, Ali, through university at Loughborough in 2016-2019 and am supporting my son, George, now – he started his course in Leeds recently, in September 2020.
- What Accommodation is Available?
The availability and type of accommodation available varies significantly from university to university. At Loughborough and Leeds, accommodation in halls of residence was guaranteed for first years, but not all places are able to offer this. For a parent, knowing that their child is safe and comfortable away from home is probably their biggest concern. If they are, it will help them to be happy and settle in at university.
Being in halls is what most first years choose to do and both Ali and George strongly recommend it, as it gives you the opportunity to meet more people than you would otherwise. A lot of people in halls will also be first years, so you meet people going through the same experience as you of being away from home for the first time.
There is usually an accommodation office on site and a warden, so if there are any issues these should be easily resolved.
The alternative is to live in shared accommodation. Many students do this from second year onwards. Again, some places have more such accommodation available. In Loughborough there were plenty of houses to rent, so there was not such an urgency or concern about finding somewhere and because there was a large supply, prices were competitive.
- How to Choose?
Ali and George both made visits to five different open days and made sure that they looked round examples of the accommodation available. However, after many visits one hall does look like another and as George says, at open days the rooms are always empty, the kitchens clean and tidy and they look like show homes. Only certain halls will be open; however, it does give you a flavour of what it might be like.
- Self-Catered or Catered? – Both decided that they would prefer to be in self-catered accommodation rather than catered. This was partly on price – self-catered being cheaper – but also because they wanted to cook for themselves and develop this skill, helping to prepare themselves for life after university and to develop being self-sufficient.
- Get in Early – Ali and George both selected their accommodation after their places were confirmed following results day. It’s a good idea to have a look online at the various options available beforehand and draw up a shortlist, as places are usually offered on a first come first served basis and while guaranteed a place in halls, it may not be your first choice. They looked at the online reviews and viewings and prices to help them make their choices and had to pay a refundable deposit – or Dad did – about £200.
- Price – This was a major priority for both. Especially in cities such as London where rental prices are high, accommodation costs can account for the bulk of your student loan. You can pay a premium for having en-suite facilities – often £40 a week more. Ali and George both decided they would rather have more disposable income, as living on a limited budget, £40 a week is a significant amount. Both have stated that having a shared bathroom is not an issue – they have not had problems queueing and the facilities are cleaned regularly and as Ali says, it’s just like living at home where you have to share the bathroom. Having reasonably priced accommodation, both have managed to live relatively comfortably on their student loans.
- Location – Again, a big priority. Ali chose a hall in a student village on campus for convenience, as she would be close to learning and social facilities and felt it a good way of meeting people. George did not get his first choice of accommodation, but is pleased with what he got – it is in a student area of the city with good shopping and social facilities, relatively close to the campus and in his price bracket – about £4,000 a year.
- Kitchen Size – Both have cited this as important as the kitchen can be the social hub in a block within a hall and it is where you get to meet people and chat to them properly – it’s where friendships develop. Too small and you don’t meet so many people and can feel confined. Too big and it can get crowded and messy. About six to eight people is ideal.
- After Year One
In Year Two, most students either have to or choose to move out of halls. Competition for desirable shared house accommodation can be fierce and students need to start thinking about this usually early into their second term.
Ali actually preferred living in a shared house, as she was living with people she had chosen to live with and luckily they all got on. However, she is glad that she was in halls in her first year, as along with her course and social activities, it enabled her to meet people and settle in. She says that living in a shared house with friends felt more like home than living in halls. For her, price and location to campus were again the most important factors. After that, she and her friends prioritised having a decent-sized kitchen and a communal lounge over the actual size of their bedrooms.
In her second and third year she obtained her house via a letting agent. The first agent required a deposit and was unscrupulous in trying not to repay this. Ali and her friends were wiser and better prepared for Year 3. Ali recommends taking photos with a date on when you move in of anything which could potentially be an issue at the end of the tenancy. She and her flatmates queried the amounts demanded by the agent and got a reduction, although not all of their deposits back.
She also recommends arranging for utility bills to be paid by the group of housemates – each one taking on responsibility for something. Some agents offer to pay for everything, it is less hassle, but works out a more expensive option.
In her third year her room flooded, but she contacted the agency and they dealt with it immediately. She recommends reading reviews of agents, but often you only find out how dependable they are when something goes wrong and the quality and reliability does vary hugely.
As a parent, I remember having to act as a guarantor for Ali in Years 2 and 3 and for the first agency I had to provide quite personal details, including a copy of my passport.
As well as a wonderful learning experience, university is a great opportunity for your child to become independent. As a parent, my main concern was that Ali and George were and are happy away from home. Giving them the opportunity to make informed choices themselves with a little guidance will give them the best chance to achieve this. Making the right choice about their accommodation will be a big factor in how happy they are – it will have an impact on whether they feel comfortable, their time management, their finances and their opportunity to meet people and make friends, which is especially important when they consider their options for Years 2 and 3.
Pete, Parent Ambassador
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You can find more information about accommodation at the University of Suffolk here. At the University of Suffolk we will not tell you where to live; that choice is yours. To help you make an informed decision about where you wish to live, we can provide you with details about accommodation we recommend. We can also provide you with information about tenancy agreements and other factors that may influence your choice.