College life equals shared accommodation. But what's the best option for you: life in the halls or a student house?
With halls, it's often the luck of the draw. If luck is on your side you will find yourself in your own large room on a corridor with lots of like-minded people, with friendly wardens and good food. If you are less fortunate, you might end up paying a small fortune to share a grotty little rabbit hutch with a rabid Celine Dion fan.
Halls are usually a great place to socialise and make lots of new friends; the best ones have their own bars and common rooms. The bills are included in the fees, so it's easier to budget during the term, and you get cleaners who come in regularly to keep the place above the dysentery line. On the downside, halls can be noisy if you need to actually do some studying, and if you're used to looking after yourself you may find the rules and regulations a bit nanny-ish or patronising.
If you want to be happy in a shared house you have to choose carefully. That means choosing the right place and the right people to live with. Traditionally, student houses used to be owned by dodgy landlords who didn't look after their properties; hence they were often run-down and filthy. However, changes in the law mean things are improving - certainly when it comes to safety. For example, landlords must now have a gas safety certificate in place before student tenants move in, which must be renewed annually. All electrical appliances will also need to meet certain safety standards. Nevertheless, you will still need to pick your dwelling carefully. Be on the look out for mice and damp, and avoid gloomy houses with no central heating.
On the upside, you can choose to live with people you know and like (even if you do fall out later after discovering their disgusting eating/drinking/hygiene habits). You get to do pretty much as you please, with no stroppy wardens or parents to burst in and tell you off. But you also have to do all your own cooking and cleaning and pay all your bills on time.
You will have to sign a contract before moving into a house, and this will probably be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement. Check this contract to see what notice period is required if you want to leave and - most importantly - if you are responsible for just your part of the rent, or all house mates are collectively responsible for the lot. This is important as if one person decides to leave you don't want to find yourself making up the financial shortfall.
Halls are usually a great place to socialise and make lots of new friends; the best ones have their own bars and common rooms.
Look also at what the contract says about summer holidays - will you still have to pay rent if you're not there? And find out on what grounds the landlord can hold back some - or even all - of your deposit. If you were not responsible for the damage, will you still have to pay for it?
Somewhere between halls of residence and student houses lies a student village. This can offer the best of both worlds in many ways. While you get the cheaper rent (bills included) of halls, you also get a little more independence and privacy. You can opt to live in quiet areas of the student village if you prefer, or stay in the party zone.
This accommodation is self-catering, which has its upsides and downsides, for while you can eat when you want, you have to go to the supermarket and you have to be able to cook something! Student villages can also be quite a trek from campus, and watch out for those with no cash points for miles - though these days most are serviced with plenty of amenities.
A 2010 version of a typical student room is every burglar's dream, with laptops, TVs, DVD players, Blackberries and iPods. Couple this with the fact that the risk of theft in university areas is high, you will need to have contents insurance in place to protect your belongings. Contents insurance can be bought from any insurer online for relatively little, though a company called Endsleigh specialises specifically in student possession insurance.
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