The positive side to private accommodation

In late 2011 my A level results came in and UCAS politely informed me I would be moving to York. Great excitement. I duly applied for accommodation and then left almost immediately after for Leeds Festival to see how much of the preceding two years of education I could forget. I came home 3 days later, had 6 baths, cried for a bit and then checked my emails to discover that an offer of accommodation had been made in my absence. And then rescinded 24 hours later in the absence of a reply, the IT facilities at the festival having been woefully lacking.

This left me with two options, and I couldn’t afford a caravan, so I had to find some private accommodation. At a similar time I began adding on Facebook every vaguely relevant person I could find and this led me to another student who had done exactly the same thing and was now also looking for a house. This turned out to be good fortune as it transpired landlords often prefer to let to people in groups rather than fill a house with a disparate set of strangers. I hadn’t known it at the time but there was (and is every year) a Facebook page specifically designed for students house hunting, which is the best place to go if you want to find a group, though it’s by no means compulsory.

A month or so later and we were moved, social pariahs waiting to happen, isolated from freshers’ week and with a walk into uni that varied from 20 minutes to 3 hours depending on the level of hangover. In the end though, the social shunning never happened – at least, when it did, it took a few years and had nothing to do with being off campus – and it turned out that being off-campus had its own set of perks.

Something you never really appreciate until you live in halls of residence is that houses are highly underrated, as are carpets, sofas, televisions, gardens, neighbourhood cats, having room for friends and family to visit and blissful silence. By the end of first year most people are itching to move into proper accommodation. A 20 minute walk is a fairly cheap price to pay, although speaking of prices we were also saving a solid £30 or £40 a week on the more expensive parts of campus accommodation.

More important than the quality of accommodation to many people however is the social side, and your ability to make friends without listening to them have sex through the walls or sharing a toilet with 10 of them. While the intimate bonding that an extravagantly be-pubed bog engenders is something to treasure, it’s not the be all and end all of fresher interaction. In the early days especially there’s no real structure to people meeting each other, it’s just a pile-on, loosely designated by block and corridor but without any strict organisation.

Your college is your friend here. Allow yourself to be herded along by the STYCs and you’ll meet as many people and make as sure friends as you would in halls. It’s difficult not to. My housemate and I joined the people milling around sipping Carlsbergs and awkwardly not talking to each other on the day of arrival, before anybody knew who anybody was and where they were living, and it turned out we didn’t have flashing signs over our heads saying “Off campus, SHUUUNN”. We went on to have pretty much the same freshers week as everybody else except we also got to go home to double beds and Scrubs repeats on E4.

There’s also an orientation session for off-campus and international students before the herd arrives so you’ll also get a chance to meet people in a similar situation early on in a much calmer environment. In the event we missed most of it having got lost on the way in after some useless directions, but it’ll be there if you need it. The upside to our off-campus experience is also that we ended up making lots of different groups of friends, as we weren’t particularly bound into groups by shared accommodation, something you come to appreciate a great deal as the year goes on.

There’s no defined way to have your Life Changing University Experience but there shouldn’t be any doubt that living in private accommodation is as good a way as any to kick off your time in York.

7 comments

  1. 12 Sep ’13 at 10:39 am

    Sam Maguire (Langwith College Chair)

    Great article, exactly the approach we are taking in Langwith!

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  2. 12 Sep ’13 at 11:09 am

    The Lone Ranger

    Has the university offered you some sort of financial incentive to write this article?

    Having to rent a house through a private landlord is no easy thing, and especially so for someone starting University. With uni accomodation, you know what you’re getting. Yes its not very glamorous and it won’t win any interior design awards, but you’ll be surrounded by people in the same situation and the social environment is better. I personally think that is the key thing for many freshers, and living in private accomodation limits that to an extent.

    For a fresher to put down a deposit on a house he/she hasn’t seen properly and being asked to live with people they’ve known for a few hours online is not ideal. Lets not forget that people do drop out and decide university isn’t for them, and if you’re in private accomodation that can create headaches. Don’t even get me started on managing bills! – Never underestimate the luxury of all-inclusive bills in halls.

    Let’s also not forget that you still have the same issues in private accomodation as you do in halls. The bathroom can still be occupied and you can still hear your housemate having sex.

    Ultimately your freshers year is there for you find your feet, let you enjoy yourself without having to worry about bills and meet friends that you will decide to move in with for your second.

    The University has made a monumental error, and clearly there should have been a clearer dialogues with YUSU to ensure adequate provisions were in place to minimise the chaos that is currently ensuing. If I was paying 9k, I would certainly want value for money and the best university experience possible.

    Yes, Private accomodation can be good, but it certainly ain’t no halls!

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  3. 12 Sep ’13 at 2:01 pm

    The Lone Ranger's Right Hand Man

    He’s right you know… College life is the absolute heart of uni life in first year – I would have been gutted to have missed out on it. And no matter how much YUSU *says* it will do there’s no recreating those experiences. Other unis don’t have colleges, but that’s exactly what makes York so special. Those in the Boulevard will probably have a college-esque feel as it’s quite big, but I really do feel sorry by those fucked over by the uni who’re now stuck off campus.

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  4. @Lone Ranger.

    I never said private accommodation was the better option, just that it’s far from the disaster people might expect it be. Halls are good too. I apologise for trying to allay people’s fears, and I didn’t mean to tacitly approve the on-campus accommodation situation.

    I was gonna buy a Freddo with the money they gave me for the article but the rotters have raised the price again. I’ll post it to you if you like, you can donate it to a charity of your choice.

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  5. 12 Sep ’13 at 6:04 pm

    The Lone Ranger

    I’d rather have the equivalent in penny sweets? Do they even do those anymore?

    Fair enough it may not be the disaster that people expect, but certainly there is greater risk of it being a disaster. If there were issues in your halls ranging from heating to horrible housemates, then it is likely to be sorted or made better through the university accomodations office and estates.

    By going into private accomodation on a fixed 1-year period rather limits your choices if things don’t work out or you Landlord turns out to be a fictional character who you can never get in touch with.

    As for allaying people’s fears, have you seen the article Nouse has just published? 3 miles from campus for private accomodation?

    Like I said, it may not be the disaster, but if I’m paying 9k + rent, I expect better and unfortunately the University has failed in providing what should be the most basic level of service.

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  6. @Lone Ranger.

    “if I’m paying 9k + rent, I expect better…”
    New students are paying £9,000 teaching FEES. This goes to teaching etc. Presumably the Accomo expenses come out of the campus rent revneues etc. The two are completely different as they are different cost centres.

    Just because one pays more fees does not guarantee one a better service in every area of University life.

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  7. 13 Sep ’13 at 5:15 pm

    The Lone Ranger

    @Donnie Darko

    So lets assume what you’ve said is true for the moment.

    Tell me, how does one finance say, the building of a new campus?

    I suppose YUSU is running some ‘Breaking Bad’ style crystal meth operation to fund their activities and pay for their staff since they’re not teachers.

    Does this mean porters are volunteers since they don’t teach either?

    Cleaners, I suppose they come and clean the place since they’ve got nothing better to do.

    It must mean maintenance staff, grounds keepers and estates staff bring their own plumbing pipes, lawnmowers and litter pickers because for them its just a leisurely hobby.

    Want me to go on?

    Can you honestly say that your teaching and teaching alone is value for money at 9k per year?

    The issue is that you’ve been sold a 9k p/a university education with the collegiate system being marketed as an outstanding and unique feature.

    By not providing accommodation on campus or very close to it, then the collegiate system becomes non-existent to those living miles away.

    And guess what, if you end up Clifton you’re paying the same fees as someone on campus. If I pay the same then surely I should receive the same?

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