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 And then rescinded 24 hours later in the absence of a reply, the IT facilities at the festival having been woefully lacking.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.