You’ve got a place on a course, you’ve navigated (or are still trying to) the treacherous minefield that is postgrad funding, so what next? Well, you’ll probably need somewhere to live.
As with funding, accommodation for postgraduate students is not always a logical or easy thing to negotiate or finance. It will obviously depend a little on your course and university, but the main options available to prospective students will be the same from city to city.
We looked at the most common (and some of the less conventional) accommodation options for postgraduate students.
Some universities have designated halls for postgraduate students – they can be a good environment for those whose fresher party days are behind them but are still looking for sociable student experiences with close proximity to the university. Sometimes final year students or international undergraduates reside in these kinds of halls too.
Many universities only have spaces in their own postgraduate halls for international postgraduate students, but some have places for all on a first-come, first-served basis.
Private companies also have halls available, which are often more pricey, although the difference isn’t always that great as most universities have steadily increased the price of their own halls in recent years. Although some universities or areas of the country will still charge significantly more than others, so it depends a lot on where you will be studying. It is only when you compare the cost of these halls to renting locally that you get an idea of value for money.
One advantage of living in halls is that all your bills will be taken care of and included in the price, so there’s no need to fiddle with meter readings, wear a disproportionate amount of layers of clothing or argue with internet companies on the phone.
These rooms can be single, doubles, studios with en-suite, shared bathroom or just a sink, so there are plenty of types of room to choose from, whether you’re looking for something for single occupancy or with your partner.
Normally, the larger the house, the cheaper the room, so getting together with a group of people or joining an existing house share through sites such as Spare Room can work well for students - especially if you live with other students, as you will be exempt from council tax. There are plenty of websites like this so be sure to look around for the most cost-effective options.
On the other hand, you may see this as a way to unwind and escape your course (if possible) and choose to do your work in a library or cafe, meaning a sociable and busy household will keep you sane. You may also want to consider living with those on similar courses and timetables to you, especially if the course involves placements or sporadic/unsociable hours so you’re not left alone when others are home for the holidays or missing out on social occasions.
Some universities organise events to help students find people on their course to share houses with; alternatively, you could set up groups on Facebook before the course starts to find suitable ‘buddies’.
There are numerous websites to help you find a house share:
We spoke to two students who shared their accommodation experiences during their postgraduate studies.
“As far as I can remember, Cardiff University didn’t offer – or at least couldn’t guarantee – a place in halls, so I opted for a house share. The course was only nine months, so I thought,’ if it’s an awful experience, I’ll be gone in 9 months anyway’. So really it was down to convenience as the university was organising it, and I knew I could dump the responsibilities on my future housemates to find somewhere nice to live...
“Cardiff did a postgraduate house-hunting event a few months before the year started. Postgraduate students met each other for the first time and underwent a series of embarrassing games designed to introduce you to strangers. For example, there was a bingo card: you went around looking for someone to tick each box, such as “Likes quiet nights” or "doesn’t mind messiness”. What became apparent is that it’s a bit like school and you end up naturally gravitating towards people on the first day because they look friendly, or no one else will talk to you.
"There was a whole day (and then a night out in town) before people formed their groups officially, which meant you had a chance to meet people, with conversations basically being interviews. It was out at a bar that I met the core of the people I would live with – and also some guy just turned up the next day who we’d never met and asked if he could live with us and I guess we said yes because it’s hard to say no in that situation. We then had two days (we booked accommodation at Cardiff halls) to look for somewhere to stay. The university was very helpful, as they picked out options for a six-person house, and hired a mini-van to drive us so we could have a look around.
“It worked out very well because I got on with all my housemates, and my university experience was much better than it would have been if I’d lived in halls or rented a studio flat. There was one other person who did my course, but that was by coincidence. The nature of people willing to attend postgraduate house-hunting means the participants tend to be friendlier, more open people – otherwise you probably wouldn’t take the gamble. Furthermore, although it’s a risk as you’re more or less living with strangers, it’s still preferable to the usual student halls experience where you don’t get a chance at all. And, if you hate all the people you meet at the house-hunting event, there’s no obligation to live with anyone. It might be different for postgraduates, too, as they’re generally older, have more work, and are done with the “student experience”.
“The main disadvantages were that the actual house-hunting day was extremely unpleasant, nerve-wracking and filled with social anxiety – like being on a first date and job interview with 200 people in a city you’ve never been in before. It worked out perfectly in the end, but at the time I felt I could throw up at any point. When I went back to my rented room, I felt ill and – rather melodramatically – considered it the worst day of my life.”
Whilst the thought of going back to Mum and Dad can seem mildly soul-destroying or a huge step backwards, it is actually very much to your advantage. If you’re lucky enough to live within commuting distance of your university and don’t have unlimited funds for living costs, then living at home can be a godsend. It is only unconditional parental love and pride that allows for an overgrown, non-rent paying lodger. If you do feel you should offer something and money can’t be it, then there are always other ways to show your appreciation, such as cooking and chores (which we hope you’ll do anyway)...
“Financially, studying for a Masters full time is difficult enough without the added pressure of having to pay for accommodation. My parents were very receptive to the idea, as education has always been a priority in my family. The main benefit was not having the stress of paying rent and bills on top of the tuition fees; there weren’t many disadvantages, as it's nice having a place where you'll always be welcomed. It was very easy to get back into being at home, but at the same time disappointing, knowing that you're taking a step back after having lived independently for so long!
“However, I'm very glad I made the sacrifices, as they were nothing compared to the fact that I had the opportunity to pursue further studies at a top university which helped me secure a job in an area of journalism that I hadn't previously contemplated.”
The next best thing after Ma and Pa is extended family and friends. If your folks aren’t based in the right city or town then it may be worth looking to extended family, grandparents, godfather or an older sibling that may well be.
Often cheaper, sometimes with less personal space (but this can depend on each particular arrangement and circumstances), lodging is a traditionally cheap way to find a room. Don’t be put off by any cultural stereotypes of strange or eccentric lodgers who fester in their rooms, as there are a variety of types of lodger and thanks to the internet, you can find out a lot about potential dwellings and the location before you consider anything. Sometimes families/young professionals want someone who can occasionally babysit and help with mortgage repayments by filling the spare room.
A notable scheme that has risen in popularity in recent years is the international programme called Homeshare, which essentially matches young people to elderly people who have large houses but need help with cooking, shopping or house maintenance, depending on their situation. They pay a small fee to the programme and you pay a small fee as well. In some home shares, the room will be free but you will be responsible for any increase in council tax (if the property goes from a single dwelling to multiple) and sometimes your share of the utility bills. Find out more about this scheme on the Homeshare website.
Currently, it only operates in select locations, most opportunities being in London, which is arguably the most expensive place to be a postgrad student – so well worth considering if you’re set on a course in the capital.
Gumtree (and similar) can also be good for finding alternative living situations and lodging but beware, as some of these ‘alternative’ arrangements might not be exactly what it states.
Remember, the university accommodation office is there to help you. (You’ve paid enough to study there!) So if you need help with contracts, finding property or you’re just concerned about your potential living arrangements, pay them a visit.
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t feel pressured to pay deposits if you’re not sure about somewhere and most importantly, stay safe. If you’re going to look at a room somewhere alone and you don’t know the people or local area, then tell somebody where you’re going, just in case.
Happy House Hunting!
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