What's the difference between university halls and private halls?

Staying in university halls isn't your only option as a fresher. You might also consider privately run halls. Here's what to expect

There are a lot of things you need to get sorted before you head off to uni, but possibly the most important decision you’ll have to make is about where to live.

You might be moving away from home for the first time, and where you stay will have a major impact on your experience as you begin your student years. You’ll want to be somewhere you feel safe and comfortable, and where you can work, make new friends and throw yourself into university life.

Most universities will try to find a place in halls of residence for their new students, but it’s not the only option. If there are no places available, or you choose to live elsewhere, then private halls are a good alternative.

Private halls are growing in popularity, and companies like Fresh Student Living, Unite and The Student Housing Company have thousands of rooms in halls across the country.

These have many of the benefits of university halls, no unexpected bills for example, and similar – if not better – facilities.

So how do they compare?

Location

Most university halls are on campus or close to the main university buildings. In this way, you’ll find yourself in the thick of things from day one.

Private halls can be a little further afield, and you'll often find them in the centre of the town or city where you are studying. That could be either a pro or a con for you; some people choose private halls because of their location, others like the feeling of being outside the university ‘bubble’.

Whatever you decide, it’s worth visiting the area first and figuring out how convenient the halls are for lectures… and getting home after a night out.

Bathrooms

Uni halls are divided up like large flats, with private bedrooms and shared kitchens on each floor. Sometimes - typically with older halls - you'll also be sharing a bathroom.

Some people aren't too keen on that idea, particularly if you’re in a mixed-sex group or the number of showers or toilets is limited.

Ensuite rooms are available in uni halls, but in private halls they're a given. Bear in mind, though, there will be a premium to pay.

Whether the price is worthwhile comes down to personal choice. TSR member Tillytots says: “For me, not getting the ensuite accommodation was a godsend. It saved me so much money and meant I could live pretty decently. Our bathrooms were cleaned at least twice a week and we didn't have to pay for toilet roll, bonus.”

But a bit of elbow grease and a few extra pounds are a small price to pay for some. Jenn says: “Personally, I'd rather pay some extra money to have my own privacy than share the bathroom with ALL the flat!”

Of course a lot depends on your flatmates, the number of showers and toilets, and how often the cleaners come. Uni halls can be rowdier, which could mean more unpleasant surprises in the shared bathroom.

Facilities

The choice between university or private halls may come down to the facilities on offer. No two halls are the same, but all will offer you a bed, a bathroom, cooking facilities, plus utilities (gas, electric, etc) and internet access included in the price. Things like WiFi, a laundry, security, cleaners and insurance are to be expected – but check.

If you are willing to pay extra there are halls, both private and university-run, that provide meals.

Luxuries like satellite TV, gyms and pool tables are more common in private halls. And wherever you end up be sure to check if you need to get a TV licence, and if you are allowed a TV in your room.

Private halls have grown in popularity in recent years and writing on the TSR forum a representative of one private hall in Glasgow explained “the buildings themselves tend to be much newer with more amenities and contemporary interiors”.

Social life

While private halls may be newer and often have better facilities, the main draw for university accommodation is the social side.

Uni halls tend to be packed with freshers, while private halls will have a mixture of undergrads, postgrads and overseas students who may be studying at completely different universities. There is a social side to life in private halls, but they are not geared towards having fun in the way a uni hall will be in freshers week.

“People I know in private halls haven’t made many friends as most people are foreign students or mature students,” says AL191070. “Uni halls are for those who are more sociable and want to make friends.”

Showaeski agrees: “Yes, the rooms are nicer and the location is better but it doesn't make up for the fact that there is so much less socialising.

“If you're not as interested in partying and making lots of friends then private is fine but I would strongly recommend uni halls if you do want a great first year.”

Cost

Private halls, which are run for profit and often have modern facilities and luxuries like ensuite bathrooms, tend to be more expensive than older, more basic university halls.

A report published by the NUS in 2017 showed that university halls came with an average weekly rental cost of £134.23, while private halls had an average weekly rent of £168.94. 

What is important is knowing what you are paying for and how long you have the place for.

Often private halls will have no break clause if you want to leave, and you may find yourself booked into the room for a longer period of time. That NUS report shows that uni halls have, on average, a 41-week contract, while private hall contracts are on average 46 weeks long.

Private halls expect their rent paid on time, too, says Gaming Anonymous. With private halls “there is absolutely no leeway with regards to the deposit or rent. I have heard that a university can delay your first month rent until your student finance arrives in some circumstances. This almost definitely isn't possible with private accommodation.”

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