Where to live in your first year at uni

students sitting together on the sofa

Your new home from home

University awaits! You've got the offers in hand, now you’re knuckling down to some hardcore revision to get those grades.

But, just because you’ve set your heart on a uni, the decisions aren’t over just yet. You're going to need somewhere to live, and many students don’t realise that halls aren’t the only option.

We’re going to take a look at four places where you might live in your first year to help you decide which is right for you.

students talking in a kitchen

University halls

This is where most uni freshers will spend their first year. Halls are generally a sociable experience, and you’ll find yourself mixing with a wide variety of people from the moment you chuck your bags in your room and bond over your first batch of vodka jelly shots.

Before you know it you’ll have a WhatsApp group for your corridor, and you’ll be playing fun games of Jenga with the dishes stacked precariously in the sink.

Think about…

If you’re planning on moving into halls, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, what’s your budget? Do you want to go catered or self-catered? Ensuite or shared bathroom? Quiet halls or party halls?

Whether you’re looking to hone your culinary skills, roll out of bed and into a lecture in two minutes or spend all night talking to weird and wonderful people, there will be halls to suit you.


  • You’ll meet a lot of new people very quickly
  • Great for the ‘classic’ first year experience
  • Generally a cheaper option


  • You can’t choose your flatmates
  • More people = more noise and more mess
  • The facilities are often a little… ‘basic’


"I loved living on campus; I was near all of my friends and I could get up ten minutes before a lecture and be on time. The only downside was that you had to make a concerted effort to get out of the campus bubble and explore the local area."

Hannah Armstrong - UEA graduate

"Whilst universities will aim to give everyone their top choice this is not always possible so applicants should carefully consider all their options.

Even if you don’t get your top choice, give your allocated room a chance. Universities often have a room change/swap scheme that runs later in the year but often, after they settle in, most people are happy with their accommodation and no longer wish to move."

Paul Bailey – UEA head of accommodation services
student in bedroom on laptop

Private halls

Private halls are owned by someone other than the university, so you will often find yourself living with students from multiple universities. You’ll be more likely to find bigger rooms, en-suites and little mod-cons that may not be available in university halls.

Private halls could be an option if you miss the accommodation deadline or are accepted into a uni through Clearing, when university halls may be oversubscribed.

Think about…

They’re often a more expensive option than university halls, but you may find they’re kitted out to a more modern standard, so they’re worth considering if you’re not ready to give up your creature comforts just yet.

For private halls, you should apply directly to the accommodation provider, but most unis will offer advice on your application if you need it.


  • Often more modern accommodation than university halls
  • The opportunity to meet students from many unis
  • A good option if you have specific requirements


  • Can be expensive
  • You probably won’t be living exclusively with people from your uni
  • May be further from your campus


students sat on the floor laughing

Shared private house

If you’ve ever watched the show Fresh Meat, you’ll have some idea of what living in a shared house in first year is like. This could suit you as a first year if you’ve accepted a place through Clearing, if you’re off to uni with specific friends you’d like to live with or if you’re looking to live with fewer people.

Think about…

Depending on the city, it can take a while to find a student house, so allow plenty of time to avoid having to take the hovel on the other side of town.

You’ll also be dealing with a private landlord and sorting your own bills, so make sure you’re prepared to do a bit of extra admin. Also think about how you’ll find your new housemates – SpareRoom, Gumtree and even student-specific Facebook groups can be good places to start.


  • You can choose who you live with
  • Find somewhere that better suits what you want
  • Often a quieter way to live


  • Can be more expensive paying rent and bills
  • More admin work involved
  • May be less sociable than halls


"I moved into a private house in second year. Luckily I chose a really good bunch of people to live with and we’re all still together in third year – however, it is worth discussing things such as how tidy you plan on keeping the house before you move in together. Not having a cleaner, unlike in halls, requires more collective responsibility to keep the house in a good condition."

Hannah Armstrong - UEA graduate
woman sat on the sofa watching tv

Living at home

If you’re going to a local uni, you may be considering living at home. An extra year of a full fridge, having your washing done and paying no rent! But, equally, another year of being nagged to tidy your room, trying to be quiet when you get in after Sports Nite and a longer commute to those painful 9am lectures…

Think about…

Living at home sometimes makes it trickier to socialise, as you’ll probably live a little further from uni and won’t be around for spontaneous plans. You may also start to crave your freedom when you see the Snapchat stories from the crazy night out you had to leave early. But on the plus side, you’ll save a fortune and will always have a quiet space to study – and you can always crash on someone’s floor if there’s a big night out planned.


  • You’ll be able to save money
  • You can focus on your studies
  • Good if you value your own space


  • You may miss out on the social side
  • Could be harder to make friends
  • Your parents’ house, your parents’ rules


"I’d been out of education for several years but as a person who deals with daily anxiety, the notion of going back into academia away from my comfort zone was TERRIFYING.

UEA isn’t all that far away from my hometown and so that made it easier for me to stay at home and commute in when I needed to.

It was the right thing for me to do at the time – easing myself back into a life I knew I was capable of succeeding in.

My main advice is listen to what your gut is telling you. I’m all for testing comfort zones but when everything gets too stressful it’ll be wherever you make your home that matters most."

Lee Brown - UEA graduate

There really is an option for everyone, no matter what you want from your uni experience. Whether you want to play drinking games every night in halls, throw wild house parties or come home to your mum’s lasagne and clean laundry, getting your first year accommodation right will help you make the most of Fresher’s.

Watch more videos about student life

Our vloggers are sharing their experiences of student life direct from the campus. In this video playlist, we've collected their vlogs about first year accommodation, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.

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