A step-by-step guide to choosing the right student accommodation


Guide to choosing the right student accommodation for you


Deciding where to live at university can feel daunting.

Will uni halls or private accommodation offer the best student experience? Is it better to stay on campus or in the city? How do you apply and when’s the best time to secure a place?

There’s definitely a lot to think about, but try not to stress. You can handle it - and this guide is here to help.

We’ll take you step by step through the decision-making process, and offer practical guidance on when and how to book different accommodation options.

Let’s dive in.


Step 1: Think about your preferences

When looking for that perfect place to live, you can focus your search by first considering your preferences on cost, location (within your uni city), and facilities.


  • Cost

This will vary from city to city, and the standard of the room, flat, or house you opt for.

Here are some things to be aware of for the main accommodation routes.


1) University halls

The cost of uni halls is something you can ask about at their open days. You may even be shown around different halls to get a sense of what you’d get for your money.

If you forget to do this, don’t worry. Universities usually provide prices on their site, or you can call their accommodation office.


2) Private halls

In addition to geography and room quality, the cost will depend on the provider you go for.

Liberty Living offers private halls and you can see the cost for each room type here when you select your university city.


3) Flat or house with a private landlord

A private landlord will set your rental cost and it’s a good idea to check if this includes bills or not.

Sites like Zoopla, Gumtree and SpareRoom show listings in your chosen area.


For all three options, consider what’s affordable for you (be realistic here) and find out exactly what’s included in the price.


  • Location

Some students prefer to live right on campus. Others are after a more central location so they can explore the city with ease.

Are you keen to stay in the uni bubble? Or would you prefer a little more respite from campus life? Ask yourself these questions and go from there.

It’s a good idea to research transport links in your chosen city so you know roughly how long it’ll take you to get from place to place. A short walk or bus ride from university might sway your decision.


students walking


  • Facilities

This is a big one if it’s your first time away from home.

You’ll need to think about everything from cooking facilities (microwave necessary?) to bathroom access (would you freak out if you didn’t have an en-suite?).

Most accommodation providers include facilities such as launderettes, communal spaces and game rooms.

Our residences also include on-site staff who will answer any and all questions you might have, and keep your letters (and ASOS deliveries) safe for you.


  • Special requirements

For people with disabilities or dietary/medical needs, finding suitable student accommodation can be a real worry.

If you have any concerns at all, do contact your university, or us, for help.


Step 2: Understand your options

University-owned halls, private halls, or flat/house shares?

All offer a unique university experience, and the reason one student vetoes a place can be the reason another loves it.

So, what are the main pros and cons? Have a read and see what rings true for you.


1) University-owned halls



  • You’ll likely be with other first years who will be in the same boat as you
  • Your university will be on hand to help with accommodation queries
  • All bills are usually included



  • There’s no guarantee you’ll get a place in your preferred accommodation
  • You might find the lively atmosphere distracting, and it can get noisy


2) Private halls



  • You’ll get to live in the accommodation of your choice
  • Extra perks like WiFi, security, social events, and maintenance services. Depending on the residence, you might even have access to an on-site gym and cinema.
  • There could be a mix of students from different universities and year groups so you’ll enjoy a diverse social circle where 2nd or 3rd year students can offer tips and moral support.


  • You can’t choose exactly who you live with
  • As with uni halls, private halls can get noisy


3) Flat or house with a private landlord



  • This route means you’ll get to decide exactly who you live with
  • Generally, this option can be cheaper than halls



  • You’ll just be with a small number of flatmates so it could be harder to make new friends and connections
  • You’ll be in charge of managing your bills
  • You’ll need to deal directly with your landlord on all admin including maintenance issues


Step 3: Book accommodation - how and when?

Let’s quickly run through the process for each of the three accommodation options above.


1) University-owned halls 



Typically, you can apply once you’ve accepted an offer from that university.

Some ‘insurance option’ universities will let you apply for accommodation but most need to be your firm choice.

Uni halls are usually allocated on a first-come, first-served basis – and some can't guarantee all first-year students a place in halls. Deadlines for applying often fall far in advance of your course starting (roughly at the beginning of August), so set yourself a reminder and apply in good time.



Uni rooms are allocated on preferences and availability which means that not everyone will get exactly what they’re looking for.

While some people prefer to go down this route for ease, staying on campus isn’t compulsory.

Most accommodation applications are made online via your uni website. This is where you’ll specify the type of room you’d prefer, and accommodation officers will try their best to match you to suitable housing.



2) Private halls



You can apply to stay in private halls at any point during the year.

Most A-Level students prefer to do this once they’ve received a university offer but you’re not restricted from doing so.

An important note: Make sure you read the terms and conditions before booking as these will still apply if you don’t get the offer or decide to study elsewhere, for example.



Again, most bookings are made online via the provider’s website and, as with uni halls, this is where you’ll specify your preferences with regards to room type, etc.

At Liberty Living, we use our applicants’ preference to allocate rooms so that they’re more likely to be placed with their age group and people with similar interests.


3) Flat or house with a private landlord



You can enter into a rental contract for a privately-owned flat or house at any point. Just check move-in dates with the landlord or agency you’re dealing with.

Most will want you to move in right away, although some might let you delay moving in until the university term starts.



You can look for houses or flats to rent online. Sites like Zoopla, Rightmove, Gumtree and Spareroom show a range of listings in specific areas which you can filter by cost or number of rooms etc.

The next step is to arrange a viewing of the property where you can ask important questions about security and the average cost of bills.

You should also ask what the tenancy application process will look like (checking references or providing bank statements, for example) and if there are any associated costs.


Step 4: Sign the contract


For those who’ve applied to uni halls or private halls:


So, you’ve got your offer of accommodation. Great! Now you just need to read through all the information, including the T&Cs.



Once you have read through the terms and conditions (don’t skip this!), the next step is to sign the contract.

The signatures required will be yours and your guarantor, which will usually be your parent or guardian.

A typical contract length for halls of residence is usually around 40 to 44 weeks, but with some you can book a 51-week contract if you need it (for example, with Liberty Living you can).

This may suit international students who might want more time to settle in and get used to their new home from home.



Once you have signed on the dotted line, you’ll be required to put down a deposit or forward payment (hi mum and dad).

For private accommodation, there is also normally a booking fee to be paid too.

Details of this should be outlined in your contract.


Other documents

If you’re new to the application process, you’re probably wondering what you need for university accommodation applications in terms of documents.

Most application systems will ask for your student number and some form of identification.

For private houses, ‘Right to Rent’ checks may apply; you will need proof of being a UK citizen or you will need UK immigration status documents if you are moving here from abroad.


For those who want to rent a flat or house with a private landlord:


If you’re happy to go ahead, the landlord or estate agency you’ve been dealing with might ask for address history and references from previous landlords. They will likely confirm your move in date at this stage too.

This process can vary so check with them so you’re clear.

If all is OK, you’ll be sent the contract to read through. After doing this (double and triple check this), you can sign and send back.


And that’s that! The complete process from start to finish for different accommodation options.

Now you’re armed with knowledge and an action plan, you’re that bit closer to finding the perfect pad to live, work and play in during your time at university.

If you’d like to learn more about Liberty Living’s student residences across 19 UK cities, head this way for more information.


students in a common room