What is the most common type of accommodation for university students?

by Dan Roberts

If you’re thinking about your accommodation while studying at university, you’ll want to know what your options are, as well as what the most popular choices are.

The most common type of student accommodation is private rented properties; ‘other rented accommodation’* which are not purpose built. 29% (569,130) of students in 2019-20, were in private rented than purpose-built student accommodation, whether it be university provided or private sector halls.

The next most popular choice is living at home (19%) followed closely by living in a property maintained by the course provider (18 per cent). A surprising 17 per cent of students lived in their own residence, while a further 9 per cent chose private sector halls according to the Office for Students.

The type of student accommodation available to you, or that you would prefer, may vary over the course of your studies, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with the various options – and their pros and cons – as early as possible.

Private rented accommodation

There are various options in the private rental sector; you could rent a property to live in alone, you could share a house or flat with friends or you could rent a room in a property in which your with landlord also lives. For first-year undergraduate and post-graduate students, it can be difficult to hook up with students to share with, but your university’s accommodation office can usually help to find other students and match you up. Many students opt for private renting in their second and subsequent years. Although you won’t have the convenience of living on campus, you may be closer to town and feel more part of the local community.

More students were in private rented than purpose-built accommodation…

Unlike in university or private halls, you’ll have more choice over the style of the property you live in and may even be able to redecorate (check your tenancy agreement). However, you will have to manage all your bills yourself, which will require some admin and budgeting skills! Although the landlord or letting agent will undertake any required maintenance, you will need to take care of the furnishings and clean regularly. The properties available can often be older, so be sure to check carefully for signs of disrepair or, worse, damp when you view the place.

If you rent a room in a private house where the landlord also lives, bear in mind that he or she will have greater ability to end your tenancy because the law recognises that landlords are more vulnerable in their own home, should the relationship with a tenant break down.

University halls of residence

Halls of residence are owned and operated by the university and are often the preferred option for freshers. Since they are usually located on campus, they are convenient and consequently much in demand, often only being available to first-year undergraduates.

…you’ll have the support of the university accommodation office and will avoid the hassle of paying utility bills and dealing with landlords.

On the plus side, living in uni halls will make it easier to meet new people and make friends.  Bear in mind that it’s important to do this in your first term because – if you choose to go into shared accommodation in your second year – you’ll probably have to make a decision before Christmas about who you want your house mates to be, find a suitable house or flat and put down a deposit. There’s the convenience of being near the library and other university facilities, as well as being within staggering distance of the student bar! Uni halls are also a good stepping-stone towards being fully independent in the private rental sector, as you’ll have the support of the university accommodation office and will avoid the hassle of paying utility bills and dealing with landlords.

…Catered accommodation is less popular than in the past but is still an option at some unis.

The down side is that you may not get your first choice of accommodation (en suite rooms are almost always oversubscribed) and the rooms available are often unremarkable, but usually comfortable. Whether you choose to be in catered or non-catered accommodation will impact on the standard of kitchen facilities you’ll have access to. Catered accommodation is less popular than in the past but is still an option at some unis. You pay additional rent to cover your food but save time on shopping, cooking and (the best bit) washing up. Remember, though, that shared kitchens are a great space in which to meet people and make friends. Also, cooking for yourself is a valuable life skill and will mean you’re not tied to the schedule of the canteen.

Private sector halls of residence

Bills such as utilities, broadband, contents insurance, general maintenance and some cleaning are generally included in your rent, so budgeting is easy.

Private halls are similar to university halls – with your own room and some communal areas, such as a kitchen, lounge and laundry room – but they are owned by commercial companies. Although some work in partnership with unis, they are generally not located on campus and may instead be in the city centre, close to shops, eateries and nightclubs. They tend to be purpose-built and stylish, often with great facilities – some even boasting gyms, games areas, cinema rooms and saunas – and sometimes hosting social events. Bills such as utilities, broadband, contents insurance, general maintenance and some cleaning are generally included in your rent, so budgeting is easy. Compared to uni halls, there may be a greater choice of room types – often including studio apartments (with your own kitchen and bathroom), although these are usually more expensive.

Living at home

For most students, the experience of university would not be the same without living away from home. However, some do choose to live at home while studying – either through personal choice or because they are forced to by their financial situation. Even if you make a contribution towards your living costs, it will most likely work out much less expensive than living in student digs – but it’s worth working out what your travel costs will be. Living with parents or guardians is a particularly popular option for students who can commute into London, due to the prohibitive cost of accommodation in the capital.

… On the plus side, you won’t feel homesick and you may well get your food cooked and your laundry done!

Down sides include the fact that your parents will be able to keep a close eye on you and will set the rules of the house. In addition, you will probably have to make more of an effort to meet people when at uni, whether in your lectures or through sports and social activities. Of course, it will also limit your choice of uni to one that you can travel to easily. On the plus side, you won’t feel homesick and you may well get your food cooked and your laundry done!

Parent purchase

Another option that has grown in popularity in recent years is for parents to purchase a house or flat and act as landlords to a group of students that includes their child. While this can make a lot of sense financially, take time to consider the implications. If one of your friends is the son or daughter of the landlord, some kind of dispute with their parents has the potential to spoil your friendship. And if your mum and dad are the landlords, you could be in the awkward situation in which your parents are laying down the law to your friends or chasing late rent payments. In this kind of buy-to-let situation, it may be preferable for parents to hand the management of the property over to a local letting agent.

With so many housing options open to you, it’s worth taking the time to consider your needs carefully so that you pick accommodation that will help make your time at uni as enjoyable as possible.

Full-time and sandwich students studying in the UK by term-time accommodation, 2019-20

Full-time and sandwich students by term-time accommodation
Academic years 2019 to 2020
# of students % of known
Other rented accommodation* 569,130 29%
Parental/guardian home 379,205 19%
Provider maintained property 360,745 18%
Own residence 332,625 17%
Private-sector halls 175,255 9%
Other 67,425 3%
Not in attendance at the provider 23,045 1%
Not known 49,520 3%

*other rented accommodation; private rented properties which are not purpose built.

Source: HESA Data and Analysis


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Written by Dan Roberts
MD and Founder of Mystudenthalls.com

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