Student housing is its own unique experience. Even if you boarded during school, there’s really nothing like your first year at university! This guide offers some ways to make sure it’s all smooth sailing.
Choose carefully - and be honest with yourself
The first step to harmonious student living is making the right choice of accommodation. We can help you pick between university halls and a privately rented place, but there are other decisions to make, too.
If you’re studying in the US, you’ll likely be sent a survey that asks about your living style and preferences: when do you go to bed? Do you like listening to loud music? Do you drink or smoke? But even without the survey these are questions to ask yourself - and be honest about who you are! Maybe you really want to remake yourself as a person who wakes up early and keeps their room tidy… but what if you don’t, and you’re stuck living with someone who’s waking you up at 5am every day?
In the UK, your flatmates will be assigned at random, but you’ll have opportunities to meet them using official social media groups before you move in, so it’s still useful to consider these questions so you can be honest as you get to know each other! Knowing in advance that you’re going to need to negotiate different expectations for cleanliness or noise can be helpful for making things go more smoothly.
If you take the time to think about what you really want out of your living space in terms of size, number of roommates, location, and things like that, you’re much likelier to avoid unpleasant surprises and mismatched expectations when you turn up.
Independent - but not alone
All the independence of university living is great, especially if you’re used to living with your parents. But there’s a difference between being independent and living alone. University housing is shared housing, which means you will be living with other people. You need to treat them with respect, which sometimes means you can’t do the things you’d do if you were living alone, or even that you were used to doing when living with your parents.
For example, if you have a shared common area, as much as you might want to camp out on the couch and play video games on the common room TV all day long on a Saturday, that’s not really fair to other people who want to use that space.
Treating your shared space as if you live alone rather than taking into account the needs and preferences of your fellow students is one of the main sources of roommate conflict - so try to keep and mind that even though you’re newly independent, you’re not actually on your own yet.
Divide things up
Take the time when you’re first moving in to divide up shared spaces like cupboards in the kitchen or closets in the hallway to make sure that everybody has what they need. It might be tempting to claim the biggest cupboard just because you got there first, but that isn’t really fair to the person who happened to show up last!
It’s also good to divide up chores and responsibilities early on. This might take the shape of a cleaning rota where you all trade off tasks every week, or assign each person one area that they’re always responsible for. Even if you’re living in university halls that have cleaners come in sometimes, it’s nice to have a system for keeping things tidy in between official cleans - especially for things like crockery and cutlery, which a cleaner won’t be dealing with; and taking out bins, which has to happen more often than you may think!
There are practical reasons for doing this, but also having these conversations early on helps set out an expectation that everyone has a share in the space, and that you’re all going to work together to keep everything fair.
Raising difficult problems with flatmates is a scary thought for many people. But the more you avoid conversations about topics like playing loud music late at night or someone never doing their dishes, the more resentment and emotion will come to surround the issue in your head, and the harder it will be to have a calm and simple conversation about it.
Communicating openly, directly, and without anger is a way of treating one another like adults. Practise raising issues calmly and without accusation, and you’ll find that it’s no big deal to casually say, “Hey Sarah, it’s your turn to take out the bins!” - no matter how annoyed you are inside about it!
However, if you are living in university housing, there are people who can mediate if you’re having serious conflicts. If you’re ever feeling unsafe in your flat, or if you have flatmates who yell at you or act aggressively towards you, never hesitate to reach out to your university housing services for help. In an emergency, you can always reach out to your campus security or local emergency services as well.
Get to know each other
The people you share housing with during your first year of uni may well become lifelong friends. But even if you don’t hit it off right away and suspect they’ll never be a close pal, it’s worth it to take time to get to know your flatmates, and occasionally organise opportunities to spend time together.
It’s just no fun skulking around your house feeling like you’re surrounded by strangers and avoiding eye contact. But more than that, making an effort to develop a friendly relationship - even if you’ll never be besties - makes the conversations and negotiations you have to have sometimes as flatmates so much easier.
And remember, if you’re really stuck in a difficult situation, it’s possible for your university’s housing services to relocate you. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for some help.