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What's the first challenge you'll face on a Masters or PhD? It might be your reading list. It might be your literature review. It might be preparing for that first meeting with your supervisor (and finding their office).
Or it could actually be something a bit more boring, but no less important. Like deciding where to live during your degree.
Even if you're staying put, there's a good chance your current housing might not be suitable (or available) for your new course.
Well, unlike other aspects of your Masters or PhD, student accommodation is something you will have tackled before. The options available probably haven't changed all that much, but what about you?
Is a room in halls still an option for postgraduates? Yes. But is it still a good option? Maybe. . .
And what about private rentals? Do you want to worry about dividing the bills when you should be thinking about dividing up cells, atoms or parts of the western literary canon?
Join me, then, for a quick 'tour' of postgraduate accommodation options:
Hopefully you have fond memories of living in student accommodation during your Bachelors, but are they still the right option for you during a Masters or PhD? Let's weigh up the pros and cons*:
*Please note: university accommodation isn't usually a con. Provided it's offered by your actual university and not someone selling cheap tents outside the Fresher's Fair.
If nothing else, university accommodation is generally a simple and trustworthy option. You may not know much about local landlords, but you can generally trust your university to provide suitable housing for its students. This matters if you're moving a long way for your new course and don't have time to do extensive research on the city.
Halls of residence also make routine expenses a lot simpler. Electricity, Wi-Fi and other costs will normally just be included in your rent. Sometimes this applies to catering too.
You may have become an expert on public transport as an undergraduate (and might still have access to your student discount) but postgraduate study is likely to keep you 'on campus' later and during evenings and weekends.
The cost of your commute can easily add up - and travelling longer distances at some hours may not always be desirable (or possible).
If you're concerned about this, university accommodation may be a good solution. A room right next to your laboratory, or above the best campus coffee shop isn't guaranteed (sorry) but your university won't normally build its halls on the other side of town from its other facilities. Probably.
Postgraduate residences aren't available everywhere, but they will be designed with the needs of Masters and PhD students in mind.
They'll probably be quieter, they may offer more 'grown up' facilities such as car parking and they might be a little closer to the laboratory / library than the union bar. You'll have to decide whether that's a good or bad thing.
More importantly, postgraduate halls are likely to offer the 52 week lease periods you'll need for a residential Masters or PhD. This won't normally be the case for conventional halls.
Rooming with the next generation of undergraduates is a great way to relive fond memories of your own first year. But let's be honest: with an advanced degree to tackle, you may want to avoid that.
Even if you're happy to study (or sleep) through the odd party, you'll need to check that the terms of your accommodation fit your course.
A year in halls may seem ideal for a one-year Masters, but, unlike most undergraduates, you'll also need access to university facilities for your dissertation during the summer holidays.
Needless to say, this applies doubly (or triply) to full-time PhD students. You might be able to secure a room in halls for the first year of your doctorate, but you're less likely to do so for all three.
The perks included with university accommodation aren't usually free. The cost of having your room cleaned, serviced and maintained will be part of your rent.
Cost is relative of course: it's for you to decide whether those perks are worth paying a little extra for.
In fact, 'flexible' is one thing halls won't be. Private rentals come in all shapes, sizes and combinations. Student accommodation comes in the format decided upon by your university (possibly quite some time ago).
This also applies to included utilities. You won't have to pay extra for them, but neither will you be able to search for a cheaper deal than the one automatically included in your rent.
Don't automatically assume that your university will have built all of its halls adjacent to its main campus (if it has one). As institutions expand it's actually more likely for accommodation facilities to spread out.
You can be fairly certain that affordable and efficient transport will be available, but 'living in halls' doesn't necessarily mean 'walking to the library'.
Things haven't really changed here, either - at least not when it comes to the standard 'shared student house' format.
However, there are a couple of other postgraduate accommodation options that may not have been available to you before.
As with halls, you probably have some experience of renting 'third party' student accommodation during your undergraduate degree.
In principle, there's no reason why you can't go back to this option as a postgraduate. Landlords won't care what course your studying. If anything, they'll probably prefer letting to older, more experienced tenants.
The potential limitations of private rentals for postgraduate students aren't that different to those for university halls.
You'll still need to make sure your lease runs for 52 weeks (or have an alternative option for the summer). You'll also need to think more carefully about location and (though you will have more locations to choose from).
Finally, you'll need to find other students to live with. Unlike halls, you'll be able to do this for yourself. So, with care (and perhaps a bit of luck) living with undergraduate housemates doesn't have to mean putting up with undergraduate house parties.
Of course, this assumes you have the time to select suitable housemates - or the means to find housemates at all. This isn't always as easy to do when you're starting out at a new university.
Living alone may not have been part of your undergraduate experience, but, depending on your background, it could be worth considering as a postgraduate.
You may find that a solo rental is more affordable now, particularly if you're returning to study after a period in work, or if you've managed to secure more generous funding such as a Research Council studentship.
If you can afford your own rental, this option has some obvious advantages: you'll have free reign over the format and location of your housing, plus the privacy (and peace) to get on with your Masters or PhD work without risk of interruption.
You might even be able to keep a cat, or other 'research assistant'.
Living outside your university city isn't usually a desirable option for undergraduates. For one thing, the frequency of classes and assessments makes commuting difficult (and expensive). For another, most students are keen to take advantage of the independence and new opportunities that are part of 'moving away to university.'
Well, as a prospective postgraduate, you've probably done 'independence'. In fact, you may be quite used to living away from your parents. Chances are you'll also have less timetable now - particularly if you'll be studying for a PhD.
All of which means that living further away from your university may not be unrealistic, particularly if you only need to be 'on campus' once or twice a week (or less).
Of course, your mileage may vary (no pun intended). Some subjects do require postgraduates to be in regular contract with their institution and universities may actually expect full-time students to live within a certain distance.
Strictly speaking, this option belongs with the section on university accommodation, above. However, I've included it here because it's quite different to the standard version of 'living in halls' - and almost certainly wasn't available to you as an undergraduate.
Resident tutors are postgraduates or academics who live in undergraduate residences. It's their job to provide mentoring and support to students living away from home for the first time - and to ensure that good conduct is maintained within the accommodation.
Additional duties can include organising communal meetings and providing any necessary safety training or orientation.
These opportunities are sometimes offered to suitable postgraduates, as well as academics. In return for carrying out your responsibilities, your accommodation will normally be provided free of charge. Some roles may also pay a salary.
Needless to say, a 'free' room on campus is an attractive offer, but acting as a resident tutor will add to your workload. It can also limit your flexibility if you're expected to keep specific contact hours for the students under your charge.
Still, at least if your neighbours are noisy you'll have the authority to quiet them down. . .
Accommodation isn't the only thing to consider if you're moving university for your new degree. Here's some advice on relocating for a Masters (or PhD).
A gap year will certainly give you more time to find postgraduate accommodation. but what else can you get done during a year out from university?
Careful budgeting for your accommodation is one way to save money during a postgraduate degree. Here are some others.
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