Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Student's Guide to Finding Accommodation

Given that most of the offers for prospective university students came out this week, and by now you've probably decided whether or not to accept that offer, it's time to start thinking about accommodation for the academic year. You might be lucky, and have received a place in your home town, and therefore can continue on with your current lifestyle. However, if you're like the majority of people I know, and you have to move to attend university, what options are there available to you?

On Campus Residences – In my opinion, this is the best way to spend your first year, or even your whole degree! Most unis have halls or residences, and they are a great way to meet new people, make friends, and have a great time. There are usually good support systems in place for both academic and social stuff, events organised by your college committee or unit supervisor which are always a blast, and chances are, it'll be relatively close to the uni (Unless you're a Deakin Waterfront student, in which case Geelong residences are a good 7 km from campus). You don't have to worry about utility bills suddenly cropping up, and it usually works out being the same, if not slightly cheaper than renting a place. Food packages are available on some residences, but be warned that the food can be terrible, so be prepared for 'resi spread', and feeling sick from fat loading, and make sure you have a few packets of noodles for nights where you just can't bring yourself to eat it! If you miss the application date for on campus residences, it can pay to put in an application or expression of interest anyway. While you might miss out for the start of semester, sometimes people will start uni, and decide residences, or even university in general, is not for them, and rooms can become available a month or two down the track. A lot of people also move off res mid-year, so if you're interested, try applying mid-year too.

Rental – If you have the dough, or are moving to a new town with a few friends, you may like to consider renting. Start looking in the next week or so, because by the time you find a place, get the lease signed, and get moved in, it's going to be getting toward Orientation Week. Prices of properties can vary hugely depending on size, age, location, and how well maintained it has been, so know your limit and stick to it. If you know people in the area, you can get them to attend inspections for you, otherwise be prepared to travel a lot to find a place. Check out my five tips for house-hunting students for some advice on looking for a rental, and stay tuned for a post or two in the next few weeks on the same subject.

Share Houses & Boarding – If you can't afford to rent on your own, and don't know anyone in the town, there is also the option of share houses or boarding. Some of these are administered privately by the owner, others by real estate agents. Usually, you will have a furnished bedroom to yourself, including a bed, desk, and cupboard, and then shared kitchens, living areas, bathrooms, etc. You probably won't know other people in the house, unless you apply with a bunch of friends, and unlike residences there won't be organised functions, but you can end up making some good friends. The normal price in Geelong seems to be no more than $150 per week, and includes utilities. Another option is boarding. Some families open their houses to students, and will have a furnished room available in a family environment, often including meals, for varying amounts. Some of these are offered for students only needing 2 or 3 nights a week, others can be full time. You will usually be expected to contribute to household chores, but if you don't mind being in a family situation, this might be the way to go. Check with your student union or student services division, as they usually have contacts for families interested in billeting students.

Assistance – If you're having problems finding a place to stay, there are always people that can help. First port of call when you're facing the prospect of sleeping in your car is your uni's equivalent of the Division of Student Life, Student Services, or your Student Union. These places often have contacts for share accommodation, boarding houses, private rentals, or even emergency housing. Talk to estate agents to find out if there is anywhere appropriate coming up. Scour the classifieds section of the local papers. Consider commuting until you find a place. Something will come up, so don't stress too much if something doesn't present itself immediately.

My main piece of advice, no matter which route you take, is to shop around. Figure out what is best for you, your personality, your wallet, your academic goals, and your sanity.

What of you, mon petit chou? Have you any accommodation tips to share?

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