Most of you will be familiar with the typical accommodation offerings at universities and colleges in the United States. The college dorm and dining hall scenario is pretty well represented in pop culture and everywhere else, and you might just assume that universities across the world offer a similar model. But accommodation at most UK universities is quite different. Having lived in a college dorm at a US university for a year before transferring to Surrey, I can say very confidently that I prefer the UK version, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible in this post.
Roommates. One of the hardest parts about transitioning to college life in the states is getting used to living with a roommate. Most universities force all their students to share a tiny bedroom with a complete stranger, and let me tell you, even if you get the best roommate in the world, it is tough. At Surrey, it is very unlikely that you will have a roommate. When you apply for housing in your first year, you will list your accommodation preferences based on your budget. The least expensive housing option may put you with a roommate, but even then there are only a handful of rooms that offer this, and they’re two-story rooms, meaning each person has their own floor. The vast majority of rooms are singles. I actually haven’t met any students in my two years here who had a roommate in first year.
Getting to campus. Some of the accommodation options are “off campus.” If you’re given housing in Manor Park, you’ll have about a 20 minute walk to campus or a 10 minute bus ride. I lived in Manor Park in my first year and grew to love the walk to campus every morning. If walking isn’t your thing or if you’re running late, student bus discounts are very affordable, and there is a bus line dedicated solely to the university which goes back and forth between Manor Park and campus every ten minutes or so. Hazel Farm is a bit further away, but if you’re placed there, you will get a free student bus pass and as long as you leave a few extra minutes, your commute will be painless.
Meal plans. There aren’t any! Before you freak out, let me explain why not having a meal plan or dining halls is actually a huge plus. Every housing option has a kitchen that you’ll share with about six other people. You have your own cupboards and your own shelf in the refrigerator, and cleaners who clean once a week. If you don’t know how to cook, don’t worry. A lot of first years don’t, and part of the fun of living with a group of other students is that you end up learning together. Worst case scenario you can always just order takeout. There are lots of options. Tesco, the grocery store, is situated between Manor Park and Stag Hill (the main campus), and is about a ten minute walk from each. Most meal plans in the US charge far more than they’re worth, and the dining halls aren’t always open. Here, you can save a lot of money, eat whatever you want, and keep to your own schedule.
“Dorm life.” No one calls the housing here “dorms,” but they are relatively similar. You share a flat with about six other students, and you’ll definitely grow close to them over your year together. You’ll learn how to deal with arguments and live with a group of people, and you’ll form some lasting bonds that will help you integrate into university life even before classes begin. You may not become best friends with everyone in your flat, but you will become family. The main difference of dorm life in the UK, to put it bluntly, is that the drinking age here is 18. This doesn’t mean that students here drink more (in fact I think it’s probably the opposite because it’s not as rebellious as it is in the states), but it does mean that if people want to party, they just go out into the town or to the nightclub run by the Student’s Union on campus instead of hiding out in the dorms. The nice part about this is that accommodation is typically cleaner and quieter here than it is in the US, and you can choose whether or not you want to participate in the partying.
Guaranteed housing. The downside to accommodation in the UK is that at most universities, including Surrey, it is only guaranteed for the first year. You can apply for campus housing in your second and third year, but there is no guarantee that you’ll be offered a place. This is simply because the UK is smaller than America and space is very limited. In a future post I’ll talk about the process of finding off campus housing after first year. It can be intimidating at first, but everyone is in the same boat and there are a lot of options. There’s even an office at the university dedicated to helping students find off campus housing. So while it is a hassle in some ways, it will also teach you some really valuable life skills that prepare you for post-university life, and you’ll have the opportunity to find a house and housemates that really suit you.