You might think that living in the city centre is the best place to be if you are a university student, especially if your friends are doing the same. But there are important factors many students overlook when considering city centre accommodation versus suburban living. Read on to find out more…
In every town and city across the UK with a large student population, there is a familiar scenario playing out; increasing numbers of new student accommodation is appearing in the city centre or very close to it – mostly as blocks of flats. As a student, it may seem like the perfect place to live due to the close proximity to bars, clubs and shops. However, beyond the easy access to nightlife, there are also many other important factors which should be considered seriously before deciding where you are going to spend the next year of your life.
In this post we highlight common pitfalls of city centre living as compared to living in the suburbs so that as a student, you can make a more informed decision the next time you are on the search for accommodation.
If getting a good night’s sleep and being able to focus on your studies is important to you, then you may want to re-think about living in a noisy town centre. Sure, when you first begin university it may seem like fun being close to pubs and bars but soon, you will tire of the nightlife and want to retreat back to your sanctuary – only to find that the nightlife has followed you there! Students often get drunk and can be very rowdy and inconsiderate to people trying to sleep nearby. It’s not just students either, weekend revellers looking for a fun night out also behave in the same manner. Also bear in mind that city centres at night are also plagued with loud siren noises from the emergency services responding to all manner of incidents, as well as noise pollution from traffic (car engines, beeping horns etc) which often continues late into the night. As a student you will have exams and coursework deadlines and it will be very difficult to focus on studying when you are being repeatedly disturbed night after night and your sleep quality is poor.
Conversely, choosing to live just 10 minutes away from the city centre can make a world of difference to the noise levels you will experience on a day-to-day basis. As long as your house is not right outside a pub/bar then you can be pretty much guaranteed a huge reduction in noise levels when compared to living in the city centre. The volume of traffic is typically lower and the presence of more trees and greenery act as a sound barrier which helps to reduce noise pollution. This peace and quiet is welcome relief particularly during periods of intense study like exam season and also in winter when you might be subject to the odd bout of flu and in extra need of rest and a good night’s sleep.
Student accommodation in the city centre is usually comprised of flats which are generally much smaller than houses in the suburbs. If you are used to living in a house (which most students are before they go to university) then living in a flat will suddenly feel very cramped, especially as windows are also smaller and let in less natural light. Bedrooms are small and you are likely to find it difficult to store all of your belongings in a way which is organised so it’s easy to find things. Stuffing clothes in suitcases and bags is commonplace and looks very untidy, which may not bother you until you have to find something in a hurry!
Also, there are no private gardens with student flats which is something to consider especially if you are used to enjoying your own space outside. If you or your housemates are smokers, this is a huge point to consider as many student housing schemes do not allow smoking inside or even immediately outside entrances. Even if your property allows smoking, it can often cause arguments with those who don’t smoke.
Conversely, student houses just a short walk from the town centre offer bags more space for your money. Bedrooms are bigger so you have more space to store your belongings and communal areas like kitchens and living rooms are also bigger so sharing facilities is a lot easier. Some student houses also offer en-suite facilities for a little extra rent so it’s worth having a look at out of town properties when you are on the hunt for somewhere to live. Additionally, many student houses in the suburbs also offer gardens which are most welcome especially in the summer when you want to relax or get together with friends, hang out your laundry or pop out for a quick cigarette. The opposite is also true i.e. if you are a non-smoker and your housemates smoke, having an outside space they can smoke will be a much welcome relief to you as you don’t have to deal with secondary smoke inhalation.
If you drive and are planning to use your own car whilst at university, it’s worth remembering that student accommodation in the city centre very rarely includes free car parking facilities. Usually you will have to pay for a permit or use public car parks which can end up being a short walk away from your accommodation – which is not good for convenience, safety or your wallet!
Alternatively, most student houses away located even just a short distance from the city centre offer free parking immediately outside the property saving you money in car parking fees and of course time. Generally it is also safer (for both you and your car) to park outside your house than parking a few blocks away – especially if you are coming home late at night.
Rental rates tend to be much higher in city centres than in the suburbs despite the fact that properties are much smaller and there are no gardens or parking facilities. You are paying more for what you get than if you were to choose a house out of town. Certainly some suburbs are more expensive than the city but there are also plenty of areas with rents that are student friendly. Also, as demand is less for properties that are out of town you may also be able to negotiate rents with the landlord and make additional savings.
Whilst it’s not always clear cut, the incidence of crime can be higher in inner city areas than in the leafy suburbs of a town. Blocks of student flats have new students coming and going all the time so there is little chance for a community to form that looks out for one another; everyone just tends to keep themselves to themselves. Drugs and anti-social behaviour is certainly more prevalent at night and street lighting is hit and miss; many side streets and short cuts are poorly lit and are therefore hotspots for crime.
Conversely, living in the suburbs can help you feel safer due to the presence of neighbours who have lived there for a while and a community that looks out for one another. Streets and roads are always better lit and many areas participate in neighbourhood watch schemes which have been proven to reduce rates of crime. Rowdy and anti-social behaviour is also less commonplace as bars and clubs tend not to be in the near vicinity.
No matter where you live, it’s always important to take the necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your property e.g. closing and locking windows and doors, keeping valuables out of sight, coming home with friends if you are staying out late and letting trusted people know your whereabouts.
An often overlooked aspect by students when they are searching for a property is the level of service you receive from your landlord – be it in city centre or suburban accommodation. Student flats are often managed by a third party and this can feel quite impersonal, especially when there is an issue that needs reporting. Often, if there is a recurring issue, you will find yourself dealing with different people each time with little knowledge of what has happened before which can be quite frustrating.
On the other hand, if you are living in a student house out of town, chances are that you will be dealing with the landlord directly which helps you build a relationship with him/her and receive a more friendly and personal service (provided you look after their property!). You may also deal with a letting agency with a named contact which again helps to establish a good relationship which is very helpful when dealing with issues. Repairs to the property will usually also be carried out by the same team year in, year out so they have a good working knowledge and history of the property. This can prove to be extremely valuable in resolving issues quickly and efficiently.
Also, some landlords with out of town properties offer perks such as free cleaning services or discounted rent in the summer months to encourage students to take their properties so it’s well worth exploring what additional perks you might be able to get.
There is no doubt that city centres are well served by public transport links and catching a bus or tram might not appear to be a difficult thing to do. However, if you have a 9am lecture to attend and walking isn’t an option (due to bad weather or distance for example) then don’t forget that you – and what seems like the rest of the world – will also be travelling/commuting at the same time so traffic jams and delays to transport services are highly likely. Travelling during peak times along with city workers and school/college students also makes it difficult to grab a spot on the bus or tram.
Alternatively, living a bit further out can help (depending on the direction you are travelling in) as you might be catching the bus many stops earlier than other commuters and hence able to get a seat. You may also find that some of your housemates have a car and you can hitch a ride with them or even pool together to get a taxi – which makes more sense if you are living out of town.
Town centres are packed with all manner of shops and restaurants so you will never be short on grocery items or places to eat. However, it is easy to forget that you definitely pay for the privilege of such convenience. Retailers are very savvy about their customers and know that students are typically on foot when nipping out to get some milk or bread and their prices reflect this. A few pence extra here and there may not seem like a lot but it certainly adds up and over the course of a year, you could find yourself hundreds of pounds worse off.
Living away from the town centre gives you access to local, independent shops and grocers where you might be surprised to find that prices are cheaper and there is a more diverse range of shops/products available e.g. Asian supermarkets, Polish bakeries etc. As a regular customer at local shops, you have the opportunity to build a good rapport with the shopkeepers which can help you get better deals on groceries, especially at the end of the day when they need to sell produce before it goes off. It’s an excellent way to eat well and save money in the process.
PARKS AND GREEN SPACE
Whilst access to parks and green space might not be your first consideration as a student, it can certainly help your health and wellbeing if you have such amenities at your disposal. Going for a walk in the local park is an excellent way to get some exercise, fresh air and de-stress, particularly during busy and stressful periods such as exam season.
However in the city centre you will be hard pressed to find such amenities and when this is added to the lack of a garden, cramped living space and dirty pollution from high volumes of traffic, you may soon think that living in the city is not all that it’s cracked up to be and yearn for some greenery and fresh air.
On the other hand, if you choose a student house even just 10 minutes away from the city, you will usually find that there is a local park or other green space within walking distance of where you live. So even if your property doesn’t have its own garden, it won’t be too much of a loss as you’ll have other green amenities on your doorstep. The convenience of having a park you can enjoy and take benefit from any time will be something you come to really appreciate, especially in the summer months.
As you can see, there are many advantages to living in the suburbs of a city rather than in the centre and we hope you have found this post helpful in highlighting the differences between the two. Ultimately, where you wish to live during university is down to personal preference and what factors you consider to be important. Happy house hunting!