As the new term approaches, students starting life at the University of Nottingham will soon be settling into a new home on or around campus. Some will be living in one of the famed Oxbridge-esque halls, while others will settle into the slightly more contemporary-styled student flats. But is one better than the other? Impact asks two second years what they thought of their living experiences as freshers…

Gertrude*, an international student, lived in a self-catered flat in Broadgate Park. Living on the other side of the world, it was only economically viable to stay in Nottingham during the holiday periods. She was always leaning towards the 52-week contract which comes with self-catered flats, meaning students can keep their possessions in their room all year round. Halls students also have this option, though with the hefty fee of £5 per night – more than a little inconvenience, and one of the least enjoyable aspects of hall life. Thus the longer contracts are a distinct advantage of being self-catered.

Another way staying in flats is more convenient is the lack of set meal times. A common complaint of those who stay in halls is that meal times are too early (weekday breakfasts ending at 9.30am mean you have to drag yourself out of bed early even if you have the luxury of a lecture-free morning), and the dinner slot finishing at 7pm (or the even stricter 6.30pm on weekends). And let’s be honest, hall food isn’t the best – being able to buy all your food gives students more power and choice over their meals.

But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and students must ensure they eat properly to take full advantage of being self-catered. Gertrude told us that the freedom of choice can lead to developing bad eating habits, especially during exam season when it’s oh so tempting to take the easy option of a takeaway after a solid session in Hallward. (Editor’s note: a lot of people in halls fall victim to the takeaway trap, too…) While the food in catered halls may not exactly be Michelin-star, it’s at least healthier than junk – and the regular mealtimes can force you to keep eating even if you don’t feel you have the time. Furthermore, what better way to save time during exam season than to not bother with the cooking or the washing up?

“It’s oh so tempting to take the easy option of a takeaway after a solid session in Hallward”

However, one of the reasons people go to university is to grow up and become independent, and opting for self-catered certainly does this more than living in halls. Gertrude said that choosing to live in BP necessitated her learning to cook and take responsibility for her own health, giving self-catered students a head start when it comes to second year, when the vast majority of students live in houses and have no choice but to cook for themselves (£1 Maryland chicken deals can’t sustain us forever).

But what about the social life?

Jemma* lived in Nightingale Hall, the smallest hall on University Park Campus. Jemma and many other halls students argue that it can be much easier to make friends when living in a hall due to the communal dining experience, common rooms (JCRs) and the fact that you have a lot more choice than just the four people you share a kitchen with. Although most halls are separated into blocks, it’s easier to find friends in a different part of the hall than it is to bond with people who live in a different flat, especially if those in that flat have already formed close bonds (which seems to happen quicker than in halls due to the lack of variety). Not to mention, the communal dining experience means you can eat with someone different every day.

Let's just hope you don't end up in Ancaster Hall. Eugh.
Let’s just hope you don’t end up in Ancaster Hall. Eugh.

Whether you gel with the people you live with is more hit-and-miss in self-catered – your flat mates might become your best friends, yet some students can feel excluded and lead a pretty lonely year. In halls on the other hand there’s no kitchen, for better or for worse, but this at least means there can be no awkward encounters with that detested flat ‘mate’: you can lock yourself away from people you’d rather not spend time with.

And, the walls are usually thicker, which can be good for when…you know.

“Students are defensively territorial creatures and unsurprisingly: both of our interviewees said that the accommodation type they chose is better”

The major con that Jemma and other catered students tend to bring up is the food, which has been alluded to. Yet mealtimes aren’t that bad (at least 3 meals a week seem to be digestible), and considering the amount, if not the quality, of the food you get, it’s excellent value for money at less than £70 a week for 19 meals (leave the ideology of ‘quality not quantity’ for your essays). And there are some good meals: the Saturday brunch is a universal favourite, especially post-Ocean (though having to wait until 11am for breakfast on weekends is unforgivable), as are the fortnightly themed meals. And if you really hate the food, you can always take Jemma’s method of lathering everything in hot sauce.

Despite the flaws of both accommodation types, students are defensively territorial creatures and unsurprisingly, both of our interviewees said that the accommodation type they chose is better. Jemma and her friends enjoyed halls so much they chose to return for second year, and Gertrude says that she would pick self-catered flats if she had to choose again. Whatever they pick, students tend to adjust and learn to love what their accommodation has – but we can recommend accommodation depending on what type of person you are. (If you’re still doubting your options, there’s still time to change).

If you’re a fussy eater, go self-catered. If you want privacy, live in halls. If you’re a social butterfly, live in halls. If you prefer a few close bonds, live in a flat. Ultimately, the two different types of accommodation have different atmospheres and which one you choose is about so much more than whether you like hall food or not.

And let’s be honest, first year cooking is no better than hall food. Eugh.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Tom Hughes

Featured Image ‘Broadgate Park… ‘ by Matt Buck on Flickr

Embedded Image ‘Ancaster Hall main entrance‘ also by Matt Buck.

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