For university students, the second and third year of university generally indicates that you will be living in a house with other fellow students. While this can be one of the most beneficial years in your early life, learning to live with new people and how to deal outside your familial home can, at the same time, be an absolute nightmare.
The first thing I found difficult about house hunting was that it had to be done so early: you move to university in late September/early October, and have had to have decided your potential housemates by the latest of December or January. This undoubtably adds pressure on your first few months of university where you don’t really know anyone too well. I f you meet people you automatically click with, then that’s great, but when you’re thrust into an environment of new people in halls it’s very difficult to find people who you will still get along with 2 months down the line. I have heard of many people who were friends in Freshers’ Week and then never spoke again – I, similarly, had intended at one point to live with my hall mates, but a few months in, as nice as they were, we just knew we had nothing in common. While some people you meet in halls may be friends for life, I personally drifted between many friendship groups and didn’t really establish a solid group of friends with shared interests who I trusted until about March of first year – when it was undoubtedly too late. Is it not unfair to make students decide in January who they will live with in September for a year?
I have seen many people rush into housing decisions which ultimately backfired on them, and conversely people who have had fantastic years. I was unfortunately the former so my second year, despite living with one of my best friends, was uncomfortable and tense. You learn a lot about yourself when you live in a student house for the first time, far more than in halls, and also a lot about other people. The key phrase ‘you never know somebody unless you live with them’ definitely comes into play here: you discover habits you never knew people had, and these – no matter how small or large, can definitely be a factor. Many people I knew discovered people’s drug habits, girlfriends or friends who would live rent-free and never leave, people who never wash up, people who wash up incessantly, people smoking in the house… and I could continue, but you get the idea. The thing is is that you need a deal breaker – some people are fine with the bathroom smelling like marijuana, will this would drive others up the wall. There is no one I know who has got on really well with all their housemates all the time and everyone is bound to annoy each other at one point.
The key, in my opinion, is finding balance. But I do believe in ‘less-is-more’: there seems to be a tendency in first year to live in BIG houses with LOADS of people (I know a girl who lived with 10 people) which is perhaps fine if you like being surrounded by people and can work, but it also poses a lot more people with potentially a lot more problems. I would recommend living in smaller houses of about 3-5 people if you can, as the most harmonious houses I have heard of seems to be around that number.
Now obviously everybody is different: you may have chosen brilliant people you have got on well with within a manner of weeks, and found the house of your dreams where everyone is calm and gets on. I think the best houses are when everybody has their equal say – delegate tasks between each other, agree on the prices of the houses you are looking for and potential deal breakers, such as a washing machine/bath/dishwasher. I hate the idea of a ‘cleaning rota’, which I believe is slightly immature but it would work for some people – I had experience where cleaning was very imbalanced, and it became a much bigger issue than it needed to be. I have spoken to many people who felt they were forced or rushed into a decision and I do believe in spending the time discussing everyone’s point of views and being direct and honest. In arranging our house for fourth year we have constantly discussed everything in a secret group in Facebook, and this has made me feel a lot more happy and in control of my situation, and quite calm in entering my fourth year.
I feel very fortunate that I have had a year abroad and time to reflect on my housing situation when I go back to university in fourth year. I definitely would not have enjoyed staying in the same location, at the same university for three years in a row. If I had I would have definitely moved houses for third year regardless of whether I loved or hated my second year house, because I knew there were elements (such as price) where I could not have stayed longer. I also feel lucky that I did stay in student halls again in Strasbourg – which was filthy and where I was robbed, and I will now have the experience of living in a student flat in Vienna with two Austrian girls, which I am excited about, because it gave me more insight and experience.
I know I am now reflecting on my experiences at 22 years old, a completely different situation to an 18 year old who is looking for their first student house, but I do with the benefit of hindsight say these things: do NOT rush into a situation you’re not happy with, always discuss your deal breakers, make sure everyone has their say, learn to compromise, and unless you’re the sort of person who likes living with a lot of people, consider splitting the groups up a bit. Also think – yes, they are my best friend now, but are they a best friend for life? Be objective and don’t panic. Yes, there is a scramble for houses which I find unfair, but there will always be options, and ultimately a decision you make very quickly will affect at least a year of your life.
Have you had any problems with student housing? Did you have the best time in your years with other students? Are you looking for a student house at the moment and have any doubts? Are there any other problems you have faced? Or, conversely, am I being too negative? I’d love to hear all your views, as usual, below!