United States vs. United Kingdom: Student Housing

Welcome to another segment where I compare and contrast life in the United States and in the United Kingdom. After my exams, I compared the academic side of studying abroad by talking about my British university experience thus far (you can read about it here). Now, I will expand on life in the halls, at least at Arizona State and Sussex:

My first year of university, we were split up by our majors and put into dorms where almost everyone had a roommate. It is typical to share a bathroom with another pair of roommates of the same sex and have a co-ed floor. Most of the Arizona State residences didn’t have any sort of kitchen: my room came with a small fridge and microwave and in the common area, we had a larger fridge, microwave and washing up sink, but no way to make any proper meals. You were expected to get an on-campus meal plan, which consisted of a number of meals from eight a week to unlimited and an fixed allowance per semester for other restaurants on campus like Burger King, Starbucks, Papa John’s, Subway and Dominos. After your first year, you are expected to move off campus to a nearby apartment complex or house. There are at least half a dozen apartment complexes made especially for students within walking distance of campus and several dozen more within a few miles of campus, as well. In these apartments, you share a kitchen space with about one to four other people (almost always of your own sex) and have your own room and often your own bathroom (if not, you typically share it with one other person). If you can’t find a roommate, the apartment will give one to you and you don’t have to worry about paying for the extra room. The apartments are usually furnished and you can enjoy a wide range of remedies such as a computer room, game room, rooftop decks, balconies, a pool, a gym and more. The application process is easy, the down payments are minimal and people working for the apartment practically beg you to live there.

However, things are a bit different in the United Kingdom, especially when it comes to off-campus residences. Most first years do live on campus, but the residence styles are a little bit different. Most residences are like the one I live in: you have your own room (sharing a room is practically unheard of) and wash basin, but share a kitchen and several bathrooms with about five to ten other people, both male and female. However, you can put in a special request to be put in a same-sex hall. I enjoy living with other people, but I also like my privacy. I believe that having my own space makes things less tense if problems do arise and if I happen to have a problem with one of my roommates, I have ten others I can get on with. Unlike Arizona State, the residences at Sussex University are self-catered. In our kitchen, we have two ovens (but only one works), a few toasters, a microwave, two small refrigerator/ freezers, two sinks and eight stovetops to work with. I was nervous we would always be on top of each other in the kitchen or waiting in line for the bathroom, but it’s rare a single person will come into the kitchen while I’m cooking and I’ve never had to wait to use the toilet (although I will wait ’til kingdom come to use the good shower if I have to). Self-catered kitchen means that there no meal plan is  necessary, although there is a cafeteria to supplement your needs. There are also no restaurants on Sussex campus except for the food served at the two bars on campus, which actually isn’t bad, but not something you want to eat consistently. However, this doesn’t hold true for all British universities: Lancaster University has a courtyard with at least a dozen eateries and other cafes scattered across campus. Like American universities, you are expected to move off campus after your first year, however, not all British universities have the same housing opportunities and proximity as a lot of American universities do. Brighton has very few apartment complexes and most of them are expensive and far from the university. This means that there isn’t a particular complex or location students flock to and anywhere within Brighton is basically fair game, although most students tend to live along or within walking distance the bus route to campus. Students tend to live in flats, which are different from apartments in that they are several stories tall rather than a few rooms spread out on a single level, with about four or five other people. Unlike apartments, flats can have an awkward floorplan, which can lead to a Hunger Games-esque battle for a particular room. Unlike student apartment complexes in the United States that provide you with a roommate, you have to find them yourself. Also unlike the United States, it is very common and more socially acceptable for guys and girls to live together in a flat. Since these flats could go to anyone (and students are probably a landlord’s last choice of residents), some locations are highly competitive and require large down payments and aggressive negotiation. Not to mention after all that, you’ll still probably end up in a crummy place, and an expensive one at that: even with all my amenities and luxuries included in my rent, it’s still far less than that of an average Brighton student flat.

I do feel like I’m missing out on the shared experience of living in a grim flat and while it would be fun to live with several people in a more communal style, I think I’ll be just fine with my en suite and gym.



  1. Charlene Redpath
    March 7, 2016 / 2:39 am

    Another interesting blog Rachel. I’m guessing that a larger country, i.e., USA, would be competitive in attracting students by offering lots of amenities in or near their dorms. Any idea what the ratio might be in GB for students in college? Just curious if it’s considered as important there as here.

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