Enjoy College Accommodation – You’ll Miss It

JIM ROSS, AKA Mother James Fox, takes you through the perils and pitfalls of student accommodation at real universities.

The old adage goes that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

The tricky group to place into this platitude is your flatmates – sometimes you have total control and other times you have none. Having lived in University accommodation and private accommodation in both Edinburgh and Cambridge, however, I get the feeling that Cambridge students, in the process of moaning about college-this and college-that, forget how well the college accommodation system can serve them.

Although I was lucky enough to live with an excellent bunch of guys during my first two years at Edinburgh, when we were scattered to the four winds in our third year I was forced to find new flatmates – a stressful process. One woman that moved in, who shall remain anonymous, eventually accused the other three of us of systematically stealing the berries out of her Special K Berry Mix. We could also examine the time I was immediately exonerated from the theft of cuppa-soup and hot chocolate mix on the basis that they were the diet versions.

After hastily hiding my deluxe berry panning equipment for fear of false accusations, I concluded she was slightly bonkers. I eventually jumped ship from that flat mid-lease as the accusations, all unfounded, escalated – which was a rather expensive business and unfortunate given I liked the other flatmates (who also jumped ship).

During my one year in college accommodation here there were undoubtedly frustrations, such as when my washing rack was placed outdoors in a torrential downpour as it was a ‘fire hazard’ or living next to a shower that squealed like a skewered cat when flow began.

However, it was refreshing not to have to deal with a great number of the administrative nightmares living in private accommodation could be a gateway to. After spending two hours on the phone and sending several proof-of-status letters, I finally received council tax exemption from Edinburgh City Council. However, rather than Mr James Ross, the exemption was put in the name of Mother James Fox. Short of dressing up in religious drag, I had to repeat the process all over again.

All the above could be true of Cambridge, but here commercial student accommodation is even scarcer (given that the University owns everything central) and, therefore, pricier than the already steep Edinburgh. Even in the case of Edinburgh’s first-year halls, though, Cambridge (on average, at least) can do far better.

Although I have eaten some dodgy Hall food in my time, I am yet to be served a ‘Wolfdog’ – a staple of the Pollock Halls menu in 2004. I found out the hard way that these were hotdogs injected with warm cream cheese that squirted into your mouth. Picture the image and no colourful analogies are needed. It was a month before I went near the (prepaid in rent) canteen again.

Having dealt with private accommodation over 5 years living in Edinburgh, the college setup here initially felt stifling. However, when you get into the full weight of the workload that Cambridge inevitably comes with, the last thing you want to be dealing with is convincing British Gas that their rep read the meter wrong and you don’t owe them over £21,000 on this month’s bill.

That’s why I’ll be moving back into college as I embark upon what is hopefully the home straight of my PhD. College accommodation varies wildly in location and quality within the college, let alone between different ones, but make the most of it while you can. Chances are that you’ll miss it once it’s gone.

  • good ole'


  • worth it…

    …if you're from Homerton or Girton

    • Girtonian

      Actually, it is not really worth living out from my perspective. You just end up paying more in rent, still being miles away from the centre, and even farther away from College. Yes, Girton is 2.3 miles by road (only just over 10 minutes by bicycle) from GSM, but at least there is a library and a cafeteria in the same building as my room.

      • wow

        you must be some sort of beast if you can cycle 2.3 miles in 10 minutes

        • realist

          because 13mph is an unusually fast speed to cycle at?

          • Well…

            it is if you're as lazy as 'wow'…

          • Lycra Power

            Record: 7 minutes all in (though was quite lucky with traffic lights)

            • Girtonian

              you actually adhere to all the traffic lights? even the preposterous set at the NIAB development, at that side-road from whence at most one car enters/exits every hour (compare with Girton Corner, a very busy junction, which is not controlled by traffic lights, although admittedly there is a set a few meters up on Huntingdon Road to enable crossing; all the same, still really dangerous)?

      • What?

        How did you get 2.3 miles from 3.8??? |||||||||http://www.theaa.com/route-planner/index.jsp#from
        Definitely not 10 minutes. *Fitz* is 10 minutes away from GSM by bike. Girton is 10 minutes away by car.

        • it is 2.3 miles

          3.8 miles *by car* on account of pedestrianised city centre, meaning that you cannot go via Magdalene Bridge.

          by bike, 2.3 miles, see:

          And 10 minutes is not that impressive, given that a Girtonian living on the main College site will cycle at least 5 miles a day. As "realist" has pointed out, it equates to only ~13mph.

          As for Fitz, well that depends on whether you go via Huntingdon Road (which leads directly towards Magdalene Bridge) or Madingley Road (from the end of which you have to turn either north to Magdalene Bridge or south to Garrett Hostel Bridge to cross the river).

    • i agree

      as a homerton student, i would say that living out IS worth it, as a) college is fucking far away, and b) even if it were closer to town, the standard of accommodation at homerton alone is enough to justify living out

      • Girtonian

        The difference between Homerton and Girton in this respect is that there is relatively "affordable" private accommodation to the south and east of the city centre, whilst almost all the neighbourhoods in the vicinity of Huntingdon Road are dominated by very expensive houses. That means that, from a Girtonian perspective, living out would entail being on the other side of the centre to College (N.B. most of the side roads from Huntingdon Road are dead ends, rendering cutting across the outskirts impossible), and thus being miles away from *all* academic amenities available to us.

      • phuqwhatyouheard

        Living out costs at minimum 1 grand more and for quite a lot of people 1.5k; Cycling in is fucking annoying in rain/when bike breaks etc but the cost of living out is way too much. ps hall has got much better this year

    • Girtongrad

      I moved out and was super excited about escaping Girton-distance-related jokes, till I went to the Sidgewick site and it was FURTHER AWAY THAN EVER. Screw you west Cambridge.

    • errrr

      can we just re-iterate, girton is shit

      • actually…

        can we just re-iterate, Girton is great. We are out of town to keep the bloody tourists and the cretins from lesser Colleges well away from our sanctuary.

  • thanks

    for the story about edinburgh

    • thanks Judge

      I hope thats not sarcasm, as god forbid someone should have gone or lived somewhere outside the bubble before getting here should compare the two

      • bursting the bubble

        As another Edinburgh alum, Pollock food was shite (probably worse than Caius) and sharing flats sometimes really tough.

  • oh my daays…

    …jimmy, I want your babies

  • Caian

    wow, typical of Cantabrigians to be so against the concept of actually wanting to grow up in this place. Was it all Caians who voted no?

    • Another Caian

      Why go through the hassle of juggling work + contracts for accommodation when you don't have to?

      Besides, my friends who go for private accommodation in Cambridge get a MUCH easier job of it in comparison to what I've seen happen at other universities, since there are so many students looking for private accommodation they can easily just rip them all off, and with such a large number of complaints the ombudsman and council can rarely do anything to help them out.

      Why don't YOU grow up and just accept a good thing when you've got it? Because life is going kick you right in the teeth and all you'll be able to do is bitch, moan and whine about how grown up you are and how you don't understand why your monthly bills end up in the negative because you're getting shafted by gas, electricity, water companies and your landlord/lady.

  • Wrong desk

    I thought you were the film editor?

    • Douchebag Editor

      oh I forgot that having an editorial position made you incapable of writing anything else

    • Why not?

      The guy can write, and has some living outside the bubble, why not jump for one article?

  • Lance Hardwood


  • well…

    it is nice that your College provides accommodation for final-year PhD students! Some Colleges do not even provide for fourth-year *undergraduates*. Let us hope that the NW Cambridge development enables all students to live in University- or College-owned accommodation.

    • Sidney PhD

      He's from Sidney. They don't, he probably banked a year, balloted or something.

  • Hadrian's Wall

    "However, when you get into the full weight of the workload that Cambridge inevitably comes with, the last thing you want to be dealing with is convincing British Gas that their rep read the meter wrong and you don’t owe them over £21,000 on this month’s bill."

    Everyone rips off graduate students at Cambridge.

    Even your own union evidently thinks that you are all daft enough to cough up £75 a ticket (excluding dinner) for what is basically a night hanging around Cambridge Union bar.

  • MacFarlane

    I wish I had filmed my latest video in college accomodation!

    Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JldTIJZfxYQ

  • Bemarcloju

    Living out of college accommodation is worth it just to get away from the bloody bedders. I don't need you to empty my bin or vacuum thanks, I'm a fully grown human being (although I suspect Trinitarians have never done either themselves). Stop wasting the College's money that could be spend on actually teaching.

    • but…

      in term-time, when the going gets tough, I am glad that cleaning is one less thing about which to worry. Also, the fear of being seen lying in ensures that I am awake and fully washed and dressed by 09:00 every weekday without fail (yes, I know that 09:00 is still shamefully late).

  • cough up

    living out is a huge faff, but college accommodation at certain colleges is hideously expensive – particularly if your course requires you to stay all year.

  • your space

    accommodation in Cambridge for students is not a problem at all. There are always challenges that you need to face but a little bit of adjustment can solve it easily.

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