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Choosing student halls: catered versus non-catered

ByElla Olszowska

Feb 1, 2018

For students, choosing university halls is, arguably, one of the most important decisions at university, as it  can establish your friend base for the rest next few years.

Whilst your first year accommodation is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of your time at university (there are plenty of other opportunities to meet people), it does help to be in a place with like-minded souls in the daunting first few months at university.

The benefits of choosing the right first year accommodation are numerous. As well as helping you find friends, it is a key part of the dreaded flatmate hunt for the coming year.

Luckily for us, Edinburgh is a bit more laid back than other universities with the release of student flats, which don’t tend to appear in letting agencies until February or March. This gives you a bit more time to firmly work out if the people in your halls are definitely who you want to live with.

When it comes to university accommodation, one of the first things you should ask yourself is whether you want to be catered or self-catered. For some people, this might be an easy decision, as your financial situation, dietary requirements, etc. may already eliminate one of these options.

However, for everyone else it can often be a struggle to decide between the two, and even once you have, which particular halls to choose. But not to worry, The Student has rounded up some pros and cons of catered and self-catered accommodation to aid your decision.

Catered: Pros

Your meals are cooked for you. Often one of the biggest issues for first-year students is not knowing how to cook, but with catered halls this problem is eliminated.

More sociable. Pollock is home of the University of Edinburgh’s catered accommodation. Advantageously, all of the halls there eat in one communal area, meaning there’s no shying away from making friends.


Food is often sub-par. If you are used to industrial-sized canteen food, then this will probably not bother you, but if quality is an issue for you, you might want to reconsider –  the closest thing you will get to smoked salmon is a fish finger.

Expense. Catered halls can often be unnecessarily pricey and not for good reason. If you don’t like the dinner one evening, there’s little option but to starve and then ruminate about the £5 you just lost on a meal consisting of a few cucumber slices.

Self-catered: Pros

Timing. Catered halls are set to a very regimented timetable, which means there’s no chance for a lie-in if you want to get to breakfast. If you like your sleep, self-catered is probably the better option, as it is the only place where breakfast at 3pm is acceptable.

Get more for your money. Self-catered accommodation is great if you’re on a strict budget, as you only pay for food you will actually use, leaving more to spend on nights out. Line up the shots!


Isolation. Unless you’re really outgoing, self-catered can often be quite an isolating experience as, unlike catered halls, there aren’t very many  communal areas. This is a risky option for the more reserved among us.

Distance. The catered halls at Edinburgh tend to be a bit more dotted around. This means taking the risk that whilst you may only be a five minute walk to lectures, you could also end up having a 30 minute morning commute from Leith!

Of course, everyone is different, and so there’s always the possibility that while one type of accommodation may not work for you, it may really suit someone else. So don’t be deterred by what people say. If you think it’s the best option for you, go for it!

Image: Jon Vrushi via Flickr

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