Living in Student Accommodation: 5 things you need to know

Getting a place at a university in North America is an important step in life. 

Where you live during your studies can make quite a difference to how you settle in when you first arrive.  If you’ve applied for a place in a student residence you’ll be living on or close to campus.  How you choose to engage with university living can affect your studies.  Try and make the most of the opportunities afforded to you by being in university residence and living close to or on campus.

Here are some things to be aware of when living in student accommodation:

  1. Resident Advisor or Resident Assistant (RA) – many college or universities operate an RA program in their halls of residence.   RA’s are peer leaders, trained in many aspects of living in a college residence.  These areas often include safety training and counseling and can offer support, help and guidance with institutional and academic questions.
  2. Rules and regulations – it’s important to read and understand your residence contract and be aware of any residence rules and notice periods as well as accommodation options for future terms and their associated application deadlines.  Most institutions have a Student Handbook or Residence Guide.  Be sure to read through it and ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about.  Breaking the rules often has consequences so be sure you know what the rules are and how they apply to you.
  3.  Meal plans – most colleges and universities have food outlets, restaurants and snack bars on campus and meal plans are often available.  These are often a very good way to make savings on food purchased on campus and can be an economical way to eat across the semester.  There are usually various options available including healthy choices and options that cater for specific dietary needs. 
  4. People and culture – be respectful of other people, cultures and ways of living.  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.  Be mindful of noise, cleanliness and always endeavor to display appropriate behavior.  You’re there to study as well as to have fun so getting the balance right, for your and for others, is important when living in a shared space.
  5.  Clubs and societies – try to find out from campus representatives what clubs, societies and associations are available to join, both at the college itself and locally too.  Choose from sporting options, debating societies, hobbies, culture and environmentally aware groups. Participate in existing campus activities or suggest new ones. Check notice boards and websites for details.

Being able to live on campus gives you a unique opportunity and a great base from which to build your student life and college experience.  Try and make the most of this time to make friendships and familiarize yourself with campus facilities and get to know what’s available to you.

Making the most of student life in America

Accommodation options vary by location, school, college, university but there are some basic elements that should always be considered if you are to make the most of your university experience.

Campus residence, homestay or private accommodation options will all have their own ‘rules’ and contracts.  It’s important to read and understand your residence contract and be aware of any residence rules and conduct/safety regulations.

Whether you’re in a campus residence, living with a host family or staying in a privately owned residence it’s important to be respectful of other people, cultures and ways of living.  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself and be mindful of noise, cleanliness and always endeavor to display appropriate behavior.

Explore your campus and get to know what’s available to students across campus and in the local community.  Most universities in the USA and Canada have campus maps available.  Make sure you get one when you first arrive, try to become familiar with the layout on campus and find out where you should go to or who to ask if you have any questions or concerns.  There’s always someone to ask, so don’t worry if you do have questions.  Everyone does. 

Find out what sports facilities, clubs and societies are available for students to join, whether on-campus or locally.  These are a great way to meet other people and make new friends and will help you to settle into a new place.  If you had hobbies or interests in your home country, see if something similar is available nearby.  If it isn’t, why not suggest it or be part of starting up a new club or society?

Homesickness can be a concern for lots of students (and their parents) when they move to a new school or location.  There are always people you can talk to about this, whether in your center, on your campus as well as other students.  Talking it through can help.  You’re not alone and if you ask for help or guidance there’ll be someone who’ll be willing to try and help you through as you settle into a new place.

Getting used to different types of food can be a challenge when you move to a new place or a new country.  Find out what’s available on campus and what food options are available nearby (restaurants, grocery stores, other food outlets).  When staying in homestay accommodation you should eat with the family and try and eat the same foods as the family.  However, talk to them about the foods you can eat, special dietary concerns and be sure to let them know about allergies etc. so that they are aware of any problems you may be having.  If you’re living in a private residence and catering for yourself find out what options are available to you for buying groceries as you may be able to find foods you’re used to as well as trying other food types and local options.

As with many things in life, whatever you put into an experience has a direct impact on what you get out of it.  Try and make the most of the opportunities and options available to you on campus and in the local community.  Ask questions, participate in activities, talk to others, share your experiences, ask for help and be aware of the facilities available to you.  All of these will help you to settle in and make your transition into this exciting life and educational opportunity.

How to prepare personal statements in the application process

When preparing a personal statement to support an application to a school, college or university it’s important to bear in mind a few key points:

  • The selector or admissions committee members will most likely be reviewing a whole pile of applications at any one time
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of the personal statement - the key pieces of any application would generally be regarded as the personal statement, academic results and the reference
  • Selectors can often take as much time reviewing a personal statement as the rest of the application details combined
  • The personal statement is your chance to represent yourself in the absence of a personal interview 
  • Your personal statement should represent you and what you’ve done - give the selector or admissions committee a sense of who you are

It may help to think of your personal statement as your five minute opportunity to grab someone’s attention.  It’s your chance to ‘stand out from the crowd’ if you like.  To follow is a list of “dos” and “don’ts”, which may help when planning and writing your personal statement:

 Do

  • Think first, write later.  Allow enough time for a first draft and a rewrite if necessary 
  • Make the first paragraph your ‘headline grabber’.  It should be interesting and about you, it needs to stand out 
  • Keep to the word limit, if one is specified 
  • Include interesting facts about yourself and what you’re interested in.  For example, are you artistic or creative, have you travelled, have you ever lived outside your home country, where do you see the degree or course you’re applying for taking you (career path, family business, long term goals etc) 
  • Check your spelling 
  • Avoid the use of jargon and acronyms (not everyone is familiar with the abbreviations used in your previous school, and to a person reading many statements, having to figure out what you mean can be annoying and work against you) – spell it out in full 
  • Use a Thesaurus to show an expanded vocabulary, if necessary, but don’t overdo it
  • Try to make your personal statement unique and creative rather than ‘cute’ and ‘clever’.  Remember, there’s a fine line between being interesting and being obscure and ‘off the wall’ 

Don’t

  • Start every paragraph with ‘I’.  Whilst it’s fine to write in the first person, the statement is about you after all, starting every paragraph with ‘I’ should be avoided 
  • Write a personal statement that continues into multiple pages.  Keep it to 1 to 2 pages, maximum 
  • Repeat information that is already in your application package. Your personal statement doesn’t have to be all about the degree/course subject you’re aiming for – tie it in, of course, but the make the personal statement about you 
  • Repeat all the personal details that are in your application form, the selector or admissions committee has this information already

Writing a personal statement may seem an intimidating task at first glance but giving it some thought before you start, making a list of the key points about yourself that you really want to get across and keeping in mind that this is an opportunity for you to best present yourself should make it easier to complete.

Learn how to apply to Universities in the USA and Canada.