One of the distinctive qualities of Lancaster University is its campus. Located in Bailrigg, just outside of the city of Lancaster, it sits clustered atop a hill, the spire of its iconic Chaplaincy Centre peering down from above. Being located slightly outside of the city, the university ostensibly operates as its own little ecosystem – attached to Lancaster, yet distinct and separate: with shops, banks, eateries, parks and other facilities all of its own. This makes living on campus a very different experience to living off campus. I am in my second year of studying at Lancaster, and have experienced both – here I’ll go through the ups and downs of each and compare my experiences. Although most first-years choose to live on campus, as a student at Lancaster you’ll likely experience both in your time, and the choice to live off campus during the first year is there for those who wish.
Perhaps the most important thing to discuss is the accommodation. One of the great things to be offered by Lancaster’s campus accommodation is a huge degree of choice. There are a large range of accommodation types to select from, for all needs and budgets – some unique to certain colleges. These range from a standard room with a shared kitchen and bathroom, to en suite rooms, and even to townhouses – which operate more like a shared house than traditional university accommodation, with many people sharing the same large building and communal areas. When I lived on campus during my first year, I chose the Basic En Suite style accommodation – for me, this was what best balanced comfort and value for money. I lived at Bowland College, and had a room that was extremely spacious – especially compared to rooms of friends that I had seen at other universities – and shared a kitchen with three others.
Now I live in town, and my accommodation is very different. I share a four-storey house with seven other people. This is something I have greatly enjoyed. We are all friends, and having a house to yourself where you’re free to throw social events and do things together is very good. There’s always someone to chat to in the kitchen, people to study with, or someone to do something fun. However, the living situation in a such a large house working so well rests on us all knowing each other and getting along. This is one of the advantages of living on campus during your first year: you can get to know new people, and then, if you choose to live off campus in a much more communal environment, you can do so with people who you know and and get along with.
There are some parts of living off campus that take some getting used to, though: visits from cleaners are far less frequent, so its up to you and your housemates to keep communal areas in a liveable condition – and to remember when the bi-weekly bin collections are (trust me: this is easier said than done). Also, given that the university is located just outside of the city, you’ll need to get the bus to lectures. This isn’t difficult – with plenty of bus routes making their way to campus and running at very regular times, but it does mean you’ll have to leave slightly ahead of time for classes. This can be a challenge if, like myself, you’re not a morning person – no more dragging yourself out of bed at 8:59 for that 9:00am lecture.
The next thing to talk about is facilities. Living on campus, you have constant easy access to all of the university’s educational facilities. The library – which is open 24/7 – is just a short walk away. This was massively helpful for me when I needed to print something out in a hurry, get some last-minute work in for an essay in one of the study spaces, or meet with fellow students from my course for a group project. Getting to class is also easy – campus is quite contained and compact, and the Spine system means you’re never more than a short walk from where you need to be. There are also plenty of other, non-educational facilities on campus: college bars at every corner, grocery shops, banks and ATM’s, regular buses into town, and, most importantly, a Greggs for that pre-lecture pasty and coffee combo.
Living off campus, you lose some of that easy access to facilities. Buses mean its never too hard to get to where you need to be, but losing the ability to walk to the library or the Learning Zone in a matter of minutes was a bit of a loss. However, you do gain easy access to all that Lancaster has to offer: from shops and the city centre, to pubs and clubs, to cultural highlights like the castle, and transport hubs like the bus and train stations. Like campus, Lancaster itself is a rather compact place. Living near the centre, I’m never more than fifteen minutes from wherever I want to go. Being able to simply walk to the shops for food, or walk back from the Sugarhouse after a night out rather than wait for a bus was quite revolutionary for me. So, its about weighing up your priorities and what’s more important to you: a bigger house off campus, or more accommodation choice on campus? Living in a busy town, or living amongst other students and academics? Working in the many on-campus study spaces, or working in your own room? Round-the-clock access to the library, or round-the-clock access to kebab shops?
Both choices have their upsides and downsides, but for me, campus was certainly the right place to start. Lancaster’s campus was a warm, friendly, vibrant, and safe place to live; and being around so many other students and facilities was good for finding my feet and getting settled in. Saying that, now I have settled in, living off campus is great. The choice is yours, and I would recommend trying both to see which you prefer. Either way, you’ll have lots to do, be around lots of good people, and you’ll never be far from places to go and things to see.