How the hall did I get this hall?

Photo: University of St Andrews

When studying at a place over half a millennium old, it seems imperative to live in one of the buildings steeped in the University’s history. This is why, every year, there is an overwhelming demand for accommodation in the old, beautiful St Andrews halls such as St Salvator’s, University Hall, McIntosh or St Regulus. In addition to their catered lifestyle, the buildings’ locations are prime. Of course each hall has its pros and cons, but it all boils down to personal preference.

The University offers five different types of accommodation preferences: standard catered, standard self-catered, en-suite catered, en-suite self-catered, or Andrew Melville. The accommodation webpage asks that parents “ensure [their] son/daughter is happy with all four of their choices.”

With only five total residence options, you essentially have to list all possibilities save one as your “preferences,” which essentially precludes the necessary element of choice. It is rather difficult to be satisfied with all options, given their striking differences. The accommodation office, nonetheless, is not prepared to amend an offer. Furthermore, students who reject their offer are left to find housing on their own in the St Andrews real estate bubble. From my experience, it seems as though residence allocations are the luck of the draw.

Originally, my first preference was standard catered. For months I thought I would be living in one of the gorgeous, centrally-located halls. In order to increase my chances of getting one of those halls, second and third years told me to mark standard catered as my first preference and be willing to share a room. I filled out the personality form generically: considering the international reputation of the university, I expected a suitable roommate that would expand my cultural awareness. To my great surprise, accommodation services allocated me a self-catered en-suite hall and my roommate hails from just outside my hometown.

How could I have ended up in a living situation so radically different from my first preference? I was not alone in questioning the accommodation process – multiple people posted on my hall’s Facebook page asking how to change their accommodation. They too were given one of their last preferences. Unfortunately, there is no other way to change your offer once you have it, unless you describe a “personal situation” that requires allocation of your first hall preference.

Why was I, and many others like me, given a hall not of my choosing? Perhaps it was due to randomisation, distinction between acceptance offers, angry parent e-mails or politics. I fully understand that there are a limited number of rooms in each hall.

Obviously, when the available space is full, no other students can fit. With that said, how is it decided which students receive their first preference versus their third, or fourth?

Why are the standard catered halls stuffed with Americans, with a large majority of international students relegated to halls on the margins of town, paying far more for en-suite accommodation they do not want? Maybe there is something us student outsiders don’t know about accommodation allocations.

My investigation of this longstanding question proved fruitless. The accommodation officials, smiling nervously and averting their eyes, said they were unsure as to what information they could provide to me. There was an air of anxiety in the room, the vestigial tension from years of student dissatisfaction. Prior to even telling me that they could not supply any additional information, accommodation services had to consult their colleagues to discuss what could leave their doors – transparent as ever. When I asked what they would tell a prospective student, they directed me to the accommodation website’s FAQ page, residence explanations and the prospective student page.

What is St Andrews’ accommodation hiding? If all is done honestly, and accommodation is allocated absolutely at random, why will the accommodation office not release information about its practices?

After speaking to a number of students who received their second or third preference, I’m quite skeptical of their methodology. ‘Random’ doesn’t seem to fit the bill, considering the homogeneous demographic of most standard catered halls.

Things don’t match up. Will St Andrews’ accommodation rise to fix them?


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