First year uni: Share house vs living on campus

Aoife Nicklason and Alice Foster chose different options for moving out of home in first year university. Aoife moved into a campus residential college, while Alice moved into a share house. Here’s what they had to say.


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Aoife Nicklason lived in a residential college during her first year

Easing the transition: Life in a residential college

“They do babysit you a bit in college,” says Aoife Nicklason of her experience as a first year student at Trinity College, a student residence on the grounds of Melbourne University’s leafy Parkville campus.

“You get your meals made for you – it was pretty easy for me,” she says.

Trinity College is what’s called a ‘catered college’. This means not having to worry about things like grocery shopping and cooking – three meals a day are served in the college’s dining room.

Added bonuses are access to the college library, as well as numerous social, cultural, sporting and musical activities. There is also academic support in the form of tutors and mentors.

“They get really good tutors who help you out with your essays. I used them a lot – it was really helpful,” says Aoife, who averaged H2As (75% and 80%) during her time at college.

Lodgings takes the form of a single bedroom/study in a building with around 300 other students. The college had an international focus, meaning she soon made friends with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“Coming from Tasmania, which is super monocultural, [meeting such a diverse mix of people] was pretty exciting. It’s easy to make friends at college because you’re living together, eating together, doing everything together – it happens very easily and pretty quickly as well.”

But College life doesn’t come cheap at $50 per day for 24 weeks a year. Luckily for Aoife, she had parents who were able to foot the bill.

(Residential colleges often offer scholarships that will cover some or all of one’s living expenses. It’s worth looking into – scour college websites for more information and don’t hesitate to give them a call.)

Despite having an overwhelmingly positive experience, Aoife says there are downsides to life at college – a lack of privacy, for one. Hundreds of students living in close proximity means it’s easy to get caught in the machinations of the gossip mill.

“I felt quite disappointed in myself – I’ve never been a super gossipy person until I went to college and suddenly I found myself quite concerned with what other people are doing and what they’re up to,” she says. “I didn’t really realise it until I stepped away.”

Many collegians refer to college life as an insular “bubble”, far removed from the real world, says Aoife.

She’s now had the experience of going on exchange to Canada, where she lived in a campus co-op of 14 students. Residents of the co-op largely fended for themselves, including growing their own food.

“It’s changed the way I’ve thought about being at college,” she says. “The more I think about it, college is a good thing to do for about a year but you don’t want to stay too long. It can stunt you and you start thinking in the same way as everyone else your living with.”


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Alice Foster lived in a share house while making the transition to first year uni.

Diving in the deep end: Life in a first year share house

From the age of 13, Alice Foster had the ambition of moving to Melbourne to study, but knew it would be a financial challenge. Form the age of 14 and 6 months she acquired a part time job and began saving.

“I had no social life in high school – I just worked and studied. By year 12 I still thought I was mid range – I had a great work ethic but I didn’t’ think I was very clever.”

To her surprise she achieved an ATAR of 99.5 and was accepted into a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. This left one rather major problem: where to live. Without the financial means to afford the cost of living in a residential college, Alice commenced the arduous task of searching for a share house to live in during her first year.

“I was really lucky. I found a house in Gardenvale – it was this big beautiful Edwardian house that had been recently renovated and there were these five girls who all new each other from Byron Bay and they needed a sixth. I loved it. It was the first house I looked at and they let me move in.”

With the assistance of a generous uncle, she paid a visit or two to Ikea and kitted out her new quarters with the required furnishings, but needed a part time job to pay for rent, bills and food during the year.

She was able to obtain a part-time position in Melbourne with the same retail store she worked at in Tasmania. This, combined with youth allowance, would pay for most of her rent and living expenses, with the remainder kicked in by her mother.

But the challenges of working part time as well as making the transition to a new learning environment started taking its toll during her first semester.

“My grades suffered because university is taught totally different to high school. I wasn’t really prepared for that,” says Alice.

“I got a bit lost under the readings – I’d never had to read that much at school. I didn’t have time to read. I was in this new city and I was working my arse off. In my second semester I made time to read and my grades improved.”

After a while, the 14 kilometer commute from Gardenvale into town took its toll after a long summer of shifts that ended at 11.30pm. She moved into a new share house close to university which enabled her to walk to uni every day.

“It was just happy, happy times,” she says. That was before she left for a three week holiday  only to return and find her room infested with mould. It was the result of rising damp due to the house not being built properly.

“I cleaned it away but the next day I was vomiting – I was very ill. I could barely move and it just made me so sick I had to move out.”

Alice and her housemates found a place to live in Ascot Vale. But after such a challenging year, does she wish she’s had the means to live in the more sheltered world of the residential college?

“I reckon I’m better off.  College kids are put in a bubble,” she says.

“I know they have a lot of great resources and they have free food which is the best thing ever.  They also get to be in musicals which I’m really jealous of. But I was definitely at a time in my life when I was ready to be an adult and ready to be independent.

“[Living off campus] made me grow up a lot more whereas if I’d gone to college I think I’d learn a lot less bout life and living. I learned so much about life and myself and what I like and what I should do and what I should make important and give value to and how to live.  It was difficult, but I wouldn’t’ trade those lessons.”

Would she recommend others follow in her footsteps?

“It takes a certain type of person. It takes a bit of stupidity but also a bit of drive and ambition. It’s not the ideal situation – something has to go whether it’s your social life, grades or how much you work. It’s about maintaining that balance – it’s a life skill and I’ve had exposure to it quite early so I feel very under control now.”

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Alice’s top five tips for living in a share house

  1. Don’t get romantically involved with housemates. “It was not clever… very very dumb. Don’t ever get involved with a housemate or live with them again. Ever!”
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. “If someone’s let out a knife and you could just put it in the dishwasher, just put it in the dishwasher instead of taking it up with them.”
  3. Make sure there is at least one organised person among you. “Having someone in your group that is reliable and can organise bills is invaluable.”
  4. Spread your study load. “I did a winter subject and then three subjects during the regular semester and I did really really well. It allowed me to apply more focus.”
  5. Create a spacious study space. “Buy a huge desk if you can fit it in. I need a lot of space because I have a lot of big ideas.  When I’m cramped in on a small desk I hate it, I just cant work, especially if I’ve got three essays going in my head.”