Securing accommodation in a foreign country as expected seems worrying. However, after a week or two after arrival, you will realize it isn’t such a problem. People you meet will help you settle. If you are attending the second semester, you are likely to come across other exchange students who have been there from the start and may be willing to help as they understand your situation.
Before you leave for abroad, you may need accommodation for first semester (If you are away for second semester only, like in my case). Whatever you do, don’t rush into making decisions. I was fortunate enough to live with a friend who had an extra room available. In the summer of 2015, I was close to signing a tenancy agreement with a landlord after verbally agreeing that I can move out in December. I sent the agreement to Manchester Student Homes and they advised against signing it for reasons they explained. I did try to get a house throughout the year but landlords were reluctant to provide accommodation for 3-4 months. Some university accommodation like Whitworth Park provide one semester accommodation but since they prioritise new international students, you will have to rely on luck which I didn’t have on this occasion.
As mentioned earlier, I attended the second semester of second year at UMass Amherst. They provide accommodation at first come, first served basis. I received an email around November 2015, instructing me to book a housing appointment if I required accommodation. I did, and once the booking time period was done, I received an email at the beginning of December stating my house selection period as the last week of December. I selected my accommodation on December 24th.
FYI, they don’t allow students to arrive before the stated date due to staffing. However, if you wish to arrive early, you can check out the UMass hotel or The University Lodge both of which are within a walking distance to the university.
At UMass the university halls are better in comparison to private accommodation as they provide you with benefits such as university atmosphere, close access to classes and walking distance to the dining halls. The halls are secured by student security personnel and you need to provide your student ID to be allowed in after 8pm. To invite a friend after 8pm, you need to sign them in. At times, you are not allowed to do so. I will let you find out when once you arrive there.
I stumbled across a UMass student on Facebook who had some great advise. He advised me to apply to Southwest Residential area and in particular JQA, where he was living. It was the right call as the accommodation was close to sporting facilities, free university gym, close to two of the best dining halls within campus, the free university bus has a stop close-by and walking distance to most classes. On top of that, I had a roommate who was very helpful and adventurous which was a good thing as I got the opportunity to go on road trips to New York and Florida with him and friends.
Foreground: Students heading to classes, Background: Some students heading back to Southwest Residential area
More about JQA? It is a 22-storey building. It has male and female bathrooms on alternating floors. Laundry, kitchen and general garbage bins are stationed on certain floors. There is one large common room on each floor. Each floor has a number of single and shared rooms and is run by a student Residence assistance (RA). The RAs are great people until you cross their path. I had a wonderful RA who was helpful and was in good relation with the over twenty students on her floor.
The downside to living in JQA and almost all other halls is that you have to leave your accommodation so fast when university closes. At Manchester, you are given at least two weeks to leave university halls, at UMass you have to leave on a Friday evening at most times before 8pm. I had an exam in every of my last three days and had to leave by 8pm when my last exam ended at 5pm. It’s all about being ready at all times. Don’t worry they do tell you in advance. The same thing happens during Spring break. We had to leave our halls and I went to Florida with friends so I didn’t have to worry about accommodation. If you think that you will need accommodation during spring break then you need to apply for Brett (Central Area), Cashin (Sylvan Area), Johnson (Northeast Area) and Prince (Southwest Area). These are a bit more expensive but worth it if you need to stay at UMass for Spring Break. But who wants to stay at university with the cold weather during Spring break?
Orchard Hill residential area is for those who want to exercise daily. The hill is so steep that rumour has it that the University is planning a ski lift … (http://dailycollegian.com/2016/04/01/umass-announces-plans-for-ski-lift-in-orchard-hill-residential-area/). Apply here to hit two birds with one stone. Get fit while studying.
I may be biased but you will find out that Southwest is the liveliest of all residential areas.
Check room prices > https://www.umass.edu/living/assign/rates