Living with a host family is the most affordable option
College accommodation offices and students' unions are the best sources of advice, writes Katherine Donnelly
For many students, the transition to college also means a move away from home and, offer in hand, accommodation becomes the big issue if it hasn't already been sorted.
Key considerations for parents whose children are taking that step towards independent living are affordability and security.
Living on campus is the most convenient, and all universities offer this although in many cases it will already be booked out, with waiting lists.
It is worth checking with the individual university to see what may be possible at this stage.
As has been well publicised, costs for university accommodation have risen this year by up to 11.5pc, but for that, students can look forward to good living conditions and the convenience and security that goes with being on campus.
The private rented market for students has changed over the years. Traditional bedsits have disappeared but there is a lot of new purpose-built student accommodation in the main cities and towns, although rents in this market tend to be relatively high.
By far the most affordable option is living with a host family in what has traditionally been referred to as "digs". There has been a big renaissance in this sector in recent years and there is plenty of availability.
The best sources of information on all options, including living with a host family, are the college accommodation offices or the students' union services, which have databases and can also offer lots of advice on potential pitfalls.
TU Dublin, which has campuses in Grangegorman, Tallaght and Blanchardstown, is particularly well-versed in the student accommodation scene in Dublin. It does not yet have its own purpose-built residences, so it relies heavily on the open market to house its students.
Dr Brian Gormley, who is Head of Campus Life, TU Dublin, advises anyone who may be moving to the capital that there are affordable options available.
He is referring, in particular, to "digs" and says students staying with a host family can save up to €378 per month, when compared with private rents.
Rent in host family accommodation is typically paid for 25-30 weeks over the academic year, whereas in purpose-built student accommodation the rent is typically paid for 40 weeks.
Another big attraction is that there are often no hidden extras, such as utility bills, and many hosts also provide optional extras such as a light breakfast and evening meal. In addition, students can opt for a five-day rental agreement if they plan to return home for the weekend.
TU Dublin conducts an annual survey of student living expenses and it puts the cost of staying with a host family at an average of €3,780 for the academic year.
"For parents, it also comes with the peace of mind that their son or daughter is living in secure housing with a family," he says.
According to Dr Gormley, last October, when the academic year was already a few weeks old, TU Dublin still had 300 host family spaces available on its database. Dr Gormley says: "Of all the accommodation options, this is the most economical, and also offers the most flexibility."
Some students find it more cost-effective to commute, even long distances, than pay the rental prices in the bigger cities, and there is evidence of that in recent years.
However, apart from the toll that lengthy commutes can take on the individual, students may also pay a cost in terms of not immersing themselves fully in all aspects of college life, including developing the friendships that are forged outside the lecture hall.