As you are most likely to know, I am currently on my year abroad in Melbourne, Australia. Recently, I have had to think about where I am going to live at the University of Essex when I return to England for my final year. The options are to live on campus, rent a house or flat with friends, or house share with others.
My preference is to live on campus, as it is close by to everything and bills are included with the price, which I feel makes things a lot easier. I applied for accommodation on campus in August 2015 and have recently been emailed saying that I have a room, which I am very happy about! In the application I had to rank the campus accommodation from what I would like the most to the least and I find out exactly what accommodation I am offered around March/April time.
When applying for accommodation on campus after your year abroad, you are put next in line after the first year students joining the campus, which I think is a great opportunity, although it is not guaranteed.
However, if you have friends also studying abroad at the same time, then you can organise a house or flat together. An easy way to do this with no extra fees would be through Student Lets. They are a student estate agents on campus who are very helpful and you can tell them exactly what you are looking for e.g. number of bedrooms, bills included or not included, furnished or unfurnished and they will do their best to find a property for you. If you plan on living with friends who are still studying at the University of Essex, then maybe they would be happy to look around the accommodation for you with Student Lets and let you know what it is like so you can make a decision. So, if you do not want to risk not getting a place on campus then this would probably be the best choice.
Here is the Student Lets web link if you are interested! https://www.essex.ac.uk/accommodation/support/student_lets.aspx
I would recommend looking into accommodation for when you return as soon as possible, in order to get what you are looking for. Usually houses and flats become available for the next uni term around January time, so just keep checking with Student Lets when they are available! If you plan to apply on campus then make sure you meet the deadline and rank what order you would like to live in each on campus accommodation type.
Good luck with any applications! 🙂