If you have an opportunity to stay at home and commute to school, it’s definitely something you should consider. But before you jump right on it, you should take the time to carefully think if it’s really worth your time and money commuting to college. For example, did you know that you will likely receive less financial aid if you are living with family members? For more pros and cons and whether commuting to college is worth it, read on.
What is a Commuter School?
First of all, let’s talk about commuter schools — a very different thing from commuting to a traditional college. Commuter schools could be community colleges, schools with evening courses, or universities in highly residential areas where people will likely want to stay with family in the area. These could also be smaller colleges, or branches of larger universities.
At a commuter school, most or all of the students will be commuting to classes. The grounds likely have no residential facilities and will only have buildings for classes, extracurriculars, and libraries. If you are looking for a degree with in-person classes, going to a commuter school might be worth it.
But remember that you will not get a typical college experience at a commuter school. Usually commuters live with parents or other relatives and travel to school, but you also may find an affordable place to live that is farther away and need to commute to class.
Pros and Cons of Commuting to College
There is much more to think about than the obvious pros and cons such as college experience and money.
Pros of Commuting to College
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1. Free Housing
The clearest pro for commuting to college is the money saved. On-campus dorms in the U.S. cost an average of $10,440 for the year — a hefty price if you are also paying high tuition fees. If you are staying with family, you will likely pay much less (if anything at all).
Depending on where you live, you will likely be able to find housing within driving distance for much less if you decide to commute.
2. Comfort and Family
If you are choosing to stay at home or in your neighborhood, you will be staying in a place you are already comfortable in. It is a place where you already know how to be successful and do well in school. There are much less uncertainties, and you likely won’t get as much pre-college jitters, or struggle with a freshman adjustment phase.
Living at home and commuting to college also means you will be close to your family and friends as well. This means you’ll stay in better touch with family and be there to take care of family members in need. It is a great option for people with very tight-knit families.
3. Free Food and Laundry
Living at home means all the free stuff you were used to in high school gets to continue — no need to include food, laundry, or bills in your student budget.
While, yes, you will be living with your family which may mean less privacy from them, you will at least get your own privacy when it comes to space. Other college students need to share bedrooms or housing with roommates. But at home, you get your own space and your own peace and quiet when you want to study.
5. Get Involved in the Community
When you are commuting to college, you won’t be bound by the area around your college. Students who live on campus are very likely to only stay on or around campus during their studies. But living off campus means you may be more open and exposed to extracurriculars outside of campus activities.
You are more likely than your on-campus peers to get to know how to be involved in a community, and will have an easier time with this after you graduate. You won’t be limited to on-campus jobs, so you can choose areas with better pay and opportunity.
Finally, you’ll end up getting really good at your navigation skills, be it by car, bike, or public transit.
6. Getting Ahead
If you take evening classes at a commuter college in order to work, you have the opportunity to get a headstart in gaining work experience in your career, compared to students who stayed on campus and focused all their energy on college-based activities.
7. Social Life Opportunities
Students who live off campus can still attend on-campus and after-class events just the same as on-campus students can. Living on campus might make it easier to attend these events, but commuters can still have a lively social life as well.
Commuting to school opens your eyes to social opportunities outside of your college. You can meet new people by volunteering, joining special off-campus events that interest you, and from your off-campus job as well.
Reasons Why Being a Commuter Student is Awesome!
As a commuter student, you have much more control over your experience in college.
Other fun reasons to be a commuter student are:
1. Choose How Much Time to Spend With Friends
You don’t live on campus which means no one can suddenly interrupt your study time, nap schedule, or other aspect of your day. You get to choose exactly when you disconnect and when to participate in social affairs.
2. Commuting Forces You to Be Productive
Your commute is a block of time that you have with no distractions to use to your advantage. If you are driving, you can use that time to listen to audio textbooks or recorded lectures. If you take public transportation, you can be productive by watching lectures or reading. You can even get some assignments done if you have the space to do so!
3. School-Life Balance
There is such a thing as school-life balance, and as a commuter, it is much easier. You can decide that when you return to your home, you are “off school,” the same way that people are “off work” when they get home. When living on campus, this is nearly impossible to do because you are surrounded with school reminders.
4. Catch Up on Shows (Guilt Free!)
If you have a hard time concentrating during your commute, or if your ride is a bit bumpy, you can use this time to catch up on favorite podcasts, sports radio shows, or tv shows. You can even feel good about it — it means you’ll be doing something more productive later instead of catching up on your shows.
How to Be Productive as a Commuter Student
It’s not hard to be productive as a commuter student. You just need to look at it the right way, and manage your time to your benefit! Instead of looking at your commute as time out of your busy day, see it as a time to get things done. Use your commute to study, read, listen to podcasts, watch shows, meditate, catch up with friends, or make goals and plan your day.
Tips for Making Friends as a Commuter Student
Join Intramurals and Social Organizations
There are so many ways to make friends as a commuter student. Yes, it is true that it might require a bit more effort for commuter students than on-campus students, but it is far from impossible.
Try joining fitness classes at the school gym, or join an intramural sports team. There are plenty of student activities to get involved with in college where you can develop your interests and make friends at the same time. Your school should have a database of all clubs and student organizations. Pick a few to get involved with and see what sticks!
Sleep Over at Friends’ Places
If this doesn’t become a daily habit, this is a great way to spend extended time with friends. While some on-campus housing won’t allow for sleepovers, some do, and all students living in their own apartments near campus can have guests over. Try to plan sleepovers for Friday or Sunday nights to get in one less commute.
Plan Your Weekends
Don’t just go over to your friends’ places near campus. Invite them to your place! Check out fun activities in your area, or in the direction of your area that you and your college friends can do together.
Making Your Commuter Life Work
1. Commuter Status:
Check if you can apply and if you are eligible before you make any decisions.
2. Parking Pass:
While it might be tempting to just park wherever you can to save money, a parking pass will be worthwhile in the end. It will save you time and stress, and potential parking fines!
3. Find Commuter-Friendly Parking Spots Close to Your Classes:
If you really want to save on a parking pass, or if you know that your class is far from your school’s parking lot, spend some extra time cruising around to check out parking spots close to your classes.
4. Plan Morning Travel Time:
Be smart about your commute. Do a few trial runs leading up to your classes at each hour they will be at.
5. Be Prepared for An Emergency:
Make a fool-proof plan for every emergency you can think of so you are never stuck in a bad situation.
6. Have Snacks at Hand:
Keep snacks or drinks in your car for unexpectedly long commutes, or if you have to rush to class with no time to stop for food.
7. Find Out If You Don’t Need to Purchase Food:
Some colleges have mandatory meal plans for students, but commuters may be able to opt out or get a lesser plan.
Check with your commuter organization if they have a list of peers to reach out to about carpooling. You’ll be able to take the carpool lane, save money, and make friends.
Get Involved in Campus Life
This is an easy and surefire way to get better involved in campus life and activities. At orientation and at open houses during the first week of (or week leading up to) fall semester, there are tons of special activities explaining how you can get involved on campus.
Work on Campus:
If you choose to work on campus, you’ll easily be more involved in the ongoings of your school. You’ll make on-campus friends, spend more time on campus, and get to know one area of campus particularly well.
Hang Out at School:
Spend some extra time at school, whether it means having a meal or two on campus, or studying at the library or cafe. Any extra moment on campus means more time you can meet people and get to know your school. Try to schedule these times so you can avoid traffic for an added benefit to you.
Take Advantage of Your Time To:
1. Save Money
Commuting to college means saving money. Whether it means living rent-free at home, or saving on rent to live somewhere less expensive, you will save money in some ways by commuting to school.
2. Plan for the Future
Think about your opportunity cost to live on campus. Is it really worth the money? If you are able to save money now by living off campus, that means you might be able to buy a house earlier, go traveling, or invest in a business.
3. Foster Healthier Habits
Commuting as a student means you will be an expert by the time you have to commute for work. Use this time to create healthy habits for yourself such as packing your own food, waking up early, and fitting in time to work out.
It might not sound hard, but making yourself a priority is a challenge. Take advantage of your time as a commuter to make your life ‘you-focused.’ Think about what you really want out of your life, create your goals, and make plans to achieve them.
If you are thinking of commuting to college, don’t be surprised when you see your classmates on the road. A study done in 2012 by the University of Connecticut found that 51% of students reported that they commute to school.
You’ll be saving money as a commuter student, if you are able to live for free at home. According to NCES, the National Center for Education Statistics, it is expected that on-campus students paying in-state tuition spend $11,000 per semester on room and board. That’s no small number for commuter students to be saving!
What’s it Like Living at Home During College: The Cons
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Living at home while in college means you don’t get as much opportunity to experience college life. You will continue to be immersed in the same situations you always have been and won’t absorb as much culture as on-campus students, meaning you won’t get the full college experience if you are commuting to college. Even if you hang around and socialize after class or attend parties, it won’t be the same experience that students living on or around campus get.
Financial aid goes down, transportation costs go up. First of all, you are eligible for much less aid if you are living at home, so check thoroughly before you make a decision. Also, if you are using a car for transport, add up your monthly car payments, gas, insurance, and parking costs and double check that it doesn’t add up to the same as an apartment or dorm. (It might!)
3. Less Reliable Transportation
When commuting to college, you aren’t in control. Traffic, construction, accidents, late transportation, parking issues, and bad weather can all come into play when you are trying to get to class on time. Commuting means you are more likely to be late or miss opportunities that students living on campus may have.
This can be a pro or a con. The con is that your time spent commuting to school is less time you have to study, socialize or work. The pro is you have built in time to read or listen to podcasts and audiobooks, or take naps on public transport. But your schedule may also revolve around traffic times — you’ll be less free to create your own schedule if you are trying to avoid the roads for up to 4 hours a day.
5. Commuting to a Non-Commuter School
If most students live on campus, you may feel left out compared to your peers. Teachers and staff will often worry about commuter students — if they are not motivated, they may be more likely to miss classes and feel less connected to professors, peers, and the school itself.
What to Consider When Choosing to Commute
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Consider all of the pros and cons listed above. Starting with money, you should calculate the costs of both commuting to college and your alternative, whether it is living in an apartment or staying with family. Make sure to keep financial aid in mind.
Think about how you would spend your time commuting, or spend your extra time if you didn’t have to commute to college.
Before you make a decision, check out potential traffic problems and routes to school. To avoid missed tests or tardiness, thoroughly check out if there are viable ways to get to school, and alternate routes in case of construction, accidents, or other roadblocks.
Finally, look at your current space — does it have the right setup to be a productive student? Dorms and libraries do, but do you at home?
Studying Online for Commuter Students
For commuter students, online study is a great opportunity to study without having to travel to school. Your university might offer some online classes, or you can take accredited courses through other universities.
You can earn an entire degree online too, such as with University of the People. And you’ll save even more money — University of the People offers tuition-free degrees!
So, is commuting to college worth it? Only you can decide. Now you have all the pros and cons laid out for you to think hard about the best option for you. Commuting to college can be a great option for some, or not ideal for others. The greatest part of college is that you get to choose what’s best for you!