When you’re a commuter it’s really easy to feel left behind and isolated. Many of your friends have left town for a college far away. People who care about you may make the mistake of telling you that you are “missing out on the college experience” by not living on campus. It can be hard to separate the fantasy of living away from home, finding a new group of friends, becoming a new person, being away from parental supervision and having the freedom to make your own choices (which for a lot of students just means being able to get drunk or have sex and not ‘get caught’) from what is actually right for you. But remember education is not a one size fits all operation. People make the choice to commute for all different reasons. Maybe you’re at community college or close enough to home that the expense of living on campus just doesn’t make sense. You may have made the decision to commute because the idea of living in a dorm just doesn’t appeal or health issues are keeping you close to home. And while you may miss your friends that have left or worry that you’re missing out in some other way there are serious benefits to commuting.
Being a commuter reduces the amount of “new” that you have to deal with as you begin college. Being a college student is a big adjustment and not having to deal with a new roommate, new food, a new city, new rules, homesickness and all the other non-academic newness can really help you focus on your studies. Many college students are eager to get away from their families and strike out on their own but that’s not the case for everyone. If your family is a positive support and they give you opportunities to balance freedom and responsibility then living home and commuting can be great.
Then there’s the money. College costs continue to soar. The Christian Science Monitor recently reported, “ Tuition and housing costs rose 439 percent from 1982 to 2008, compared with a 147 percent increase in median family income.” Starting at a community college and transferring after two years to a four year school can save you up to 40% of your college costs. Whether you’re commuting to an expensive private school, a less expensive state school or a community college, the choice to be a commuter is saving you a bundle of money.
Just because you’re saving money on your college experience though, you should never sell yourself, or your college, short. You deserve the same opportunities to get involved, try new things, meet new people and be challenged as a whole person that resident college students have. Follow these tips to fight that “I’m just a commuter” mentality:
- Just because you’re not living on campus doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a part of the campus community. Get involved in campus activities, its a great way to meet new people and feel more connected to what’s going on on campus.
- Use your school’s resources, study groups, library, writing and math labs, and professor’s office hours are there for your use.
- Maintain your relationships – fight the isolation that can sometimes be part of the commuter experience by scheduling time for friends (yes, I said scheduling and friends in the same sentence). Since you won’t be running into all your friends every day like you did in high school set up times when you can see each other either in person or online.
- If you can, set up your schedule so you’ll have some time on campus a few days a week. If you’re also working it can be tempting to pack your classes in the morning so your afternoons and evenings can be spent off campus. If at all possible though, consider leaving some gaps in your schedule so you’ll have time built in to hit the offices (financial aid, academic advisement, the registrar), go see your professors, visit the library or attend student activities.
Have some tips of your own for commuters? We’d love to hear them, please add them in the comments section below.
Commuter Packing List
by Monica Haehl
You may not have had to pack up your whole life and fit it in a car but it still pays to “pack” for the day and be prepared whether your commute is ten minutes or two hours you want to be sure you have everything you need for the day when you leave home.
- Your student ID. Not all places require it on you to get into school, but many do. It also acts as your library card (again, most places). Its important for it to be always with you.
- Your school’s Class Cancellations page bookmarked and checked daily. There is nothing much worse than hauling yourself there and finding a “no class today” note on the door. Or my personal favorite ;the dark locked room with no note at all.
- Small water bottle (about 16.oz). AND a travel mug with a good seal that won’t leak in your bag. Something without handles is best. It is much easier to get through class with something to drink, hot or cold. (Just be sure to find out first if food or drinks in class is irritating to your professor)
- Appropriate layers. Some lecture halls are frigid and some are steamy.
- A Serious backpack. The giant purse and tote bag combination can seem more appealing than carrying a “freshman pack”. However, hobbling through the hall like that makes you look like a peasant from ancient times.
- A budget. While you do save a considerable amount of money by commuting, there are lots of different and hidden costs. The $4 you spend on a giant caffeinated, chocolaty, sugary cup of goodness to get you through class may very well be worth it. But charts and graphs may make you think about how many times a week you indulge. Check out mint.com for some help managing your money.
- Food or money or both. If you’ll be on campus for mealtime have a plan. Its hard to focus on the lecture when your stomach is rumbling.
Did we forget anything on our commuter packing list? Add your suggestions below.
1.) Headphones. Get a small set of ear buds. Since you may not have an area of your own to study, something that you can just pull out of your pocket can be useful for being courteous to others and concentrating on your work. It also allows you to watch videos in places like the library.
2.) A planner. I really can’t stress this enough. Having a day planner that you can use to keep track of phone numbers, appointments and classes is a lifesaver.
3.) A printout of office hours for all you professors. You’ll thank me later.
4.) Something sugary to eat. Jollyranchers can prove a God-sent around 3 in the afternoon.
5.) Back up plan for how to get home. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it.
6.) A study area at home. You’ll need one.
Always remember to have some extra money in your backpack, just in case! Even if it’s only some spare quarters, you never know when you might need it!
At Ramapo College, there is a “commuter lounge” called J.Lee’s. This place has couches, a TV, pool table and video games. As well, there are tables and free popcorn. This is a great place to relax in between classes.
So find a place on campus that you can relax in between your courses, or find a friend to “crash” with in case of late classes or down time. Having a place that is “your own” on campus will help you feel comfortable and get you focused on studying.