You know who they are. Each morning they arrive on campus with a library's worth of books and miscellaneous supplies strapped to their backs. In the afternoon, they can be spotted sleeping on benches, in cars, and sprawled across carpeted surfaces all over campus. At first glance, they may look like homeless kids — until you find one sitting next to you in Physics 320 downing a Snickers bar before class begins.
Commuter students don’t have access to many of the luxuries — like a place to rest between classes — which students who live on campus do. Most of the time commuting feels like a nomadic existence; for these students there is little time for involvement in campus activities and classrooms are just the white-walled places they wander between. For those of you considering commuting, whether you are currently enrolled or plan on attending college in the upcoming fall, it is important that you are familiar with both the benefits and the drawbacks associated with this option.
One of the greatest benefits of living off campus is the independence that is gained from the experience. Like working from home or taking online classes, commuting requires a tremendous amount of effort and self-discipline. Peers are a motivating force that commuters rarely have access to. Almost all course work is done at home rather than in a library, computer lab, or study center. As such, commuters are not procrastinators and must be individuals who are self-motivated and dedicated enough to load up their cars and drive to campus every day...come wind, rain, snow, sleet or hail. As a commuter, you typically have more control over your schedule and have a better chance at balancing a part-time job with a full-time class schedule. The independence that students learn from commuting can carry them to incredible heights in their career after graduation.
While the independence that is gained while commuting is alluring, the more obvious benefit of commuting is of course saving money. Campus housing can cost as much as the tuition alone. Commuting allows students to save an incredible amount of money over the duration of their college career without settling for a second-rate education. For students who don’t have access to the financial aid they need to live on campus, commuting is a great alternative that cuts the cost of tuition.
Most adults look back on college as one of the highlights of their life. The sports, the school spirit, and the relationships with peers play a critical part in shaping young adults. If campus involvement and activities are some of the things that have attracted you to college, commuting is probably not the best option for you. For students who commute, it is extremely difficult to get involved on campus. When you live in a dorm or other form of on-campus housing, you have the opportunity to create a network of friends — friends that you can participate in campus activities with. Most commuter students don’t have a network of friends at the college they attend; they have classroom acquaintances and hallway companions.
Commuter students receive little help on work outside of class. When you live on campus, it is very easy to drop by a professor’s office or a fellow classmate’s dorm to find the answer to your question. Commuter schedules are more hectic (almost all work and driving to class consumes a significant amount of time); finding the extra time to drive to campus and ask a question — even an important one — can be difficult.
Commuter students do not have the luxury of returning to a nearby dorm when there is a two-hour break in their schedule. This doesn’t always seem like a significant drawback at first, but as the semester wears on, it becomes one. Commuters lose a lot of valuable time drifting between classes. Yes, there are libraries and cafeterias, but there are not places where you can relax alone, like a dorm room. Commuting is most difficult for juniors, seniors and graduate students because as classes become more difficult, their availability is limited. You could easily find yourself on campus up to 12 hours a day with no place to rest but your trusty Toyota.
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