If you’re planning to go to college, you may be wondering if it makes sense to commute rather than live in the dorms. For some students, the decision is a no-brainer. Whether you’re working full-time or have children that depend on you, commuting to college may be a natural choice.
But what if you’re an incoming student that’s just looking to cut costs? While you can save a lot of money, you may miss out on some of the classic college experience. If you aren’t sure whether it makes sense, continue reading to find out about the benefits and drawbacks of living off campus and tips for commuting to college.
Why Some Students Opt to Commute
When you think about college life, you likely think of students hanging out in the dorms. But dorm life only applies to a fraction of college students. In fact, InsideHigherEd reported that just 15% of college students live in school-owned housing on campuses. The rest live off campus, either with their parents or relatives or in landlord-owned apartments.
Why do so many students commute to school? There are several factors:
- Cost: In its 2021 report, The College Board found that room and board at four-year schools averages $11,720 per year at public universities and $13,310 per year at private schools. Over the course of four years, room and board would add $46,880 to $53,240 to your total education cost. If you need to take out student loans, that means you’ll need to borrow even more money to cover your expenses.
- Work: For students that are working full-time, their schedules and the demands of their jobs make living in the dorms difficult.
- Other Obligations: For students that are needed at home to provide child or elder care, living on-campus is impractical. Commuting to school allows them to care for their loved ones while obtaining an education.
Pros and Cons of Commuting to College
You may be wondering, “Should I commute to college?” There is no right answer that applies to everyone. Although there are many benefits of commuting to college — especially when it comes to cost — there are some disadvantages to keep in mind. Consider these pros and cons when making your housing selection:
- Potential Savings: Dorms and college meal plans can be extremely expensive. If you have family members that are willing to allow you to live in their home — and even better, if they’re willing to waive or reduce rent — you could save a substantial amount of money. Even if you live off-campus and commute, you can still save money by finding an inexpensive apartment and preparing your own meals.
- Privacy and Space: On average, a dorm is 12 by 19 feet, giving you 228 square feet of living space. And, that space is normally shared with a roommate. If you’re the type of person that prioritizes privacy and extra living space, commuting can make more sense. You can get more spacious accommodations and avoid having to share closet space.
- Fewer Distractions: When you live in the dorms, it can be difficult to focus on your work. Your roommate may decide that a 2:00am dance party is a great idea, or your neighbors may be watching a show at top volume. By commuting, you have more peace and quiet. If you’re in an intensive program that requires a good deal of quiet study, commuting may be a wise choice.
- Increased Transportation Costs: While commuting can be a cost-effective strategy, make sure you consider your increased transportation costs. As a commuter student, there will be increased wear and tear on your vehicle, along with higher fuel costs. If you use public transportation, daily bus or train fares can also be expensive.
- Fewer Social Opportunities: Because you won’t be on campus 24/7, you may have a tougher time making friends and participating in social activities. Since you won’t be living in the dorms, it will be harder to join impromptu get-togethers, which means enjoying campus life will require extra work.
- Difficulties With Scheduling: Commuting can make managing your schedule more difficult. Since you have to consider factors like traffic, making it on time to 8 a.m. classes may be trickier, particularly if you’re not a morning person.
3 Commuting to College Tips
If you decide that the benefits of commuting to college outweigh the drawbacks, here are three ways to make the most of your experience:
1. Find Out If Your School Has a Commuter Center
Many universities have dedicated commuter centers or lounges. For example, Penn State’s Behrand campus has a commuter lounge in the Smith Chapel. At UCLA, the BruinHub provides students with special pods to give you a safe space to nap.
Commuter centers designed as a place to unwind and recharge between or after classes. There is usually a space where you can rest, eat meals, watch television, and recharge your phone and laptop. It can also be a great place to meet other commuter students in similar situations, giving you a valuable social network.
2. Get Involved
Even if you’re commuting to school, there are ways to enjoy campus life. Sign up for extracurricular activities, clubs or intramural sports. Joining the college Quidditch league or community service group will allow you to meet like-minded people and make new connections.
3. Stick Around After Classes
While you may be tempted to head home and crash right after your last class, consider sticking around. After your last class, hang out in the commuter lounge or campus recreation centers. It allows you to connect with your classmates and relax, and it can give you a valuable part of the college experience.
Paying for College
College is expensive, so it’s natural to look for ways to make it more affordable. The benefits of commuting to college are numerous, and it can help you save money in the long run. While commuting isn’t for everyone, it can be a good way to focus on your studies with fewer distractions, and it could help you graduate on time.
Whether you decide to live on campus or off, make sure you take the time to learn about your financing options. If you need additional money for school and are considering private student loans with ELFI, you can check your rates here without affecting your credit score.*
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