Commuting: Is it the Right Fit? (for teens) (page 2)
Although it may seem like you’re the only college-bound student not raiding the mall for posters for your dorm room, you’re not alone. According to the University of Arizona’s Commuter Student Affairs, nationwide, more than 87 percent of college students do not live in campus housing.
Are You Sure Commuting is the Best Option for You?
Whether it’s because of financial restrictions, parental concerns or your own desire for privacy or to stay connected with your family, living off-campus is an option many first-year students consider.
Before you sign up for your parking permit or bus pass and decline residence hall space, though, make sure you examine the value of on-campus housing.
When students and their families weigh the costs of campus housing and a meal plan versus the costs of public transportation or gas money, parking permits and car maintenance, not to mention food at home, they might see that living on campus isn’t as expensive as they thought it would be, said Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant at Top Colleges. “The trick is to have the facts on the table and to have rational numbers to discuss.”
If you talk about the financial reality with your family and still think commuting is right for you, then you might want to consider some of the social “values” you’ll be missing out on before you finalize your decision. Most people agree that students grow not only through college courses, but also through learning to live with people from diverse backgrounds and values. For your dorm-dwelling friends, college is a time when they’re forced to become more independent, planning their time and balancing responsibilities in a new environment, away from home and previous expectations.
Living off-campus will not exclude you from these experiences; you’ll just have to make a conscious effort to make these changes.
Dr. Mary O’Reilly, retired school counselor, commuted all four years in college. With public transportation, the trip took an hour each way—making school her life. She suggests that students who want to or must commute be aware that they will miss out on activities and events, unless they are proactive.
To receive a full education, O’Reilly discussed lectures over lunch, arranged to attend evening activities and made copies in the library to supplement limited time at school.
Do commuter students miss out on some aspects of college? Yes. They miss the experience of residence hall life—moving away from family and sharing a community with other students of many different personalities and backgrounds.
Some other tradeoffs of commuting to consider include:
- Limited time for meetings with professors, library work, on-campus activities, and friends
- Time lost commuting
- Hazards of transportation at night—for students who take public transportation and for tired drivers
- Difficulty balancing school, work, friends, and family
- A loss of easily available opportunities to make friends.
Although residence hall life can be a fun opportunity to grow, your first priority in college is to learn, which you can do without living on-campus. If you’re okay with trying to work through the challenges of making sure you get the complete college experience, commuting to school could work for you.
You Don’t Have to be Disconnected from the Campus Experience
Many schools offer special programs for commuter students to get them involved in campus life. From assigned lockers to special meetings and activities to special on-campus housing for late nights, there are many options out there. Some schools even offer commuter student mentoring programs where you’re paired with an upperclassman commuter student or another freshman who lives in the residence halls. Check with the colleges and universities you’re interested in to make sure they have resources for commuter students before you decide where to attend.
Some general guidelines for how to commute, for whichever school you choose, include:
- Study on campus—after classes and on weekends
- Organize regular study groups
- Include time to meet with your professors in your everyday schedule
- Work on-campus (If possible, ditch your current job or cut back on hours to work on-campus. The immersion into campus life is worth the change and will help you feel like you’re starting a new phase of your life.)
- Get involved in a student club
- Join an intramural sport team
- Participate in student government
- Take public transportation or carpool so that you have more time to study
- Eat in the dining halls
- Make an effort to meet new people from different backgrounds, even if some of your high school friends are going to your college
- Make friends who live in residence halls.
Living at Home Will be Different
Even though you’ll be staying at home, there are some big changes that come with being a college student.
School will be your full-time job. Your family and friends might not understand how much of your time school (especially combined with a part-time job) will take. They might think that since you’re still living at home things will be the same as when you were in high school, but you’ll have to prepare them—explaining you’re entering a new stage of your life.
“Consider your home only as the place you pack your meals and sleep,” said Regan Ronayne Caven, consultant at Directions to College. “Learn that it’s okay to say ‘no’ to family and friends. Explain to them that college requires a huge investment of money, time and energy, and that you need their support to succeed—that means they might need to change their expectations of you.”
To help your family and friends adjust to your new life as a college student, you can remind them that you’ll have more time to spend with them during school breaks.
Another critical point to discuss with your family is how rules will—or won’t—change once you’re a college student.
“When teenagers move onto a college campus, most moms and dads relinquish whatever control they used to maintain over daily comings and goings. But for kids still bunking in their childhood bedrooms, parents often expect the same regular reports that they got in high school,” said Sally Rubenstone, senior counselor and editor at College Confidential.
If you agree on expectations—curfews; notice on where you’re going, who you’re going with and when you’ll be back; household responsibilities; family obligations; finances; and other changes—ahead of time, you’ll be able to concentrate on school and succeed in your transition to college.
Don’t forget, living at home has benefits too: no residence hall distractions, more privacy, home-cooked meals, and the support of people who care about you.
For more tips on how to make the most of commuting, talk to your school counselor. Also, check out the eCampus Tours Web site.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. © 2008 National Association for College Admission Counseling.
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