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With the high cost of college, commuting to school, rather than living in a dorm room, can be a smart decision. The College Board reported that living on campus at a public four-year university can increase your costs by $11,510 per year. Over the course of four years, that means you’ll pay over $46,000 more to get your degree. Opt for a private school, and that number is even higher. Commute to school and you can save thousands of dollars every year.
However, commuting to school may make you feel isolated, and you may struggle with connecting with on-campus students and typical college life. But according to Lindsay Fried, an independent educational consultant with Simply Admissions, it doesn’t need to be that way.
“It is completely possible for commuter students to have a rich college experience,” she said. “However, I think it’s important for commuter students to go into the situation knowing that they may have to work a little harder than residential students to create their social network and feel connected.”
If you plan on being a commuter student, here are some tips for getting involved and thriving on campus.
1. Take Advantage of Commuter Amenities
According to a 2019 survey, 43% of students reported that they lived off-campus with their parents or alone in their homes. With such a large percentage of students choosing not to live in the dorms, colleges and universities work hard to help commuter students become part of the campus. They typically offer special amenities for students who live off-campus. To feel like you’re part of the community, plan on taking advantage of those perks.
“Commuter students should aim to stay on campus and be involved as much as possible,” advised Friend. “Many colleges have a commuter lounge, which is a great place to hang out before, after, and between classes to make new friends.”
For example, Elizabethtown College has The Commuter House, a comfortable space where commuting students can study, relax, store personal belongings, and even stash their lunch. At West Chester University, the Commuter Center has television and Netflix, a food prep area, and a nap area complete with beanbags. Spending time in these centers between classes can help you meet and engage with other students.
2. Join Clubs and Organizations
Universities tend to have dozens or even hundreds of clubs, intramural sports, and extracurricular campus events. Whether you want to meet fellow gamers, play flag football, or run for student council, these are great ways to connect with other students and become part of the community.
An easy way to find groups at your school is to go on the college’s website and look for a section called “campus life.” Most colleges will have a whole section dedicated to the various organizations, including information on how to join and when those groups meet.
3. Make Plans for the Evenings and Weekends
The evenings and weekends are when most students who live on campus talk, hang out, and make plans with one another. If you’re only on-campus for classes, you’ll miss out on a big part of the college experience.
Make plans to meet friends after dinner and on weekends. Many schools hold events throughout the year, such as performances by comedians, dances, or theater productions. These shows are a great opportunity to be on-campus alongside your classmates.
4. Create a Realistic Schedule
As a commuter student, you do have some unique challenges. If you’re tired or stressed, it may be tempting to finish your class and go right home, but that can cause you to feel like you’re disconnected from the campus.
Instead of just showing up for classes, come up with a schedule that allows you to spend extra time on-campus. After you finish class, you may spend time with friends in the dining hall. Or, you could meet with a study group in the library. Spending a few hours every day on-campus — outside of the classroom — will ensure you’re a part of the larger community.
When creating your schedule, choose your class times carefully whenever possible.
“Additionally, try to avoid early morning classes,” said Fried. “In my experience, while it can be difficult for residential students to roll out of bed and walk across campus for that 8:00 a.m. class, it’s even harder for commuter students to be on time.”
5. Connect with Fellow Commuter Students
Residential students are unlikely to understand the unique challenges that commuter students face. That is why it’s so important to connect with other commuter students.
Make an effort to meet fellow commuter students. Some schools offer special groups and events for commuter students, helping you find other people going through the same experience.
Meeting other commuter students will give you a built-in social network, but it also can help you tackle challenges. For example, you can arrange carpools and keep each other updated about events on-campus.
Deciding to live off-campus and commute to school can be an effective way to reduce your college costs, limiting how much you need to borrow in student loans. However, being a commuter student does have some challenges. But by coming up with a plan to engage with other students and joining school clubs and organizations, you can get a dynamic college experience and enjoy a fulfilling social life.
If you still need help paying for your tuition and other fees, taking out private student loans can help you fill the gap so you can complete the semester. With Earnest, you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance and get a grace period as long as nine months. You can check your eligibility for a student loan in just two minutes.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.