Common Experiences of First-Year Commuters

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The first year is especially important for your student’s continued desire to pursue a college education and prepare for the future. It’s also a transitional time for the whole family, which can bring both excitement and challenges. For your student, college is a new experience and the differences between high school and college mean learning new skills. Like all students moving into a new campus community, your student will face some adjustment challenges:

  • Learning new study skills to accommodate a more intensive course load
  • Experiencing the culture shock of a new environment
  • Making new friends
  • Exploring campus
  • Finding ways to become involved and connected to the campus community
  • Managing time
  • Handling college finances

In addition to the issues that all college students face, your commuter student will experience some unique circumstances that come with living off campus. When students are living at home, they are usually navigating three very different worlds every day—home, college , and work. Commuters often believe that their classmates who live on campus have more fun, more friends, and more freedom. Certainly, they can have just about all the same opportunities as residential students, but where they live means they must approach those opportunities in different ways. As a parent of a commuter student, here are some of the challenges you may see your student face that will be different as compared to students who are living on campus:

The Commute Itself alt= “ “

For some commuters, travel to and from school can add anywhere from an hour to three or four hours each day. On a bus, they may be able to do some of their studying (if they’re good at blocking out all the activity around them); if they’re driving, this can be an exhausting extra responsibility, and it means knowing where to park, what to do if weather slows their commute, and how to get to school if their normal route or method of travel is unavailable.

Food on the Go alt= “ “

Commuter students can access cheaper meal options by bringing lunch from home, but this also increases the amount of time they need to spend preparing food and making sure it is kept at a safe temperature. This is especially difficult if they are packing for one or more meals.

I have to wake up at like six o’clock to get lunch ready, cause I have to leave at seven.

Student employee, psychology major

Financial Stress alt= “ “

One of the reasons commuters choose to live at home is to save money, but an aspect of commuting that sometimes isn’t considered is the cost of gas, parking, busing, and buying food if they don’t pack a lunch. Even students who bring their own food will need money for snacks.

My parents think I don’t need any cash, but when you have two or three hours between classes, you need to have something to eat.

First-year student, undecided major

Limited Schedule Optionsalt= “ “

Challenges related to evening classes, study groups, and student organization meetings means students may have trouble managing transportation if they use city-transit systems or simply try to have a consistent schedule.

I’m trying to join some sort of student group. But the hard part about student groups is that they all have meeting that are in the night, cause there’s very few classes [then] when you’re showing up at home at like 10, 11 o’clock you’re, at least my parents, it’s kind of like, Wow! You’re never home, at all!

First-generation commuter

Keeping Your Entire Day on Your Backalt= “ “

There may be no home base on campus to store belongings, relax, take a break from school, especially during large breaks in the day between classes or transit times.

It’d be convenient if I lived in a dorm, because I forget things a lot. So, I don’t have to be like ‘Ohh, I forgot my backpack!’ But, like today I forgot my textbook. I was like ‘Ohh, I can’t do my homework after class!’

Second-year commuter

Staying Healthy alt= “ “

With additional time spent commuting and increased time to spend doing homework, finding healthy, fresh foods or making time to exercise may prove difficult.

Feelings of Isolation, or Feeling They are Not Getting the “College Experience”alt= “ “

There are people at home who can provide social contact, and students will meet classmates at school, so it might seem like that’s plenty – but neither the family members at home nor the students at school are likely to fully understand the expectations the student faces from both sides.

Commuter students aren’t usually as connected as students who live on campus. I mean, [commuters] have to go to class from home and then go home at the end of the day and then,[they] can’t really change that.

Math major, commuter

Wait…There are Benefits Too! alt= “ “

College students choose to commute, rather than live on campus, for a number of reasons. Cost is the most obvious reason. Students can save money by living at home and reducing the amount of college loans they will need to pay back. For other students, though, commuting simply feels more comfortable. Most commuters do not regret living off campus, and many who live at home say they genuinely appreciate their families.

Well, you know, you save money by living [at] home and not having to pay room and board you get to eat at home you have a bed and your own room and you have all this stuff that’s available at home that you wouldn’t have living in the dorms.

First-year commuter

Students choose to commute for several reasons:

  • Financial benefits
  • Continuity in family life and ability to partake in family events
  • Lack of interest in living in the residence halls
  • The family’s need to have the student at home
  • Cultural standards that keep family members together
  • The comfort of their own bed, their privacy, and the family menu

[For] commuter students, it takes a little longer to get into a habit of something, just because I think dorm students thrust themselves into the situation. So, [being] a commuter student, like for a month and what a couple weeks or so, [I’ve] gotten used to the routines so, now I’m looking back on myself a few weeks ago and saying “Oh. It’s not that bad.

First-semester commuter

Fortunately, many colleges and universities are designed to meet the needs of commuters. Community colleges typically expect students to live at home, and inner-city universities tend to cater to students who live nearby. Consequently, their student services are designed to assist or accommodate commuting students.

All students should work with their academic advising office and other campus offices to learn about resources available to them and to look for guidance in managing both campus and home responsibilities.