On campus, students are surrounded by classmates and friends who are focusing on their academics and preparing for a career. An important step for commuters is to bring that focus home with them. By identifying themselves as students first and making college graduation their primary goal, they will do better academically, be more likely to graduate within four years, and have a more meaningful college experience. When families understand and acknowledge the importance of their academics, commitment to school, and determination to succeed, students are better able to prioritize not only their education but also their work and family.
Parents who understand the unique challenges of commuter students can improve their student’s college experience for the better – here are some actions you can take:
Attend Parent Orientation When Your Student Attends New Student or Transfer Orientation
Even if you are familiar with the college or university, if you have another child at the school, or if you work at the school, your attendance will show your child that you value their college experience and choice of schools. You will also learn at least a few things you didn’t already know.
Acknowledge the Commute
Recognize the time your student spends waiting for a bus, riding to school, driving through rush hour traffic, or hunting for a reasonably priced parking spot. Just getting to campus and back home again can be a stressful and challenging part of their day. By scheduling a checkup on the car or providing a healthy snack for the commute, your student will appreciate your awareness of their commute.
My parents don’t know how hard it is to get up at 5 a.m. to get ready then wait for a bus—because if I miss the bus, I have to wait another hour—and I may not even make it to my 8 a.m. class.
- Encourage your student to make the trip to school before his or her first day–both as a new student and again each semester of college–at the time of day he or she will be commuting. Even if the route is familiar, it may seem different during rush hour or when driving to a specific parking lot. The bus route may require different transfers at different times of the day.
You should work out your bus schedule at least a day ahead of time. And, if your bus is, like my bus [which takes] an hour, I have to get [up] about two hours before class.
American Indian Studies major, commuter
- Be sure your student has an idea of multiple transportation options. Students should develop backup transportation plans in case the primary plan breaks down for a day or so. A minor accident or service appointment means no car while it’s being repaired, carpool drivers may cancel, a transit strike can upset busing plans, or a late-night meeting might mean buses are no longer running.
Catching buses is kind of hard sometimes because they don’t always run on time. And then if one is running late and the other is running early, you could miss your transfer and then you’d have to wait like 20 or 30 minutes for the next one to come.
Interior Design major, commuter
Here are some questions to help you and your student think about the types of support your student’s college offers for commuter students.
Questions to Ask the College Your Student is Attending:
- How does the school accommodate its commuter student population?
- Is there a commuter organization on campus so your student can connect with other commuters?
- Are there student carpooling options available?
- Are there options for meal plans on campus for commuter students?
- What is the easiest way to commute to campus? What types of options do most students use?
- What are students’ options for parking? Are there discounts or passes for students who ride public transportation? (Often, reduced commuter passes are available through the college)
- What are the general times of classes and activity times for student groups? How late should students anticipate staying on campus?
- What types of safety options are available for students who stay late on campus?
- Are there computers on campus for commuter students to use? And what about printing?
- Are there lockers available so that commuters can leave their things on campus at times?
Support Your Student’s Commitment to Academics
By granting more flexibility for household responsibilities, you will let your student know that you understand and respect the fact that college is more demanding than high school, and that you’re proud of your student’s academic efforts.
Be Alert to Stressful Times
Midterms and exams are particularly difficult times for students, but quizzes and project deadlines also crop up throughout the semester. Taking over chores for your student during these periods, providing study treats, or filling the gas tank of the car are much-appreciated gifts during those difficult days.
My mom made a cake for me when I finished my mid-terms. That meant a lot.
Earth Sciences major, commuter
Encourage their Involvement
Promote your student’s involvement in campus activities and encourage him or her to stay on campus between classes, use campus resources for studying, and attend athletic events, concerts, and other student activities. Research has shown that students feel more committed to college and are more successful when they participate in campus activities and share experiences with other students.
I’m expected home by dinner time, but a lot of the student groups have their meetings in the evening. There are group projects for classes, and it’s impossible to schedule everyone during the day—we have to meet at night.
Theater Arts major, commuter
Support Your Student’s Interest in Working on Campus
Most commuter students work, and there are benefits to working at an on-campus job. Even if wages are less than they could earn off campus, the support of college-based supervisors and a network of other students provides both social and academic support they would not otherwise find.
Designate a “Study” or “Quiet” Space at Home
Students often find they struggle with doing homework at home. Providing a quiet, clean space where they know they have uninterrupted time can help them focus and create boundaries where they can consider themselves “students first”.
Be Aware of Campus News and Events
Ask your student to explain the things you don’t understand. If you acknowledge the importance of what’s happening at the college or university, your student will, too.
Health and Well-being
Commuter students have certain impacts on their health and well-being:
- Increased stress as they attempt to balance family life, school, and work
- Maintaining a healthy diet while having an irregular schedule
- Lack of clarity about where to seek health care–from the school’s health center or from their family physician?
- Serving as a caretaker for family members during illness can raise stress and increase the risk of catching contagious illnesses
- The time required for commuting reduces available personal and study time; students often respond by limiting sleep in order to do homework
- Commuting time cuts into opportunities for exercise
- When a student becomes ill during the day, getting home to bed can feel like a grueling task
Not all the effects are negative, as compared with on-campus living:
- Eating meals at home can be more comfortable than dining in a campus facility; the food is more likely to be familiar favorites, and the foods selected may represent a more balanced diet than would be chosen from a buffet line
- Living with family members can be less stressful than coping with multiple roommates
- Sleep is less likely to be interrupted by noisy roommates or dormitory neighbors
- When a student becomes ill at home, caring family members are on hand
Family support and understanding makes a significant difference in the success of all students. For commuter students, family members are likely to be near or at the top of their list of supports. The more that family members can understand the demands and stresses of college, the more likely they are to be able to help their student.
It’s also important to recognize that this is likely to be the first time students have faced these new challenges. To learn more about the health and well-being of your student, click here.