6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Being A Commuter Student

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As a self-proclaimed cheapskate, I chose to be a commuter student mostly because of money, or lack thereof. I knew that life as a commuter would be different from day one, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain things that I wish I’d known at the time. For those of you heading into your first year of college, or even those contemplating a change of housing status, here are a few things to consider from the perspective of a veteran commuter student. 

1. It’s going to be hard to meet people

Maybe this is a no-brainer for most people, but for some reason I thought meeting people would be super easy, no matter my housing status. I was wrong (and for the record, that’s not something I admit to all that often). If you really want to meet people, I’d suggest taking full advantage of the embarrassing freshman orientation games and activities, if available. These games might feel vaguely reminiscent of things you enjoyed in middle school, but keep in mind that college is a whole different ball game from middle school. Unless you go to a really small school, there’s not really going to be anyone that you “should” or “shouldn’t” be friends with. Befriend people you like, and don’t really worry about the people you don’t. Join clubs, go to on-campus activities, start study groups, play intra-mural sports. Basically what it comes down to is making an effort. Resident students have the luxury (or in some cases, the nightmare) of a roommate, who can at the very least be a good starter friend, if nothing else. You don’t have this option, which means you’ve got to put in a little bit of extra work to make friends. 

I should note that I didn’t always take much of my own advice (living 40 minutes from campus destroys your desire to go to 9 PM club meetings), which has led to a less than booming social life on campus. While I’m ok with this, I recognize that not everyone is. What I think a lot of college students forget is that there are people outside of school for you to be friends with. For me, I was able to meet people through my part-time job as well as my weekly volunteer activities. If college activities aren’t quite your cup of tea, branch out. But keep in mind that you might feel a little bit weird at first about flying solo around campus when it seems like everyone else is surrounded by friends at all times. You’ll most likely grow more comfortable with this over time, but if it really bothers you, maybe you should work on finding some friends at school.

2. You’ll probably receive less scholarship money as a commuter

Let me preface this by saying that it does, in theory, make sense for commuter students to receive less scholarship money. Generally speaking, commuter students do have less upfront costs, mostly as it relates to room and board. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, and it should be something that you’re prepared for, if you haven’t already been faced with this reality. Even still, while being a commuter is often less expensive in the long run, what schools and scholarship foundations often seem to forget is that commuters still have pressing, upfront costs. This can be especially evident as you see your bank account balance dwindle with every necessary lunch purchase or gas tank refill. If you learn early on to budget accordingly (assuming you have some sort of an income), this will be a less heart-wrenching process. But only slightly.

3. Your professors don’t care that you’re a commuter.

This will probably become immediately evident to you, or at least it hopefully will. Professors don’t care that there weren’t any spots left in the painfully small commuter lots, or that the roads weren’t plowed very well, or that there was unexpected construction en route to campus. Some professors will be more understanding, whereas other professors will be frighteningly strict, but as a whole most professors just don’t care. Do yourself a favor and figure out early on exactly how long it will take you to get to campus, and then tack on an extra 15-20 minutes for unexpected circumstances. Keep in mind that you’re an adult now, and your instructors don’t really want to hear your excuses, which means you need to do your best to avoid circumstances that would require excuses in the first place.

On the other hand, there will also be days when you show up to your 8 AM class, only to find out that it was cancelled at 7:30. This is often unavoidable. But don’t worry, after the first few times this happens, you will begin to find ways to control your rage. On the bright side, now you have even more time to not work on homework.

4. There will be times when you find yourself hating the resident students.

“They have it SO EASY and they don’t even know it,” you’ll tell yourself. In a way, maybe they do. But they’re also paying to live there, whereas you are not. You need to decide early on if you’re going to act like a victim, or accept the circumstances for what they are. Sure, some days it really sucks that you have to wake up way earlier than your classmates to be on time for a class that seemingly everyone else can roll out of bed and walk to. But in the end, being upset isn’t really going to do anything, unless you use your frustration to change things. If your school offers one, join the commuter affairs committee, and channel this anger towards something productive.

The only time when it’s legitimate to feel some amount of hatred towards resident students is when you find them parked in the dedicated (and already too small) commuter student lot, brazenly displaying their markedly different “RESIDENT STUDENT” parking tag. Those people are pure evil, and deserve side-eye at any given opportunity. 

5. People will pity you

You’ll be surprised by how many people will start to ask you something along the lines of: “Aren’t you sad that you’re missing out on the college experience?” If you’re really (un)lucky, this question will be followed by a tilted head, pity-filled eyes, and perhaps a quick recounting of the asker’s favorite college memories. I’d suggest preparing an answer to this question early on, because you’ll be hearing it a lot, especially during a summer likely full of graduation parties, weddings, and family get-togethers. Over the years my favorite go-to response has become, “Sure, but I can’t justify spending another $10,000 per year just to have the college experience.” Talking about money is apparently rather un-couth, so this usually results in the asker scrambling for a quick change of topic. Simply responding with a deadpan “no” has similar effects. 

It won’t just be well-meaning relatives and family friends, either. Your fellow students will also be perplexed regarding why you’d make such a choice. After all, who really wants to live at home with their parents, sleeping in their childhood room–feel free to customize that for your own situation–when they could be living on campus with people their own age, doing “college things”? I get it. I’d be a bit confused about it, too. But I think you’ll find that most people are less judgmental than they are curious. Give your reasons, but be ready to agree to disagree on this particular topic if necessary. Some people won’t get it, but is it really important in the long run?

6. You’ll feel left out

Maybe it’ll happen right away, or maybe it’ll take a few semesters, but at some point you’ll probably feel like a complete loser. It will seem like everyone is moving forward, while you’re stuck in the same place. For me, it seems to occur in the fall, when friends are going back to school, maybe moving into apartments or furnishing their dorm rooms. Everyone else’s lives will very much resemble that of independent adults, whereas you’ll take one look around your childhood bedroom and wonder when you turned into such a failure. You didn’t fail, and you’re not a loser. Well, theoretically speaking you might be a failure and a loser, but it’s probably not because you’re a commuter. It might not seem like it at the time, but college does end. Just because you still live with your parents now doesn’t mean that you’re somehow failing. After you graduate, do you really think anyone is going to care that you lived at home instead of in a dorm or an apartment for the past few years? My guess is that everyone has more important things to worry about. TC mark

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