College is one of the major transitions to adulthood, so naturally, it bestows you with increasing amounts of independence. In this vein, one important decision concerns your living arrangements. For the first time, you can choose to live in a dorm, to remain with your family, or to live on your own. While dorming seems to be the more traditional option, in actuality, studies estimate that up to 80% of American students are commuters. In this case, a commuter student is defined as one who lives in a non-university building, including both those who live with their parents and those who live independently.
Some schools are designated “commuter schools,” not providing residential housing, while other colleges provide housing but also allow the option of commuting. In colleges where the majority of students are commuters, the lack of a residential experience usually results in an increased focus on the job training. Accordingly, many commuter schools are career-oriented, like community colleges and technical schools.
While it’s perhaps a less publicized option, a commuter school can actually have many benefits. This may be the right choice if:
You generally prefer a quiet, serious campus.
Are you thinking about your career already? Do you tend to take a no-nonsense approach to your studies? A non-residential campus means there will be fewer students around in the off hours and on the weekends. This lessens the chance of a more raucous college campus. If things like Greek life and school events aren’t for you, a commuter campus can provide space to focus more on your studies than on distractions.
You want to save money on dining and housing.
The average cost of on-campus meals and dorms, in one academic year, ranges from $11,000 to $13,000 (and up!). What’s more, many colleges make a meal plan mandatory with housing—at least for the first year. Sometimes it’s hard to understand these provisions until you’re faced with the bill for them. Preemptively checking your college’s housing policies can help you decide whether you can afford to go the extra mile, or you’d prefer to save.
You want flexible or nontraditional class scheduling.
Many schools offer a wider array of times and days for commuter students’ classes than for traditional students’. Night classes can be especially fitting for those with a job, those with a child or a dependent, legally emancipated students, and others whose obligations may take up their daytime hours.
You’d like to keep the support system you already have.
Attending a commuter school means being in close proximity to family, friends, and mentors. You have a safety net in case you need advice or help. You bypass the awkwardness of sharing a tiny dorm room with a stranger, sharing a bathroom, and dealing with noise when you’re trying to sleep. This added level of security and comfort can make the transition to college easier.
What about the college experience?
There’s no getting around the fact that social life is one of the main challenges reported by commuter students, regardless of school type, location, and size. Students lament that their classmates go home after class and that there are few institutional options to promote socializing, which results in a lack of close friends and involvement in extracurriculars. However, seasoned commuter students report that while it may take more work, it’s possible to establish connections. You just have to seek out groups that share your interests, like a sports team, a club, or a volunteer gig. This can actually make the friendships feel more rewarding, and give you a new set of skills you’ll definitely use in the post-college world.
With all this in mind, if a commuter school feels like the right fit for you, go for it!