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A Look into the Life of a Commuting Student

By John Dascoulias
On November 16, 2011



What most people tend to forget about is the group of people who do not live on campus when thinking of the college experience. This is a group who is working full-time (or part time) to support themselves in addition to balancing a full course-load. The life of a commuter student is very different from what most people consider the life of a ‘typical college student' to be. The life of a student is already a busy one; add to that, the outside responsibilities of keeping a job and paying bills, etc. These are normal concerns for someone living off campus, as opposed to the students who live among the university community that may not have to wrestle with. Chelsea Sanders, a commuter student here at Plymouth State University, shared her take on the experience of a commuting student. Sanders works as an operator around 24 hours a week, when asked about how she gets her work done, Sanders comments, "I get my work done by doing assignments weeks in advance. Whenever I have free time, I start doing homework that's due later in the week/month. That way, when I get really busy with work, I don't have to stress."

How often do we hear "this is the greatest time of your life so you should enjoy it!" from our friends and relatives talking about college life? So many people see college as being more than just coursework, but as also involving a social life and making lasting friendships. This may not be possible for commuter students who, like Sanders, go to school five days a week, work three plus days a week, and must still find time to get all of her schoolwork done. When asked how she balances her schoolwork and social life, Sanders says, "I pretty much work my butt off all week to get my homework done and then do additional reading at work. I go to school five days a week and work my job three days a week, so unfortunately, I have zero time for hanging out with friends."

Sanders commutes from Laconia NH, making her commute roughly an hour each way. She does this every day, and this amount of driving can be costly. When asked about how Sanders budgets herself, she said "I put myself on a little budget called don't Buy Stuff, Ever (Unless it's Food) because I don't have enough money to be throwing around." The issue of budgeting and cost is tricky. While a commuter student may save money in the long run by not having to pay the room and board fee (which also includes the meal plan), however, a commuter students also may have to consider the costs of living on their own – rent, food etc. When asked about possible upsides to living on campus, Sanders mentions how "I bet it's way easier to live on campus because you don't have to worry about spending so much money on gas or being late to class because of traffic/weather conditions, etc. In that respect, it's probably better."

Despite seeing some potential positive aspects of living on campus, Sanders expressed frustration with the lack of consideration some professors, and the school in general, seems to give commuter students. Sanders expressed frustration with the fact that the accessibility of parking for commuter students is less than desirable, and the school is known to fine commuters heavily for parking tickets. Additionally, Sanders was discouraged by the fact that "if you're EVER late for weather reasons in the winter/can't come to school because you can't even get out of your driveway, teachers are usually not very accommodating. You'll still get penalized." While Sanders sees some benefits to living on campus, she said that commuting is "more enjoyable in the long run. I have a lot of privacy without worrying about dealing with other people's issues. I can come and go as I please from my house and work on my homework at all hours of the night without a roommate getting after me about "lights out" or whatever. It does suck sometimes, but only because I drive so much that I get sick of it."

There appears to be significant trade-offs between living on campus and off. This is a decision one should think about and plan carefully before choosing whether to commute or to live on campus.

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