If you were to ask me what it’s like to be a commuter student, I’d say it’s exhausting. Every day feels the same: me and my Hyundai Elantra against the I-26 traffic. While commuting in college can be annoying at times, it shouldn’t deter you from living your best life.
According to a 2020 Insider High Education article, 85% of college students live off-campus, and a growing selection of students are commuting from home as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. With the rising cost of college tuition fees, commuter students are doing so to save money. However, the cumulative cost of gas and worry of getting to class on time while managing friendships and jobs can create substantial stress for the group.
The social challenge of commuting was the most difficult part for me. Commuters usually have to put in a little more effort to socialize since we spend less time on campus, so the best way to make new friends is to talk to the people you see in your classes. Commuters need to take advantage of their time on campus to strike up conversations about assignments, projects and anything else they can bond with classmates over.
“(Making friends) normally comes from just being in class or being in labs,” Abraham Damon, a third-year biology student, said. “Labs take two hours or more, so it normally comes from that.”
Living with my boyfriend and his family while I am in college has been a major blessing. It alleviates the stress of making plans to see him and saves me thousands of dollars from grocery planning, bills and home utilities. The drawback is that the highway exit I take every day has been under significant construction for three years, making the drive time unpredictable.
Commuting can be frustrating and time-consuming for many, especially if they can’t predict what traffic will look like. On a good day, I live 25 minutes away from campus. However, with a mix of construction and regular rush hour issues, my drive has recently been as bad as 45 minutes to an hour.
Damon's commute is even longer, at about an hour and 15 minutes from Darlington to Columbia. To manage his time, he comes to campus only two or three days a week.
The first step for commuting successfully is to plan your first class in the mornings, especially if you commute from farther away. Not everyone is a morning person, but parking spots will be less of a hassle to find if you arrive early. Another benefit of having early morning classes is that you can get most of them out of the way before the evening rush hour hits.
Although USC’s parking passes are pricey, it might be worthwhile to purchase a $400 garage pass. That being said, even with a pass, you still aren't guaranteed a great spot.
Commuting feels like a job in and of itself most of the time, which can lead to burnout. When it’s time to pick your classes for next semester, try to schedule them for the same day. It might make some days feel long, but you will save time and gas from commuting on other days.
“I have one class on Tuesday, and it's a lab. It would be nice if I could have a lab on one of my days I'm here," Phil Schlies, a second-year broadcast journalism student, said. “It sucks having to come to campus for one class.”
Schlies' commute is about 40 minutes from Lexington, and he rides with his father, who works nearby. Schlies said he has a friend on campus who will allow him to stay the night in their dorm on certain days to make things easier.
According to Damon and Schlies, the biggest downside of commuting is having to wake up earlier — usually one or two hours before students living on campus — to make it to morning classes on time.
“I think the main issue is that, every time I come home from a drive, the drive always takes a lot of energy and productivity out of me,” Schlies said. “I’m just that much more tired, and I feel like my day is that much shorter. So, sometimes I feel a little bit more pressed for time.”
Since it is unavoidable to have gaps in between classes, you should take advantage of the university's resources to do schoolwork during the day. Staying on campus for long periods of time is draining, but you can use the opportunity to meet up with a classmate for lunch or a study session.
There is no shame in having an unconventional “college experience.” There have certainly been days where it took a mental toll on me, but while these obstacles can be annoying, I am still grateful to receive an education at the end of the day.