Confessions of a College Commuter

For the past three years, I have belonged to a rare species at my college: the commuter. For three years, I have commuted to and from Brandeis University in Waltham Mass., while living at home with my parents and older sister. I have woken up early to get to class, I’ve been snowed-in and unable to make the 25-minute trip to class, and I’ve sat in rush hour traffic for over an hour more times than I’d like to admit.
 
And you know what? I wouldn’t change any of it. There have been countless times during my experience as a commuter when people have asked me if I wish I could live at school, if I feel like I’m missing out on the “college experience” and if I’m crazy (many of them can’t fathom living full-time with their parents during the college years). And each time I just take a deep breath, smile, and start the stump speech I’ve delivered so many times it’s become second nature.
 
In spite of many people’s misconceptions, being a commuter hasn’t meant that I’ve missed out on the college experience. The experience is what you make of it, after all. I’ve just had to work that much harder at it than students who live on campus.
 
Since starting college, I’ve always found it odd that people were fascinated to hear I commute. Many of them have been curious or intrigued, but many others have been downright judgmental, thinking I made a huge mistake in choosing to live at home. I’m a senior now and am feeling a bit sentimental, so I decided to share my confessions of a commuter with all of you to clear up any questions or misconceptions floating around out there about the life of a commuter. Buckle up, everyone, and enjoy the drive!
 

 
The big decision
 
My initial decision to commute to school was a pretty easy one to make: I live less than a half hour away from my school and it just made sense that I would live at home. I’d get free housing, free food, I’d stay close to my family, and I’d have my own space.
 
And I must admit, my dad works at Brandeis, so I guess you could say that the campus wasn’t as “new” to me as it was to other first-years. I had visited the school at various times with my dad and although I fell in love with it, I just wanted to be able to separate my school life from my personal life.
 
A tale of two cities
 
Being a commuter has in many ways resembled living a double life. On the one hand, I live my school life in Waltham. I attend class, work, club activities; I have fun with friends; and I make valuable connections for the future. Being a commuter at a school where my dad works has admittedly given me a leg up on other commuters because I initially met a lot of people through my dad. Many people often have the misconception that commuters aren’t involved around campus; that they attend classes and leave right after. The opposite is true in my case. I’ve made it a priority to get involved in club life around campus, hold an on-campus job, and spend as much time as possible with friends on campus while I’m there.
 
On the other hand, I live an identity in the outskirts of Boston, in my hometown of Medford.  I sleep and wake in my childhood home; I do my schoolwork; I spend time with my older sister and parents; and I live my normal home life. Living at home gives me the chance to pick up and leave much easier than living at school would. If I want to go the mall on the weekend, I can get there a lot faster than if I lived at school. Want to go into the city? It’s a much faster trip from where I live. Living at home allows me to appreciate both sides of my identity and devote equal time to each.
 

 
To commute or not to commute?
 
Debating whether or not you should live at home? Living at school but curious about the life of a commuter? Here are some of the basic pros and cons of commuting.
 
Pros
 
There are definitely many advantages to living at home. Here are my favorites!

  1. Free housing, food and laundry. Living at homes means you save a lot of money, which can help you down the line when you want to move out on your own.
  2. Ah, the comforts of home.Living at home means you can indulge in life’s simple pleasures: home cooking, cleaning, laundry. Put quite simply, it’s nice to be taken care of sometimes.
  3. Privacy. Ok, so living with your parents can be really annoying sometimes but in general, you have a lot more privacy living off campus than you do on campus. The number one thing my friends say they envy about my commuting experience (well, aside from the home cooking!) is my own personal space. When you live in a dorm, there are so many people around that it’s hard to turn them away sometimes. But everyone needs a little personal space and living at home has given me the chance to escape from the craziness of school each day. 

Cons

  1. Commuting.For all its positives, commuting can be a real pain sometimes. Endless traffic can really become a hassle if you don’t plan your schedule just right
  2. Lack of spontaneity.Being a commuter means you have to plan more than other students. You can’t just up and walk to your friend’s dorm in five minutes flat to hang out; you have to plan your social activities more than other students do.
  3. The dreaded early morning.Sure, college students notoriously avoid early morning classes like the plague, but sometimes there’s no way out of it. As a commuter, early classes are that much more annoying because you have to wake up extra early to deal with rush hour traffic.

Words of Wisdom
 
Having commuted to school for over three years, I have come up with a few bits of advice for those of you embarking on your own commuting journeys!
 
Tips for commuters
 

Get involved around campus: Making friends at a new school is already hard enough but it's twice as hard when you don't live on campus. On campus students have an already established social network since they live in a residence hall, but as a commuter, you have to make an extra effort to meet people. That's why getting involved around campus is so important! 

Join a club, get a job on campus, play a sport... do anything that will get you meeting people. During my first year at Brandeis, I worked a job on campus and got involved with the student newspaper, The Brandeis Hoot. Being surrounded by like-minded students who shared my passions really helped me to make solid friendships early on and helped me meet all sorts of people—from professors to staff and administrators.

Be organized: Try to avoid early morning classes if you’re not up for long commutes and rush hour traffic. Commuting is good practice for the “real world” when you’ll have to prioritize your schedule and be realistic about what you can really fit into your schedule.

Learn from the experience: Living at home forces you to find your “college identity” outside of the walls of a residence hall. You’re not going to encounter the stereotypical “college experience”—dorm life, freedom away from your parents—but who’s to define what the “college experience” really is? Just because you don’t live at school doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your time at school.

Lessons learned: Put quite simply, commuting has been fun, it’s been miserable, and it’s been eye-opening all at the same time. I’ve really enjoyed having the chance to come home at the end of the day and escape from the stress of school in the oasis of my home. I’ve had the chance to drive off campus whenever I feel like it and come and go as I please.

But I won’t lie, commuting has also been pretty difficult at times. Commuting has meant I have to organize my life to a T and get up a lot earlier than most college students. It has meant I have to pack my whole life in my bag because I can’t run back to my dorm to retrieve whatever I forgot.  It has meant I’ve had to miss out on a few events here and there if I couldn’t get into campus.
 
But if I could go back in time and reconsider my decision to commute, I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience has taught me a lot about myself and has forced me to separate my work from my home life, a skill that will be invaluable in the future.
 
Of course, my family drives me crazy sometimes and I’ll definitely be excited to move out when I can, but for the meantime I’m content to enjoy this experience as much as I can. After all, I think that Dorothy really was onto something in “The Wizard of Oz”: sometimes there really is no place like home.