College Survival Guide: 7 Things No One Tells You About Commuting

Despite GMU’s emphasis on freshman living in dorms and shaking their old commuter reputation, around 70% of the student body commutes to campus -- be it from the general Fairfax area or all the way from areas like Fredericksburg. Despite this *huge* percentage, it can initially feel like a very isolating experience, especially as a freshman when you’re bucking the mold that the University is pushing for you and your peers. However, with two semesters under my belt and seemingly infinite hours zipping back and forth, I’m here to share a few tricks of the trade to make your experience a little bit easier. 

Related: Things I’ve Learned While Commuting

1. You’ll use *a lot* of gas

This seems like a no brainer, but it really takes a toll on your gas tank to drive to campus and back around five days a week (especially when you’re making extra trips outside of class hours!), and it’s definitely disheartening to fill your tank up week after week. However, the cost of room and board at GMU is around $10,000, which many of us would have to take out yet another loan for. Gas might be expensive, but I feel very confident in saying that I didn’t spend quite that much in gas last year, or if I did it was definitely without the excessive interest payments that come along with a student loan. 

To cut back on these costs, eventually investing in a more fuel-efficient car or being mindful of how many miles you’re getting per-gallon and easing off the accelerator every once in a while can go a long way. Setting up a carpool with friends that have similar class schedules and live close to you can also help negate these costs. In the meantime, I’ll see you at the nearest gas station!

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2. It’s worth making an effort to go to Welcome2Mason events.

One of my biggest regrets from freshman year is not taking advantage of all the events put on to welcome the new students and celebrate the start of the semester. Not to mention all the free goodies you’ll get, it’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the University culture and meet some new people. You’re only going to have one first year at GMU, and the first month is filled with new people and experiences that you’ll remember for the rest of your time here. 

It’s *so* easy to get stuck in the routine of coming to class and immediately leaving and going home, and while this is very necessary for some days, making an effort the first month can help keep you out of that box. 

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3. No, West Campus is not THAT bad. 

I went into my first semester jobless and broke, so when it came time to buy my parking pass aka Golden Ticket, I immediately got some intense sticker shock when I saw the prices for some of the options. I ended up picking the more economical West Campus option, despite my fears about the lot’s reputation for being small and the worst place to park on campus because of the time added to your commute to catch the shuttle. However, it was honestly much better than anyone made it out to be. With the added parking on Rapidan River Lane, I never had any difficulties finding a spot at even the highest traffic parking times and the Mason Shuttles run frequently and promptly through their loop.

That being said, you absolutely want to build time into your schedule to make sure you have more than one opportunity to catch the shuttle and not have to run from the stop to your class -- especially at the beginning of the fall semester when it’s common for the buses to fill up at popular times. 

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4. Don’t buy lunch everyday (and definitely don’t get a meal plan).

With all of the great dining options on campus (hello, Chipotle!) it's so tempting to treat yourself and buy food more often than you should. While it’ll definitely be more fun than anything you can bring from home, none of the food on campus is particularly affordable and those lunch bills stack up quick. Additionally, at orientation, they always make the pitch to off-campus students that they should consider getting a meal plan and taking advantage of the dining halls, but I promise it’s neither a good deal nor necessary. Chances are, the meal plan for commuters will either have too many meals or not enough meals depending on your class schedule, and none of the meal plans are a good deal -- much less this one.

Instead of breaking the bank and buying food everyday, limit yourself to once a week or a couple of times a month and save those splurges for days when you really need the pick-me-up.

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5. The Johnson Center isn’t the best place to get work done during the day on campus.

Due to its central location and the emphasis placed on it during tours and orientation, many first-year students spend all of their breaks between classes circling the 3 levels of the JC trying to find a spot in the popular student center. However, the JC is *rarely* (if ever) quiet, and it can be hard to focus on studying or getting started on that paper you’ve been procrastinating. 

Until you know your way around campus and can make it to your classes quickly, it’s a great starting point. However, once you’re more familiar with the area, it’s really beneficial to branch out to other areas, like the Hub or Fenwick, or even some of the academic buildings. Personally, my favorite is Peterson due to all of the sitting areas, natural light and -- most importantly -- silence.

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6. Coming home every day is a blessing, not a curse. 

We’re all at the age where we just want to be independent and go out on our own, so at first, coming home every day can make you feel a bit stir-crazy and like your parents will never see you as anything other than a child. However, there are a few big advantages to being at home during college. The first one being that -- for the most part -- you won’t have to pay for everything, something I’ve been extremely grateful for, and that makes everything that much less stressful. Personally, the distance from school and being able to compartmentalize everything has also really helped me keep my head on my shoulders. Being able to have both physical and mental space from all of the stress and distractions that go along with University makes studying easier. It’s much easier to say no to plans when you have to study if you’d have to drive all the way back to campus for them! One of the biggest benefits that I’ve found is that, contrary to what I’d assumed initially, my parents see me as more of an adult than if I was only home for breaks and the summer. They physically see me making adult decisions, both big and small, every day in a way that they wouldn’t if I was away. 

Plus, I never have to miss my dog, which may or may not be the best part, but don’t tell my Mom that (all jokes aside, I would really miss my mom).

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Related: The Importance of Being Able to #FindYourGirlGang

7. You are not alone. 

This is possibly the most cliche thing I could have written, but it definitely needs to be said: You aren’t the only one going through this transition and trying to figure out how to balance a commute, coursework and social life. It can be overwhelming and it can be isolating, but there are thousands of your peers at GMU going through the exact same experience and feeling these same things. Don’t let it taint this experience or keep you from embracing all that these years in University have to offer you. 

From all of the Registered Student Organizations to the multiple Greek Life Councils and Professional Organizations, your commuter status won’t impact the number of opportunities to meet people and get involved on campus. You just have to be brave enough to take the leap into those unknown situations and make the most of the time you have. I promise it’s worth it, collegiettes. 

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