Memoirs of a Freshman Commuter: Why You Should Embrace Dorm Life

The summer before my freshman year began, I made the decision to commute to college. While everyone in my life wanted to support me, it was obvious that most, if not all, of my family and friends thought it was a bad idea, as most of the people I knew couldn’t wait to begin their new lives.

I felt completely different. It was an odd turn of events, as I had always been fairly celebratory of growing up. I was one of the first to get a job, a license and even to begin touring and applying for colleges. But I didn’t feel ready to make the transition to university life at all, so I decided to take it in baby steps.

I had a number of justifications for my decision. I told people that I was trying to save money, that I was afraid my roommate would be a serial killer and that we had just gotten a new cat and I wanted to build a strong bond with him so that he wouldn’t forget me. The more my friends relished their independence, the more embarrassed I became of the true reason I was commuting. In reality, I was afraid I would miss my parents too much, that I was too afflicted with only-child syndrome to survive on my own and that being away from each other would inevitably drive my high school boyfriend and I apart.

I believed my own justifications and thought my commuting situation would be ideal. I scheduled all of my classes for the same three days a week to minimize drive times. I told my boss in my hometown that I could work steady shifts on the weekends and substitute on Tuesdays and Fridays when I didn’t have class. If I didn’t sub, I volunteered at the Humane Society, which I both loved and was required to do for class. On weekends, I could visit friends going to local colleges. This seemed an ideal life to me; I could go to school, make money and continue doing the things I loved with the people I loved.

The result was disastrous. I had all four of my classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and needed to be at school from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. I lived about 45 minutes away, and that’s without factoring in rush hour or the time it takes to ride the commuter bus into campus. To avoid this long drive, I spent Sunday and Tuesday nights at my grandma’s house, where we spent a lot of time playing board games. While I do love both board games and my grandma, it wasn’t the best circumstance for a college student with a lot of homework and little time.

Having all of my classes in two days was often torturous. I had no place to store my school supplies and had to carry them around with me all day. I had no comfortable place to rest between classes and spent a lot of time sitting on the floor in Wells Hall. Although not getting a meal plan did make sense financially, I often felt pressured to skip lunch, rather than pay $10 to enter a caf. At times, I found it impossible to complete all of my homework, as most of it required wifi, which was not available at my grandma’s house. When I was desperate, I would awkwardly read sideways PDFs on my phone, and on more than one unpleasant occasion, I sat for hours at McDonald’s, eating nuggets and abusing their wifi.

Although it definitely didn’t help that my schedule restricted my homework time for all four classes to Monday nights, the real cause of the stress was the driving. It was ridiculous to spend so much time commuting when I could be curled up in a dorm room, taking advantage of extra time and helpful resources.

The cost of commuting became apparent in other ways as well. I measured everything by miles and gas. Despite my initial insistence that I would be able to do more things with more people, I became unwilling to drive anywhere out of my way. I never attended Michigan State events, no matter how enticing, if they fell on a day that I didn’t need to be at the school. Group projects were a cause of anxiety and annoyance, as I had to stay at the school later at night, cutting into my already precious homework time.

The worst thing was that I was lonely. Despite everything I had done to ensure otherwise, I missed everyone more. It’s not as easy to make friends in large lecture halls as it is in the dorms, especially considering all of the activities offered. I would sit alone in class and watch people chatting away. It made me bitter, at myself for growing up, at my friends for moving on to wonderful lives, and even at Michigan State, which I began to believe was the source of my problems. It wasn’t where all of my friends were, it wasn’t where I felt happy, and as a result, I began to hate it.

It became obvious that dorm life was the solution. I resolved to get through first semester and secure a residence on campus for the second. Although I knew it was ultimately the better choice for my education, the old fears still lingered. I wasn’t sure it would be the best for me on a personal level.

Within days of moving into my dorm, I discovered that I was completely wrong. I had assumed that since I was coming halfway through the year, I would have no hopes of making friends, but on my first night, I was invited to dinner by some floormates. A few days later, the one friend that I had made in class first semester invited me to see a movie with a group. Once, I went to an event alone and ran into my RA, who spent the rest of the evening making crafts with me.

I hadn’t realized before how many activities were available on campus and began to look forward every week to seeing what new events I could go to. You miss out on so much when you commute, especially if you live too far away to stick around in the evening. The university has innumerable things to offer its students, and I fully recommend taking advantage of them. Many nights I struggle to decide what activity I want to do most, and I’m always sad when homework gets in the way of events.

With open-mic nights every other Tuesday, free bowling every Wednesday and Aqua Zoomba on Thursdays, I’ve been too busy and entertained to feel any homesickness at all. Admittedly, I do go home often, as I still visit my boyfriend and work on the weekends, but I have already decided to get a job on-campus next year and stay in East Lansing most of the time.

This time, I have no fear. I truly love dorm-life and would recommend it to any incoming freshman. Leaving home can be liberating for some and paralyzing for others. It’s okay to fall on either end of the spectrum; it’s okay to enjoy freedom or miss your hometown, and it’s especially okay to feel both. But I would advise any incoming freshman against commuting, especially if they don’t live in the area. As terrifying as it may be to make that step, it’s a thousand times easier than living in both worlds. I finally took it, and I was shocked to discover that the world didn’t end.

I’ve had no trouble learning to share space with a roommate. I am still in constant contact with my high school friends, who I see whenever possible. My boyfriend and I have adapted to seeing each other less with no problems. I stay in close contact with my family and talk to my mom almost every day. As happy as I have been living on campus, I uphold that there is no shame in missing your loved ones and none in going home for the weekend when you need to.

I will always regret not living in a dorm my first semester. I fear I have missed out on potential friendships and a plethora of opportunities. As a result of not knowing many people, I have had to go in blind again for a roommate next year. Often, I worry that the butterfly effects of commuting will follow me negatively throughout my college career. I am thankful, however, that I am going to a friendly university where I have a chance to take a new opportunity every day, and I plan on taking full advantage of them. I no longer feel any bitterness. I am a proud Spartan, and I am thankful to finally be living the “dorm experience.”