A Commuter's Guide to Being Involved

A universal problem amongst all college commuters around the world is, “How do I get the college experience when I don’t live on campus?” It is a well-known fact that college is a time for self-exploration and discovery, freedom and knowledge, fun and academics, mistakes and journeys, and so much more. People often think that you can’t experience all of these things if you don’t live in a dorm room, but fear not, my fellow commuters. There are friends stacked on top of events that are piled on clubs (I don’t even know if that makes sense) that will allow you to be involved on campus, and better yet, allow you to get the college experience.

To be honest, when I was younger, all I ever looked forward to was going to college and living on campus. I wanted to get away from my parents, meet new people, be independent, party here and there, and most of all, decorate half of a room in my own cute, unique way. Yes, that may seem like a lame reason to want to live on campus, but something about decorating a new room really intrigued me, and you would be lying if you said it didn’t also intrigue you.

Come senior year, my parents and I realized just how expensive college truly was. Believe it or not, I got into every private and SUNY school I applied to, whether they were Ivy League, practically large high schools, or inbetweeners. I also got scholarships to every single one, and the scholarships I got were either the largest amount or the second biggest. When I applied to Siena, I got the presidential scholarship, but even with that, the cost of college with me living on campus would have been $26 thousand, and that was the cheapest out of all the colleges I was accepted to. My parents didn’t have that kind of money, and neither did I.

I’m one of those kids who grew up their whole lives paying for everything - my car, car insurance, gas, luxury expenses, clothes, cell phone bills, summer camps, etc. It’s not that my parents don’t love me or neglect me - they love me so much that their main goal in life is for me to be independent, spend my money wisely, be self-sustainable, and work hard for what I earn. Because of their beliefs, which I thank them very much for raising me with, I have to pay for college on my own. Staying on campus wasn’t even an option, because even though it’s my money, my parents weren’t even in the financial position to cosign my loans. It’s crazy to think about how hard they work, how much money they make, how well off we are, how beautiful our home is, and how much free money we have, but because they have five children and bills to pay, the money colleges think we have doesn’t actually exist. Ultimately, for financial reasons, I had to commute.

I’m not going to lie, I cried a lot during the summer preceding college. I was so disappointed in the fact that I wasn’t going to be in a college far away in a cozy, cute little dorm room on campus, and that I wouldn’t get the full experience. To be honest, I didn’t even like the idea of attending college anymore, I dreaded it. I hated the government for penalizing the middle class, Siena for not giving me enough financial aid, American education in general for making college so expensive, and my parents for not letting me waste my money. But what I hated most was the fact that I was a commuter who didn’t even live close. I live an hour away and I could either drive back and forth every day or spend some nights at my grandma’s, who lived fifteen minutes away. I currently have a boyfriend and spend some nights at his house. I hate having to jump around from house to house, packing every week, and not ever being settled down - I practically feel homeless.

Come orientation, being the outgoing, positive person I am, I tried being excited because I was going to meet new people. I’ve also always been someone who likes to see the glass as half full, so I knew I was going to try my best to make college a good experience. I talked to people, met a boy (my current boyfriend), joined more clubs than I could handle, and signed up for all kinds of sports. I even took part in the stupid ice breaker games our SAINTS made us play (yes, everyone thinks they’re stupid, even those who participate and act like they’re having fun, like me). I did all of this because even though I wasn’t able to live in a dorm room, I wanted to make lifelong friends and spend the majority of my time on campus doing fun things, AKA: I wanted to be home as little as possible.

Because of the fact I wouldn’t stop talking to people and I wanted to have fun, I now have not only tons of commuter friends, but tons of residential friends who let me sleep over in their dorms and go to parties. I’m also in Red Cross, Her Campus, club soccer, intramural softball, intramural basketball, yoga, and more. I made sure that I exceled with my academic performance so that more involvement opportunities could arise. Because of this, as a freshman, I’ve already been offered internships and a position as a tutor in the writing center. Because I didn’t keep my head down and miserably exclude myself from the world, I’m more involved on campus than most of the residential students I know.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, keep your head up. Being a commuter isn’t all that bad. If anything, it’s better! You get home-cooked meals, private bathrooms, your own bedroom, a car, and so much more! You’re going to have moments where you wish you lived on campus, or in my case, at least lived much closer, but it’s not the end of the world. Make relationships so that you can stay in friends’ dorms or have sleepovers with your boyfriend. If you’re more of an anti-social person who doesn’t want to be involved, there’s nothing wrong with that either, you do you. Just be sure to use Siena’s facilities between classes. The Standish Library is a wonderful place, and in the warmer weather, so is the Grotto. It comes down to the fact that every commuter is a commuter for different reasons, every commuter wants different things, and every commuter is only willing to do so much—every person is different. All that matters is that you listen to people's advice and do what you think is best for yourself. Don’t let people push you to be active on campus if you don’t want to be, and don’t let being a commuter keep you away from campus involvement if you don’t want it to. Siena is a very accepting community with tons of clubs and things to do, just look them up and ask someone what’s happening on campus. Ultimately, the decision is in your hands and you decide how much campus involvement you want. Just know, there are more than plenty available opportunities for you to gain that college experience. Most of all, know that you aren’t the only one who feels the way you do about commuting, so reach out to someone, because they’ll more than likely be able to relate. As Zendaya says: