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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

Compared to traditional college life, commuting to school changes the experience quite a bit. Prior to college, most teenagers hear about how fun and fulfilling the college experience is, how these are the “best four years of their lives”, how you’ll meet your lifelong friends, and eventually develop a preconceived notion of what college actually looks like. When hearing this from people around them, many fail to include the college experience of those who don’t live on campus, or who don’t have the traditional college experience. When I was in high school, I consistently imagined how I’d find my “soulmate” and lifelong friends in college, who I’d travel and spend time with, and have the college experience you see in movies. If you asked me back then about having a non-traditional college experience, I probably wouldn’t even know what you meant.

At most colleges, the majority of students don’t live on campus. Many live close to campus in off-campus housing and apartments to save money, to avoid their school’s on campus rules, or simply because it’s the best option for them. Living on-campus is a very specific niche college experience compared to those who don’t live near campus. Though VCU has nearly 23,000 undergraduate students, only around 6,000 of them live on campus, leaving around 17,000 students living off campus. A large portion of these students live within a few blocks of the actual campus, in addition to those who do strictly online school. So what happens to those who commute?

As a student who lives off campus and commutes multiple times per week, it’s extremely hard to stay engaged and involved when you only have to be on campus for a few hours per week. It makes it hard to meet people and truly enjoy campus life, though this is supposedly primetime for making friends. It’s easy to find yourself sitting alone or eating in your car during your classes, especially during those weird time gaps where you shouldn’t go home and come back, but there’s no way to “waste” time on campus. Oftentimes my school days are extremely long; stacking classes on certain days so you don’t have to travel to campus as often has its pros and cons. One thing I ask myself often as a commuter is: “do I feel like going?” Do I feel like making the drive to campus when I could stay in the comfort of my own home, save gas and avoid having social anxiety?

Students who commute come from a variety of different areas, backgrounds and living situations. There are students who have a twenty to thirty-minute commute, but plenty who drive an hour or two just to attend class. Though commuters may save money by living off campus, gas can quickly add up when you have a 45-minute commute multiple times per week. Weather and parking can also cause inconveniences when traveling to and from campus. Richmond is famous for a random road closure, so don’t be surprised if you have to find an alternative route with minutes to spare until class. Furthermore, sometimes in-person classes are canceled randomly and at the last minute, again inconveniencing students who travel to class.

In addition to having a less-than-adequate social life and traveling inconveniences, it can be difficult to manage on-campus and off-campus activities and obligations. Having to be present in off-campus activities can counteract your on-campus involvement if you’re not intentional with your time. It’s easy to just go to class and come home right after to avoid stepping out of your comfort zone.

Commuting to school isn’t all bad though. You save an overwhelming amount of money, and you’re forced to be intentional in the actions you take. Though you may not meet people in your dorm’s laundry room or in the dining hall, there are other ways to make the best of your experience and become involved. The first and most effective way to tackle this is to join clubs and organizations that align with your interests and goals. Most universities have a wide variety of organizations focused on specific interests, majors, sports and career goals. Joining a club is a straightforward way to get involved on your campus while meeting people who have similar interests. Being intentional about meeting new people and being involved is super helpful when it comes to creating the college experience you want. In addition, forming a routine when you’re on campus is also helpful. Being in the same places on campus around the same times can allow you to connect with other students who have a similar schedule. Finally, get out of your comfort zone! It’s hard, trust me because I know, but you won’t regret it in the long run! Start forming relationships with the people in your classes, the people you see in the library or students in other common areas on campus.

Looking back, college is far from what I expected it to be in many ways. It’s definitely not all parties and rainbows, and has its ups and downs just like anything else. In reality, college is a space to learn, develop and better yourself in the presence of others. Not being on campus can make these relationships with others challenging, but just like anything else, making a conscious effort to change makes a huge difference.

Raquel Jones is a senior at VCU majoring in Interdisciplinary Science with a minor in General Business. She is passionate about health equity for black women, and adverse health outcomes in women. You can typically find Raquel traveling, trying new foods, listening to podcasts or journaling.