The Ultimate Guide to College Commuting

Is living off-campus the right move for you?
September 5, 2019
7 mins read

There comes a time in many students’ lives when they decide that on-campus living is no longer suitable for them, and it’s time to move into an apartment so they can have their own space and their own shower. While most students choose to make the switch from dorm life to third-party housing at some point in their college careers, they often do not take into consideration what it means to live independently. Living off-campus means that you’re now responsible for everything homemaking entails — yes, that means you’ll have to start cooking for yourself — but it also means you’ll have to start commuting to class.

Commuting doesn’t sound like a huge deal at first, but there’s a lot to consider: How much will it cost? How much time will you need to get from home to school? Which mode of transportation is best?

So, let’s figure out if commuting is a practical option for you.

Weighing the Options

There are many factors that contribute to your preferred method of transportation; accessibility is probably the biggest one. Does your city offer public transportation? In most large metropolitan areas, residents have plenty of options: There’s the bus, the train, rideshares or bikeshares. But maybe your school is in a rural area, which limits your options to get around without a car of your own. Or perhaps your community doesn’t have adequate sidewalks, making any type of “active” commuting (walking, cycling, etc.) impossible. Do some research to find out what is available to you.

Once you’ve established your options, it’s time to weigh the pros and cons. For example, let’s compare driving your own vehicle to taking the train.

First, we’ll look at cost; the average American spends $2,600 per year on commuting. That’s because there’s a price built into almost every aspect of transportation, so consider: How will you get to the train station? Will you pay to park, use a rideshare or walk? What is the price of a round-trip train ticket? And, once you arrive, how will you get to class? Conversely, if you opt for the car instead of the train, you have to take into account the price of gas, recurring maintenance, expressway tolls and parking.

Next, think about time. According to 2015 data from the Census Bureau, the average commute is 26 minutes long. Obviously, this factor is incredibly specific, and this figure might not represent your individual commute, but it’s still an important aspect to consider. Going back to our car vs. train example, you may think to take the latter because it’s cheaper; however, it can take significantly more time: A 30-minute drive might become a 60-minute train ride. That’s an hour each way, five days a week, if you commute every day, which comes out to 10 hours per week spent traveling to and from school. That’s 10 hours you could be spending on homework or at your job.

On the flip side, the train might actually save you time because you have the opportunity to remain productive while using public transportation, but drivers cannot say the same. So, while you’re spending twice as long on the commute journey, those hours are not necessarily wasted staring at the back of a bumper.

Lastly, assess how the commute impacts both you and the environment around you. On average, cars emit over 800 pounds of carbon dioxide every month; public transportation impacts the environment, too, but at a significantly lower rate per passenger mile than a single person driving a car. From that angle, taking the bus or train seems like a better option.

But it’s also important to consider the toll it takes on you as the passenger. Are you becoming fatigued from the long daily drives, or maybe you’re sick of sitting on a cramped bus next to a guy who just will not stop coughing? One type of transportation might seem more responsible over another, but if it’s putting a huge damper on your day, is it truly worth it?

Travel Tips

Once you’ve figured out which travel option is best for you, arm yourself with tricks to ease your commute. Whether you’re driving, walking, biking or taking the train, here are some tips to make it manageable.

If you’re planning to drive, you should try to schedule your classes at times that will let you avoid traffic rush periods. For example, registering for an 8 a.m. course is not the best option for anyone trying to be more efficient in their travel. However, sometimes this just isn’t possible; in that case, it’s best to add enough extra time into your commute to account for the traffic.

Many large universities have on-campus parking that drivers can take advantage of; usually, you’ll be required to purchase a permit. Other places — especially on city campuses — there is no parking, and you will have to look elsewhere. Parking can be expensive and inconsistent, but, alas, there’s an app for that! Parkwhiz and Spot Hero are two life-saving services that let drivers book parking in advance for lower rates. They even offer monthly parking options.

For train or bus riders, make sure to bring your homework along to make the most of your trip. Not only will it make the commute go by faster, but it will allow you to be productive during that time. A hotspot device might be a smart investment for working on the go so you have Wi-Fi no matter where you’re at. Also, many cities offer student rates for public transportation, so do your research and take advantage of those discounts.

Ride On

Many students are tempted by the thought of abandoning on-campus living, and if you’ve opted to make the switch, it’s important to figure out if commuting to class will be feasible. Start by finding the transportation options that are accessible to you, then weigh the pros and cons of each one, as they pertain to cost, efficiency and impact. Once you’ve deduced the most viable travel options, you’re ready to embrace the freedom of off-campus life. Happy adulting.

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