The benefits of being a commuter student are rarely discussed. As someone who travelled around the USA for a year after my A-levels, living a somewhat independent life and learning what it was really like to have adult responsibilities, I didn’t think I would end up commuting to university. I was more than ready to leave my city and move a six-hour drive up north. Somewhere far away from everyone and everything I knew.
So, how did I end up in my current position? To be frank, I don’t really know. It was more a combination of things I suppose: the pandemic affecting my first year as an undergraduate and missing home after being away for so long. Regardless, I don’t regret my decision. While there are definitely drawbacks to the commuter lifestyle, I would personally say that the benefits outweigh them.
The best part about being a commuter student is the money you save. ‘Accommodation costs at universities have soared in recent years, while everyday living costs continue to march upwards’. When this is added to the extortionate annual £9,250 tuition fee, it becomes clear why most students end up in their overdrafts.
In most cases, living at home works out much cheaper. Not having to pay rent leaves you with a large chunk of money to spend elsewhere. Even if your parents do end up becoming your landlords, the rates are a lot lower than those in student areas. This also means you have the opportunity to start saving. Having a couple of part-time jobs alongside my studies has given me an extra stream of income that I can lock away for the future, rather than using it for accommodation expenses.
For me, the second biggest advantage is having family support. During lockdown and at other particularly stressful periods in the year, such as exam season, my mental health plummeted. Fortunately, I had my parents and siblings by my side to help build me up again.
Whether it was pragmatic things – like my mother making my favourite homemade meals and my sister doing my laundry for a few weeks – or emotional mood boosters such as going out for retail therapy and a fancy meal or even just staying in and having a Netflix night – there was always someone around to help me feel better. Of course, the same things could be said of university friends and housemates in accommodation, who do become family in many ways. But ‘one big difference between family and friends is that your family member’s relational label will not change, even if you have an argument.’
However, having friends at university is still important. When I decided I was going to commute, my biggest concern was that I would not make any friends because I was living thirty minutes away from university and the general student area. In hindsight, this was probably the most irrational fear ever.
There are so many ways to meet people at university, starting with lectures and seminars, which are the perfect place to find coursemates and therefore those who have similar interests to you. Some of the people I am closest with today are the ones I sat next to in class and got a coffee with afterwards! Nevertheless, I would say the best friendships are formed through student groups and societies.
Although my first year was completely online due to the pandemic, I got stuck-in as much as I could with the extra-curriculars available. I wrote online articles for the student newspaper and collaborated on the production of a Zoom TEDx event. In so doing, I met new and interesting people that I have had the pleasure of getting to know properly in-person this year.
Undeniably, this is a very rose-tinted view of commuter life. There are always difficulties – such as having to plan nights out in a bit more detail – and a lot of the time, how things go is dictated by the context of your individual situation. For example, I am fortunate enough to live fairly close to campus in a location with brilliant public transport links. Also, both my parents work at my university, which is convenient for the occasional lift home.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to those advantages. But that does not mean commuting is all doom and gloom. Given the conversations I’ve had with my friends in accommodation, the most I seem to have missed out on thus far is housemate drama, broken heating systems and the occasional party or two.
Do not be confined by the fear of missing out. You can still make the most of “the university experience” as a commuter student. It is just not the same experience as everyone else’s.