How to survive the commuter student life

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Rukmini Waranashiwar
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Unlike many college students, I decided to commute to campus my freshman and sophomore years. Why? Mainly to save money, and because I didn’t want to room with people I didn’t know. I live fairly close to my school, the University of Texas at Dallas, but the 35-40 minute one-way commute can add up. I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about how to thrive as a commuting student. If you are considering living off campus, here are some things to keep in mind:

Smart Scheduling

Consider rush hours when planning your schedule.

Try not to schedule classes that begin at 8 am. The traffic during rush hour in the morning is insane no matter where you are because everyone is trying to get to work. If that’s the only time you can get for a class you need, learn the attendance policy and have a conversation with your professor early in the semester. Similarly, try not to leave school between 4:45-5:30 PM due to the evening rush hour. It will save you gas and time.

But don’t start too late in the day.

While you want to avoid morning rush hour, try to start your day on campus around 10 am. Parking spots will fill quickly throughout the day and after a morning commute, you do not want to spend any more time in the car than necessary hunting for a place to park.

Try to take most of your classes on the same days.

Registering for classes that are on the same two or three days per week will save gas and time. One drawback to this is the chance that big exams get scheduled on the same day. But having regular days off from class gives you the option to work or intern the rest of the week.

Join clubs but be aware of their meeting times.

I was not aware of how late in the evening some club meetings would be when I joined. This is especially difficult for commuters because after class, you just want to go home and relax. Since I don’t live close enough to campus to drive home and back, I tend to dread staying on campus till my club meeting is over. If you do have time to fill between classes and club meetings, find a favorite study spot on campus so you can be productive while you’re waiting.

Mobile Mindset

Make good use of your time in the car.

Driving for a long stretch or sitting in traffic can be mentally tiring. Play loud music to destress, listen to a podcast, or call a friend – using hands-free options, of course! See if any of your textbooks are available in audio-format so you can listen to your required reading. There have been several instances where I have been extremely tired and almost fallen asleep. College can be tiring; take steps to keep alert during your commute.

You can never predict the weather!

Always have an umbrella in your car, and maybe an extra coat or jacket. In colder climates, be sure you have an ice scraper in case you come out from class to a windshield covered in snow or ice.

Keep a professional outfit in your car.

There may be a career fair, interview, or networking opportunity that you forgot about.  Commuter students don’t have the option to run back to their dorm to change. Having professional clothes in your car will mean you’re prepared for anything.

Cultivate Connections

My final advice is to make friends! Since you are not on campus all the time, this can be difficult. I don’t cross paths with many people on a daily basis because I usually head home after class unless I have a club meeting. Cultivating relationships with your classmates helps you increase your social interactions, plus you’ll have someone to contact for class-related questions.

I wish I’d known these things before making the decision to live off campus. But all of these ideas have helped me be successful. I hope they help you conquer the commuter life!


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