The Pros & Cons of Commuting vs. Living On Campus

By Alicia Geigel on December 25, 2019

While starting college, one of the most important things is your living situation. For many college students, living on campus is a “no-brainer’, as it is what the majority of students do and is essentially a “standard” of the college experience. According to The College Board, 40 percent of full-time college students at public universities and 64 percent at private universities live on-campus. That means the rest of the full-time students live either off-campus or with their parents.

There is no right or wrong way to go to college and this especially applies to your living situation. A multitude of different factors can affect your living situation, between academic years or even semesters. Living on campus isn’t better than living at home and vice versa, rather, each situation depends solely on you.

Sometimes, being a first-gen/low-income college student can mean having limited resources regarding the best living situation for your specific circumstances. I know that when I was researching and applying for colleges, I felt like I just had to do what everyone else did. My freshman year I lived in a dorm, sophomore year lived in an off-campus apartment, and the remaining two years lived at home with my parents. Because I had limited resources on college living situations, I feel like it’s important to share what I know to other first-gen/low-income students.  Here’s a helpful pro/con guide to living at home vs. on campus that will help guide you in your process!

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Living on Campus 

I lived on campus for the entirety of my freshman year and sophomore year. During my time living on campus, I had a really fun time exploring campus, making new friends, and getting a fresh feel of being independent. There were many things that happened while living on campus that shaped me and taught me a lot about who I am and what I wanted. Just like living at home/commuting, living on campus has both its perks and disadvantages.

Pros: 

Zero Commute Time: No worrying about train times, parking spots, traffic, etc. The only thing you have to worry about is snagging a seat in your lecture hall! When you don’t have to get up early and make a commute to your classes, actually making the trip to your small seminar or lecture doesn’t seem too bad.

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Image made via Canva

Greater Access to On-Campus Resources: Instead of scheduling a phone call or corresponding via email, you can arrange a face-to-face meeting with professors, advisors, etc. Having the personal connection with advisors can help build your confidence and give you a better understanding of what you’re trying to solve/figure out.

Socializing Comes Naturally: When living on campus, you don’t have to worry about missing the train home or rushing to get in your car to beat rush hour traffic after class. Instead, you can hang out on campus, chat with classmates and grab a bite to eat. Socializing is more natural and easier when you don’t have other worries clouding your mind!

Going to Parties/Campus Events is Easy: During my last two years of college, I felt like a bit of an outsider and wished that I could have the ability to go to more campus events. Sure, I was only a train ride away but that train ride was an hour to and from campus and a 30-minute drive to and from home. Sometimes it just felt like it wasn’t worth it.

When living on campus, this isn’t something you have to worry about! You have better accessibility to fun events football games, homecoming events, organization/club meetings, concerts, etc. which can make you feel more integrated into the school community, another benefit!

Cons: 

Distance from Home/Getting Homesick: I’m not going to lie, when I was having loads of fun living on campus, there were still points where I felt homesick. Sometimes you need to escape and decompress from the college culture get back home where you feel safe and comfortable. Maybe you are having a rough day and the only thing that you know will cheer you up is your mom’s famous soup and a cuddle from the family pet.

Of course, no one can have this all the time, but when you’re in college (and perhaps away from home for the first time), these little things matter the most. While living on campus, being away from home can be difficult, especially depending on your location and access to adequate transportation. I had friends who had to miss special holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas due to the fact that they lived so far away and transportation back home was so expensive. Just gauge how much you enjoy being at home versus how much you want to live on campus. Maybe there’s an in between!

The Party Scene Gets Old, Fast: Living on campus is all good until you have too much fun with your friends the night before and decide to skip all of your classes the next day. With no mom or dad breathing down your neck and no accountability, it is definitely easy to slack off and get distracted by parties, sleeping in and skipping class, etc. Instead of having others hold you accountable, you are responsible for yourself and making sure you get to class- a scary thought isn’t it?

Housing Can Put a Whole in Your Pocket: The prices of student housing only seem to increase, which can put a hole in your pocket and your parents’ pocket. In fact, the prices for U.S. student housing investments have never been higher.

John Costello of Real Estate Investor writes, “Student housing was once a property sector dominated by assets that were not managed by professional investors. Institutional investors have “discovered” this sector in the current economic cycle and price-performance has reached record highs as a result.” Because student housing prices are so high, living on campus can be a financial burden if you or your parents are not able to cover the costs, even if you don’t live in a dorm and live in an off-campus apartment.

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Living at Home/Commuting: 

My junior year, I moved back home with my parents from my off-campus apartment. This adjustment was a big one for me as there were many factors that I had to consider when organizing a class schedule for the next semester, factors that I did not have to think about when living on campus. Living at home was a large shift in what I was used to and there were definitely some great benefits as well as some setbacks that molded a new college experience for me.

Pros: 

Opportunity to Save Money: Living at home instead of in on-campus housing can help to save you (and your family) a good chunk of money as you don’t have to worry about the expenses of a dorm/on-campus apartment (which are often time pricey).

With the average cost of room and board being $9,500 or $10,830 at a private university, living at home can put that money back into you and your family’s bank account. Additionally, you can save money in terms of excess spending, such as campus food trucks/restaurants, excess clothing, and other items you might have greater access to while living on campus.

Having Immediate Support of Family or Close Friends: When living at home, you have the immediate support of family and close friends, which can definitely come in handy while you’re in college stressing over grades and managing different projects. Of course, you can have the support of family and friends while on campus, but sometimes the physical distance of loved ones can influence certain feelings you may hold like feeling lonely or isolated.

Lack of Extra Distractions (i.e. parties, tailgates, etc.): Part of the difficulty of living on campus for some students is the access to distractions like parties and tailgates. Going to fun parties and gatherings with friends is a natural part of the college experience but when parties become daily or weekly, it can interfere with accomplishing school work.  When at home, there isn’t the appeal and access to these distractions, making it easier for you to focus on what is important.

Cons: 

Building Your Schedule Around Commuting: As I stated earlier, part of the hardship of living at home and commuting to school for me was building my entire schedule around commuting. Every day, I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to get to my train station by 7 to get parking, to then get the train at 7:42 which got me to my school by 8:45.

By the time I got to school, I had just enough time to walk from the train station to get to my first class at 9am. Train times, minoring traffic, campus parking, walking time- it’s a lot to take into consideration and can be exhausting at points! When living on campus, all you have to worry about is walking out of your dorm building and to whichever campus building you need to go to. This is certainly a convenience and a nice perk about living on campus!

Lack of Access to Immediate Campus Resources: Living off-campus at home can make access to immediate important campus resources like the library, academic advisors, professors, etc. Of course, most universities have access to the library online and you can reach advisors and professors via phone or email, but sometimes its easier to be able to just stop by and visit. That personal connection that you can make with an advisor or being able to get your hands on a physical copy of a book you need is a little bit harder to do when you’re living at home.

Lack of Access to Special Campus Events on a Day-to-Day Basis: Similar to the previous bullet, when you’re an hour away from campus, making the trip to go to an event during homecoming week or another special event isn’t always easy or enticing, which can be a bummer. Obviously, you can drive down or take public transportation, but depending on your commute time, it might be more appealing to stay home and save the travel time.

Having a Social Life is More Difficult: Being at home and away from campus can be isolating and make having a social life more difficult. Making friends and hanging out on campus is limited based on your commuter schedule and going to parties, hangouts, other fun events aren’t always possible.

While I was at home, I felt like my social life was impacted because I simply didn’t have the same living situation as most college students. When students would hang out after class to talk about the test next week, I had to rush to catch my train home. Little things like that hindered my social life as a student and made making friends/networking difficult both during and after college.

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Ultimately, remember these few points whenever you’re questioning your decisions or life is challenging, and you can make it through anything!

  • It’s ok to change your mind and go against what you had originally planned. 
  • Sometimes situations don’t work out, you fall out of a relationship with your roommate, your financial situation becomes difficult, family obligations come about- all of this can change our life, especially our college experience and living situations. 
  • It’s OK to have to go against what your original plan was, this means you are experiencing a new facet of life and taking on obstacles/challenges that will help you grow! 

In college, we all want the same things: to gain knowledge, learn new perspectives, make friends, and graduate with a degree that will advance our careers in a positive way. These goals and wants are both possible when living on campus and living at home/commuting. Though there are benefits and disadvantages to both, deciding on a living situation depends on your wants and needs. As always, good luck!

By Alicia Geigel

Uloop Writer
Temple alum | columnist at Uloop News | writer at Top5Must & KnowPhilly | photographer | food blogger

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