Those who commute to university make up a large, and often overlooked, proportion of the student population. As the cost of living continues to rise, many have little choice but to stay at home. This is especially true in cases where maintenance loans fail to cover rental costs. For those who have chosen a university closer to home, moving out may not make much financial sense. Equally, staying at home may be a completely personal choice if this is a step you’re not yet ready to take. In all of these cases, missing out on the ‘typical’ student experience, or feeling isolated from your peers, is a common experience for those who commute to university. Here are my tips for how to make your situation work best for you:
See if there are any other students in your area who you can car share with. Public transport is expensive and, even though 16-25 year olds are entitled to 1/3 off ticket prices with a railcard, making numerous journeys throughout the week does add up. Why not talk to other students on your course and see if anyone makes the same journey as you by car? Not only would this save you money, but also give you the chance to get to know someone you may not otherwise have spoken to. Car sharing may be particularly useful during exam season, giving you piece of mind that you can arrive there on time, whilst avoiding the stresses of transport delays and cancellations. However, as car sharing may not always be an option, consider talking to your lecturer or personal tutor to make them aware of the fact that you travel from home. Delays and cancellations on public transport are inevitable. So let your lecturers know that this may be the case to account for any lateness before it happens.
Staying with friends
Going to clubs or staying till close at the pub have long been a fixture of the ‘typical’ student experience. But for those who commute, the stresses of missing the last train or bus home mean that nights like these are often avoided. If possible, why not see if a trusted friend will let you stay at their house for the night? This guarantees you somewhere to go in the early hours of the morning, and ensures that you can get back safely. It also means that you won’t have the additional worry of constantly checking the time or travel updates throughout the night. Missing out on social events like this can be an isolating experience. Staying with a friend gives you the opportunity to enjoy this part of student life, whilst having a safe and convenient plan of action.
Join a club or society
Living in halls is how many students form friendships in the early stages of university life. However, it is certainly not the only way. For those of you who commute, not living with other students doesn’t necessarily disadvantage you in being able to meet new people. Getting to know others on your course is a great place to start. You will be working alongside these people for the next few years, so don’t be afraid to sit next to them in the lecture hall, or strike up a conversation during a seminar. Equally, joining a club or society offers you the opportunity to interact with people that you already have a shared interest with. Music, sports, art, film… the possibilities are endless. So put yourself out there and become a part of wider university life.
Make use of online resources
Having to lug books and folders around with you throughout the day is strenuous enough, without having the added worry of taking these back and forth on an hour-long train journey. This is made particularly difficult if your university doesn’t have anywhere for you to store these (such as lockers) in your Students’ Union. Where possible, make the most of your universities’ online resources. Most have extensive online libraries with books and journal articles that you can access from home. If you can’t access the resources you want online, consider staggering when you take books out of the library and bring them back. Equally, it might be worth asking a friend whether you can store your books at their house during the day.
Seek support if you need it
Living at home can be an isolating experience, as well as a financial and emotional strain. All too often, commuters are caught out by last minute lecture cancellations when they have already made the effort (and paid) to travel into university. This is not only time-consuming, but an extremely frustrating situation. Others may feel that they are missing out by not fully immersing themselves in the ‘typical’ student lifestyle; this can lead to feelings of loneliness and exclusion. If you feel like this applies to you, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Your personal tutor, your lecturers, counselors, friends, parents. You are not alone in this. There are people who are willing to listen, and who want to help you to make adjustments that can enhance your student experience. Be proactive by letting people know if you’re unhappy, and work with them to make a change for the better.
Having to commute is a reality for many students. While there are things they can personally do to get the best out of their experience, it is also the responsibility of the university to recognise their situation and offer support. Placing lockers in the Students’ Union or lecture buildings, ensuring there is an effective and efficient system in place for communicating when lectures have been cancelled, and offering an extensive range of online resources are all measures that can improve the experiences of commuter students.
Ellie has just finished her third year at Cardiff University, studying English Language. She also writes a blog ‘Forget the World’ about lifestyle and university experiences.
Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED measures. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.