Pros and Cons of Commuting to College

July 13, 2021
commuting to college

When your child starts college and you have an empty nest, you might have a to-do list, including travel abroad and fixing up the house.

But before you book a flight, borrow money to turn your child’s room into a home theater or think about other activities for empty nesters, consider that a growing number of students are choosing to live at home and commute to college.

Nearly one in five students opts to save money by being a commuter college student rather than a campus resident. If your child is weighing whether or not to commute to college, consider the following.

Commuting to college lessens room and board expenses

College room and board averaged $10,389 a year in the 2015–2016 school year.  These expenses are in addition to the thousands of dollars you may already be paying for tuition. Eliminating this expense can make college more affordable. If your child decides to drive, you can factor in wear and tear on the vehicle as well as fuel costs, which may impact the decision.

Campus life considerations

Your child may want to make the drive to school to enjoy some late-night pizzas, evening activities and casual interactions with other students that make college fun. But if affording the room-and-board cost is a main factor in whether your child can attend their college of choice, you both may need to prioritize and schedule thoughtfully. If your child is enrolled in a school with a limited campus life, commuting may already be the clear choice.

Is driving worth it?

Look closely at where the school is located and what the typical traffic is like on the route your child would take to get to classes each day. A 1.5-hour drive during the morning and evening rush hours can limit time for studying and extracurricular activities. To make longer commutes more manageable, your child can consider scheduling their classes on the same days each week — such as Mondays and Wednesdays — to limit driving during the week.

Another consideration is the school’s available parking — can your child purchase a pass for the school lots that’s good for a semester, or will they need to pay to park in a garage off campus? Are the lots well-lit and patrolled by security guards for added safety? The answers to these questions can influence the cost and your child’s decision to commute to college.

Living on campus could mean more independence

While living at home, parents are likely to continue doing what they do best: parenting. You’ll ask about homework, remind your son or daughter about upcoming responsibilities and offer assistance for difficult decisions. You may mean well, but this can be perceived as a threat to emerging independence. This may create friction in your parent-child relationship.

On campus, your child makes the decisions. If they go out to an event and put off working on a term paper, your child will have to figure out how to get it done or deal with the grade. Such life lessons can serve as a good primer for adulthood, including the working world when they’ll have to make decisions for themselves regularly.

If your child decides to commute, it helps to set some ground rules that you’re both happy with. Have a plan in place for scenarios like how your child will let you know they’re staying on campus for the night or what you’ll do to provide them with quiet studying time at home. Having these expectations lets your student explore their independence while still respecting your relationship and the home you share.

Forming new friendships

Students will make friends whether they live on campus or not, but when a student is surrounded by people their own age most of the time, the bonds can grow deeper. These are relationships that are built on late-night study sessions and shared passions for sports, music and food. They’re those relationships that can also last a lifetime. Even if your child lives off campus, they’ll have plenty of other opportunities to build new friendships through classes, volunteering, working part time or starting an off-campus study group for other students who commute. On the other hand, commuting to college while living at home can allow your child to keep in touch with existing friends that they might have otherwise lost touch with.

Deciding to commute to college is an important step for you and your child. If they make the decision to drive to campus, help them stay protected with the right car insurance for their needs.

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