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Commuter College: Everything You Need to Know

A commuter college is a school where students commute to school from their home rather than living on or nearby their campus. Commuter schools can be a great option for students who are stretched thin financially and cannot pay for their own housing. They also offer a great solution for students who are needed at home and don’t want to waste money on college housing that they would not end up using. 

But commuter colleges are not without their disadvantages. Students might miss out on the traditional college experience and may wish for the independence of their own housing. Let’s get into what you should consider when you look into commuter colleges. We’ll weigh the advantages and disadvantages for each option and help you make an informed decision.

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What is a commuter college?

A commuter college is a school where students do not live on campus. They may live at home with their parents, or they may have their own place that is not considered official college housing. Some schools allow students to live off-campus, but at a commuter college, it is general practice that most of the students live elsewhere. This establishes a different social norm than at colleges where everyone lives in the same area. 

Related: Top reasons to attend community college

Advantages of commuter colleges

Commuter colleges come with a host of advantages. Here are a few to consider:

Reduced cost of housing

Perhaps the biggest advantage to commuter college is the reduced cost of housing. College housing is typically very expensive, and being able to live at home or in your own housing can bring about serious savings. If you are having trouble affording college, this can make a huge dent in your expenses.

Also see: How to save money on housing

Proximity to family

For some students, staying close to family is a big priority. You might value your community at home very highly and want to continue living there during your studies. This is a great reason to pick a commuter college. You’ll be able to achieve a higher education without missing out on the experience of living at home.

Some students may also prefer to stay at home because they or someone in their family has a health situation. In this case, commuter college is also a great option. You’ll be able to earn your degree while maintaining any familial responsibilities. Students who struggle with mental health may also prefer to live at home with their family, and commuter colleges can make this possible.

Integration into your everyday life

If you are a nontraditional student, commuter colleges are a great way to earn your degree without dramatically interrupting the flow of your life. You could be a mom or have a demanding job that requires a lot of attention. Either way, if you can’t afford to interrupt your everyday life, commuter colleges are much less disruptive than residential ones.

Also see: How to save money in college

Disadvantages of commuter colleges

All that being said, there are disadvantages to attending a commuter college. Here are some of the possible drawbacks:

Reduced independence

One major part of the college experience is learning to live away from your family and with a group of peers. Residential college students begin to learn to take care of themselves and live on their own. Students at commuter colleges miss out on this experience and have more adjusting to do when they finish their degree. 

Missing out on some social aspects of college

An important part of the residential college experience is the connections you make. You’ll make friends from around the country and form tight bonds by living in close proximity with one another. Although close friendships are still possible at commuter colleges, they tend to have less resources to help facilitate them.

You should also note that residential colleges also tend to have tighter alumni networks. These can help you secure a job after college; alumni might scout for recruits at their alma mater because they trust the institution. At commuter colleges, alumni might feel less of a connection to their school and be less eager to hire out of the graduate pool.

Home can be distracting

It might be difficult to focus on your academics in a home environment. Tensions that might evolve from living with parents and/or siblings could make it difficult to pay your full attention to your studies. For some students, this is unavoidable. But it’s worth considering that this could be a factor in your educational experience.

More difficult to access academic resources

Most colleges have a thorough collection of resources on campus, including a library, study spaces, and equipment for hard science courses. If you are a commuter, you’ll have to plan your visits to campus more strategically and you won’t be able to run back and forth between home and school as easily. Sometimes, having a few study spaces picked out can be helpful to get you through finals week in college. It’ll be harder to return home after a long night of studying if your drive home is an hour-long. Sometimes, commuter colleges might not even invest in extensive study spaces.

Commuter college alternatives

If you are in a situation that warrants considering community college, you should remember that you may have other options. Students who cannot afford or don’t have the life situation to live on-campus may find one of these options feasible as well:

Online colleges

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, online education has become increasingly popular and respected. Now that even Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale have gone fully online for several semesters, people have realized that online education is a feasible alternative to in-person. As a result, there are many options for students looking to study online. Major universities have begun offering courses through online platforms like Coursera.

Online study has several similar advantages to commuter college. The reduced cost and location flexibility are both big advantages. Online colleges typically cost a fraction of their in-person counterparts. And as an online student, your location doesn’t matter so long as you have an internet connection.

Also see: Top scholarships for online students

Public in-state universities

If cost is one of your main reasons to choose a commuter college, you can also look into public in-state colleges. These schools typically have significantly reduced tuition and additional scholarships for students from their state. Although many of these schools are residential, so you will have to live on campus, you may find them to suit your financial situation and give you the in-person college experience with a commuter college pricetag.

Related: How to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student

Certificate programs and coding bootcamps

Certificate programs and coding bootcamps have become increasingly popular alternatives to four-year education. Not only are they significantly less time-intensive and cheaper, but they also might lead to a higher salary than many four-year degrees. If you find a certificate program or coding bootcamp that interests you, it’s worth looking into as an alternative.

Also see: Top college alternatives to a four-year degree

Pros and cons: summary

Pros Cons
Reduced housing costs Reduced independence
Proximity to family Missing out on some social aspects of college
Integration of school and everyday life Home can be distracting
Easier to work off-campus job Less convenient to access academic resources

Frequently asked questions about commuter colleges

Are community colleges and commuter colleges the same?

The vast majority of community colleges are commuter colleges, but there are many commuter colleges that are not community colleges. That may sound like a mouthful, so let’s explain it a bit more. Community colleges are schools that typically offer two-year associate degrees, and a few select four-year bachelor’s degrees. They usually don’t offer housing, and students typically commute from home. This can be their parents’ home, or they may have a job and attend community college classes on the side and commute from their own residence.

Commuter colleges are considered any school where students commute from home. Some larger universities with a wide spread of available bachelor’s programs allow students to commute. These are not community colleges, as their programs have wider availability and may be more prestigious. However, they do allow students to commute.

Can I commute to a residential college?

The answer to this question varies based on the school you attend. Some schools that offer housing mandate that you live on campus. Some only require it for the first one or two years of your education. Others don’t require it at all. However, some colleges require that you live in on-campus housing for the entirety of your four years in college.

Make sure to check in with the office of residential life at your school. If your financial situation inhibits you from paying for on-campus housing, or you have extenuating family circumstances, they may be able to make an exception. If the office of residential life can’t help you, you can try contacting the office of financial aid or even the dean.