Hitting the Road: The Life of the College Commuter
By Michelle Adams
Ask anyone to describe a, “stereotypical college experience,” and they will likely begin by discussing dormitory horror stories; from late-night campus adventures to eating at the same place for every meal, life on campus is spontaneous and exhilarating. What is college like outside of this on-campus life, though? With thousands of students at Shenandoah University (SU) commuting, it is no wonder that for SU students, the college experience is more than just life in the dorms.
Commuters are the majority at Shenandoah: according to SU’s website, there is on-campus housing available for only 914 of almost 4,000 students. While most first and second-year students are required to live in the dorms, some freshmen and sophomores are able to live with their parents and commute to school. Almost all juniors and seniors at SU find off-campus housing – many in downtown Winchester, a short drive from campus. Life for these students varies greatly from those who live on campus, but are these students, “missing out,” on the college experience?
Michael Christie, a junior jazz studies major, does not believe so. After a poor experience in the dorms, Christie has decided to save, “several hundred,” dollars per month living off campus. He suggests that, “the real college experience starts once you move off campus.” To him, living off campus is, “the closest thing to real life,” that a college student can get, and he feels that having responsibilities, such as, “paying bills [and] taking care of a house,” gives students a, “crash course,” in adult life. That is the true college experience in his eyes – learning to take care of oneself. Moreover, although Christie does not live here, he spends most of his time on campus, from early morning to as late as midnight. He feels, “more productive,” on campus, saying that, “home is where [he goes] to relax.” Because of this, he does not miss much by living just a few minutes away.
While many choose to move off campus after their sophomore years, some Shenandoah students never experience dorm life at all. Freshman double bass performance major Jacob Pembelton lives with his family, “due to financial obligations,” but he notes that, “some of [his] commuter friends just like living at home.” Parental support is a huge benefit of living at home that residential students simply cannot have. Pembelton agrees that living off campus is, “not that big of a deal, because [he] can still get involved with groups…on campus,” and, like Christie, he makes the most of his time at school, practicing between classes.
As a commuting freshman myself, I would agree that living off campus has helped me maintain a strong relationship with my family, and it has kept me in a healthy routine. Pembelton and I share the view that staying at home, “[doesn’t] exactly feel [like living] on your own,” but college still brings newfound freedom that we simply did not have in high school. While I do miss out on fun with friends at times because I come home in the afternoon, I could choose to stay on campus later into the night – for me, it is all about priority.
Overall, most commuting students are happy with their choice, and the only recurring struggle mentioned was parking. Pembelton jokes, “I hate getting to class late because the parking lot is full and I’m running from a parking space in Timbuktu.” To fix this issue, Christie suggested that residential freshmen be denied car privileges, but according to an article by The Doah’s own Nader Hussein, SU does not seem concerned by the issue (see Hussein’s article at http://thedoahnewspaper.com/2015/10/26/parking-problems-leave-students-frustrated-2/).
From parking issues to travel times, commuting is an adventure that thousands of SU students are lucky to experience, and all in all, it seems that these commuters are happy with their choice to live just a short drive away.