When I started applying to college, everybody and their brother warned me about roommates, dorm life, parties and budgeting.
When I told them I planned to commute, the most consistent warning I got was to keep an ice-scraper in my car.
After four years of commuting, I’ve figured out that having an ice-scraper, though absolutely necessary, was not sufficient advice to prepare me for the next four years.
So, for the edification of all commuters and non-commuters alike, here’s a smattering of the many things no one warns commuters about.
Radio stations repeat. I concede this is a no-brainer, annoying as it is.
On the upside, commuters learn to consider alternatives.
I got through the entire Harry Potter series in under a school year by listening to audiobooks.
Also, talk radio isn’t boring like I was led to believe. Radio isn’t just a bunch of static-filled channels with too many advertisements. There’s podcasts, daily shows and, yes, music channels.
Fourteen-hour school days are normal. I’m happy if I’m only driving twice a week, but that might mean I’ll be on campus from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
There have been a few semesters where I was in a class that whole time (bless the professor who lets students eat in class) and semesters where my only classes were those two, giving me an awkward break to fill.
When not in class, we have to find ways to waste the time, and our options are homework or gallivanting around Saginaw.
It’s easy to end up in a “Netflix and chill” session using the school’s Wi-Fi.
It’s hard to remember everything you need in the morning.
Phone and computer chargers can be shared, which is helpful, but if you leave an assignment or an important book at home, you’re toast.
Fast food is addictive.
The “freshman 15” applies to many, but never has it seemed so near as when I’m sitting in the drive-thru for the third time in one day.
After years of stuffing snacks in every available pocket, I gave up the game of packing my lunch and started eating out.
This is a deep rabbit hole to fall into.
Financially, it’s unwise.
Healthy? Not in the slightest.
Delicious? I won’t deny that.
Car mishaps are a scary possibility that I have to be prepared for.
I keep an emergency kit full of overnight supplies, winter gear, extra shoes, an umbrella and a blanket in case my car breaks down.
I admit I’m a little paranoid, but I’ve used it on more than one occasion.
School functions and events are a rarity. When I’m at school, I’m in class.
When I’m not in class, I’m either working or 40 miles away.
This means job fairs, games, parties, campus movie nights and even services like the Writing Center, library and office hours are very hard for commuters with schedules like mine to take advantage of, even though we want to.
Every once and awhile I’ll have one of those awkward breaks that line up with a professor’s office hours, but more often than not, email has come to my rescue.
Commuting makes it difficult to establish on-campus communities.
It’s easy to fall into the “loneliness trap,” a bubble pockmarked by classmate acquaintances and family members.
Getting to know people strictly through class can be difficult, and when or if it happens, establishing times to hang out is even more difficult.
College prepares young adults to be independent and confident, and commuting does a surprisingly excellent job of this as we are faced with the responsibilities of self-regulated scheduling and planning.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a commuter, although I’ve noticed that colleges don’t always know how to help the commuter since we don’t fit in the campus kid schematic.
Radio stations and fast food addictions aside, finding ways to ensure the safety, comfort and education of all students, regardless of locational status, should be an ongoing process.