With the struggle to maintain a “full college experience” but also save money by commuting to school, some students are beginning to question whether the drive is really worth it.
The media is famous for making college seem like a wild and crazy time for young people. Frat parties, keg stands and experimental drugs are what singers, movies and television shows preach to students claiming college is where one goes to break free of parental control and essentially let loose.
Rapper Astor Roth became famous in 2009 for his song, “I Love College” in which he described the ideal college experience of drinking with naked women, saying, “Do I really have to graduate or can I just stay here for the rest of my life?”
However, he does not mention the workload students face while attending school and the competition for a job that college also influences.
“Movies and TV make it look like so much fun and people say college is the time to experiment or it will be the best years of your life,” Jenna O’Toole, a senior at Stony Brook University, says.
“I only have the real college experience when I visit friends at other schools. Stony Brook isn’t a real college if you commute.”
With this mindset, movies like the 1978 film “Animal House” and 2008’s “College,” starring Drake Belle, put ideas into young people’s minds that college is not really college until one goes out and lives while not having to answer to a parent when they come home from class or work.
“When you go away, you feel more independent and free where as if you’re commuting, most people still have mommy and daddy and a house to come back to at the end of the day,” says Kevin Clarkson, a 21-year-old Suffolk County Community College class of 2013 alumnus.
But the struggle to dorm at universities or consider commuting to a community college is difficult especially in today’s economy.
Stony Brook University sophomore Jeremy Allen says that he originally started as a residential student but soon switched to commuting after realizing how expensive it is to dorm.
“Being a commuter is hardly considered the college experience,” he says. Allen acknowledges the fact that he isn’t as energetic as his college peers, saying, “We just live completely different lives – a life that is even looked down on by my former suitemates having ‘abandoning them.’”
Along with having easier access to social gatherings – and parties – while living on campus, residential students also find ease in joining teams, clubs and study groups helping them with the competitive future college students eventually face.
On a resume, employers look for stellar grades, honor societies, internships, jobs and philanthropy. However, this causes even more stress and tension for those commuting who often also work retail jobs, babysit or have responsibilities while living at home.
“College is nothing like it is in the movies. Being a commuter student is obnoxiously difficult to be involved on campus,” Allen remarks. “Nothing is worse than trying to cram everything in a three days week – studying in the library, clubs, teams, friends, etc. – and the other four days being a hermit in my room studying and watching Netflix,” he said.
James Walters, a broadcasting major at Suffolk County Community College, says that he doesn’t think the movies show a good sense of how much responsibility comes with the independence of living in a dorm.
“You’re not living home anymore, you don’t have your parents to bail you out. You need to learn to get up on time, how to do your laundry, etc.,” he says. And although he hates waking up extra early to find a parking spot in the crowded lots of the college, Walters believes starting small was a good thing.
“I’m happy I commuted first; college was a big adjustment for me and I don’t know how I would have been able to handle it,” he says.
Now, the 19-year-old will be transferring to SUNY Oswego next year where he will begin to dorm.
While many commuter students complain about the difficulty of balance, Marco Ponzo, a senior at Stony Brook University, says that if students are going to commute, one needs to learn scheduling.
“You have to give yourself time and plan your day to get the full experience of club activities and workload,” he says.
The double major of psychology and sociology also says that it isn’t necessarily the commuting that is rough but, “it’s just if you want to be involved in things you have to try a bit harder to.”