What is a Commuter Student?

What Colleges Offer to Students Who Commute to Class

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Commuter Student. Blend Images - Mike Kemp/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Not everyone lives on campus when they go off to college. Commuter students live at home and commute to their classes at a community college or four-year university.

Who is a Commuter Student?

The term 'commuter student' is used loosely to denote not just dorm status, but distance.

  • You would not call a sophomore who lives in an off-campus apartment a 'commuter student.'
  • A college student who lives in his childhood home and drives half an hour to school would be a commuter student.
  • Commuter students also include the 30-something with a family of his own, who is going to school while working.

College Life at Commuter Schools

Colleges with large commuter populations tailor their offerings accordingly. The administrators understand that the majority of their students drive or commute to class and will not stay long once classes end for the day.

Commuter schools will often offer amenities like:

  • Large parking lots and generous parking policies to accommodate more student drivers who come and go throughout the day.
  • The student union may have lockers. This allows commuter students space to store books and other necessities on campus so they do not have to carry them around all the time. This is very helpful for students relying on public transportation and those working on technical degrees that require tools or other equipment.
  • The need for campus housing is not great so these schools typically have fewer dormitories. Many do not offer on-campus housing at all.
  • The cafeteria will often serve lunch and possibly a light breakfast. They will rarely offer dinner or any meal on the weekend.
  • When the sun goes down, the campus empties. The same is true for weekends and campus activities are typically scheduled during the normal Monday through Friday week.

The Advantage of Being a Commuter Student

There are many college students who enjoy the traditional college life of dorms, but it is not for everyone. The life of a commuter student does have its advantages.

  • Living at home can save a lot of money. Even off-campus apartments can be cheaper than room and board.
  • Living outside of a dorm can be quieter and if you need a roommate, you can choose one for yourself!
  • Flexible class schedules and more evening classes are often available. Many commuter campuses understand that some of their students work full-time jobs while going to school and try to accommodate.
  • Tuition costs can be lower. The schools that do not invest in dorms and other amenities for on-campus students can often offer tuition at lower rates than traditional campuses.

Of course, there are a few downfalls to being a commuter student, primarily a feeling of disconnection from the school and other students. Sometimes it can feel like a 'business-only' atmosphere though there are ways to stay connected.

Housing on a Commuter Campus

Those commuter students who intend to live on a commuter campus will need to be aware of housing application deadlines.

If a school offers dormitories on campus, space is often very limited. Unlike other colleges, freshmen are not guaranteed housing and it is not assumed that every freshman will live on campus. 

Pay close attention to the housing deadline and submit your application well in advance. Some schools will work on a first-come, first served basis. It is often best to submit the application as soon as you receive the acceptance letter.

It is also important to apply early for the apartments that are off-campus but cater to the school's students. If a complex is within walking distance of campus, it will fill up fast as well. Get your application in right away or you could be commuting farther than you think!

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Burrell, Jackie. "What is a Commuter Student?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 5, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-commuter-student-3569963. Burrell, Jackie. (2021, August 5). What is a Commuter Student? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-commuter-student-3569963 Burrell, Jackie. "What is a Commuter Student?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-commuter-student-3569963 (accessed March 28, 2023).