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7 Ways to Thrive as a Commuter Student



Articles about the benefits of attending college typically focus on traditional situations where students live on, or right next to college campuses—and benefits of full college-campus experiences are numerous. But, there are also plenty of benefits when commuting to college and here we’ll look at seven of the most important of them.

Before we begin, though, we want to create a definition of this type of student. What is a commuter student, really? Traditionally, people think of students who live in dorm rooms as the ones who are heavily involved in campus life, but what about students who live nearby in an apartment? These students may also be immersed in campus life.

Overall, commuter students are defined by where they live, sure, but also by the distance required to travel to the college. Here are two of the most common types of commuter students:

•  Young adults who drive a certain distance to get to college, not living right by the campus.

•  More mature students (whether 30 years old or 50—or even older) who attend school but are likely to also be working and/or raising a family.

Now, here are the benefits!

A Commuter Campus is Likely to Be More Economical

One option to consider is a two-year community college and, by looking at these average tuition charges for 2018-2019 , it’s easy to see how much money can be saved that way:

•  Public Two-Year In-District $3,660

•  Public Four-Year In-State $10,230

•  Public Four-Year Out-of-State $26,290

•  Private Nonprofit Four-Year $35,830

Plus, when you commute, you obviously don’t have to pay for a dorm room. Maybe you’re living with family members who aren’t charging you rent while you’re attending college. If so, this will save you significant amounts of money. And, even if you are paying rent at home or for an apartment, you will probably get a more economical price when you aren’t residing in prime real estate located near the college.

Economical Doesn’t Have to Mean Less Value

Just because a community college is significantly less expensive than other options doesn’t mean you can’t get a quality education. Consider Lorain County Community College as an example (it’s the school that was chosen as the top community college in the country in 2018 for Excellence in Student Success by the American Association of Community Colleges).

You can actually get bachelor’s degrees there, as well as master’s degrees through their University Partnership program without ever leaving the Lorain County Community College campus. This community college collaborates with multiple state universities, each having set up several of their degree programs there.

Not every commuter college will have those exact opportunities available, but the point is that commuter students can often get outstanding educations without needing to ever live on or by a campus.

Ease of Transitioning

Just because you are commuting to college this year doesn’t mean that you always will. In fact, you could start at a two-year commuter campus near your home and then transition to a four-year university after earning your associate degrees.

This can be an excellent strategy if you’d like to make the transition from high school to college a little less startling, or if you’d like to save up more money before attending a college that’s further from home, as just two reasons.

Some students like to take their core classes at the reduced credit hour prices available at a commuter campus, and then take classes directly related to their majors at the four-year university of their choice.

If this is your plan, it can help immensely if you talk to a counselor at your commuter college about their articulation agreement with the four-year institution(s) of your choice. Articulation agreements are made between two-year and four-year educational institutes and, if your commuter college has one with the four-year university you plan to attend next, this means that credits earned at the two-year commuter college will transfer to the four-year university you want to attend next. Having credits transfer is important, saving you time and money.

Unique Specialties and Approaches

Community colleges may offer programs in cutting-edge fields, collaborating with local industries and business and being equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Different colleges offer different programs, of course, but community colleges across the country offer wide ranges of programs to prepare people for their careers of choice.

Rio Salado College in Arizona is a great example of colleges using unique approaches. This college needed to serve nontraditional college students throughout Maricopa County, including those significant distances away from their main campus. Solutions devised have included:

•  Storefront campuses through the area

•  Courses broadcast over public television

•  Students mailing in work, pre-internet, and then shifting to online courses

•  48 start dates annually to provide flexibility

•  Online tutoring, as well as in-person options

•  Instructional help desk services

This college now serves nearly 30,000 students online and has used grant funding to find ways to help older students who have career and/or military experience gain educational credits through competency-based education opportunities.

Another Benefit? Smaller Classrooms With Big Support

Commuter colleges typically have smaller classroom sizes, at least when compared to many larger universities. And, depending upon your personality and the way you learn, this can be a significant advantage for you.

Smaller class sizes can provide you with more time with instructors and perhaps give you opportunities to work on special projects with teachers that otherwise might be awarded to graduate students in larger universities.

A commuter campus can provides students with significant amounts of support, too, whether that means tutoring, academic advising, workshops on how to study, career planning, resume creation/job interviewing workshops and more. Plus, they can be excellent choices for students with disabilities who need adaptive services.

If you’re a student who needs a chance to make up for a less than stellar record in high school, for whatever reason, the extra guidance and support you can get at a commuter college can be ideal. This can give you a second chance to reach for the stars, with two-year colleges having an honor society called Phi Theta Kappa that gives scholarships to deserving students.

Flexible Class Schedules

It isn’t unusual for students at a community college to work at least part-time, and many work full-time jobs while going to school and/or have significant family responsibilities. In response, community colleges often focus more on flexible schedules, which means you may be more likely to be able to attend classes in the evenings and/or on weekends at commuter colleges.

Plus, there are increasing numbers of online classes being offered to supplement on-campus ones, as well as hybrid courses that blend in-class time with online work, which can be ideal for many students, including those with transportation challenges.

A Chance to Gain Some Confidence in the Classroom

For some students, all of the activities, social events. and parties available at a traditional college campus are just plain distracting. If that’s your personality, then it makes perfect sense to reap the benefits of a community college instead.

The Chronicle of Higher Education says that community colleges provide an “open door” for millions of young adults, allowing them a chance to “taste college close to home, with the possibility of taking courses part-time or moving easily from part time to full time and back.”

It’s less intimidating for many new college students, the article also says, and gives them a chance to attend a lower-cost institution until “confident that they can choose the right major and succeed academically.”

A Note About Student Loans

Because community colleges typically cost significantly less than other options, you may not need to take out as much in student loans, or maybe none at all while commuting to school. But, it’s also common to need to take out loans for tuition, especially if you then transfer to a traditional university.

On average, the typical student has taken out four student loans to finance his or her education. When the time comes to begin paying back these student loans, it may make sense to explore student loan refinancing.

Student Loan Refinancing at SoFi

To streamline student loan repayment, you can consolidate and refinance them into one convenient loan, which means you only need worry about one payment instead of many. Perks of doing so at SoFi include:

•  Potentially securing a lower interest rate than your original loan(s)

•  Consolidating and refinancing both your federal and private loans

•  Choosing between fixed and variable rates

•  Selecting your term from multiple options, depending upon whether you want to save on total interest paid on your student loans or save on your monthly payment

•  No application fees or origination fees, and we don’t charge prepayment penalties

Ready to refinance your student loans? Get started at SoFi in just two minutes, and see if you qualify to consolidate and refinance your student loan debt into one convenient, lower interest payment!

Learn More


The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
No brands, schools, associations, or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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