Commuter College Suffolk Boston School Student Patrick Heaton University

My first year of college I felt a little offended whenever I heard the phrase, “Welcome to your new home for the next four years.”
Not that I don’t appreciate a good greeting, but as a commuter I felt a little lumped into the majority. A majority ruled by freshmen living on campus while I, however, lived far from it. Considering over 30 percent commute to my college each year, I felt this assumption that all freshmen move into traditional dorms was slightly misconstrued.
So, what about the rest of us? From experience, I can tell you that it’s not easy getting involved when you’re far from the action, but it certainly isn’t impossible.
Apart from being a regular commuter who lived off campus freshman year, I had an even bigger obstacle: Living with my mom. Believe me, the last thing I wanted to do when my freedom finally came last summer was stay at home. But, being from a college town, it was hard to justify turning down free room and board while attending a university on a college budget. For a while, I moped at all my former peers Facebook statuses about “getting out of this town” and wondered why that couldn’t be me.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that self-pity isn’t productive, so I became determined to make the best out of a tough situation and make lemonade out of the lemons I was given. And if you’re in the same boat, or even if you simply live away from campus, here are some ways to overcome limitations and have a social life.
1. If you live at home, set boundaries with your parents
Unless you find yourself playing drinking games with your parents every Friday, you may want to negotiate some boundaries. First of all, I can tell you that your only remedy for tackling overbearing parents is patience and a lot of rational debating. I suggest acting as courteous as a roommate or guest would and hopefully they’ll do the same for you. For instance, if you’re going out to a party let them know you have somewhere safe to stay ahead of time. The benefit is two-fold: it will help you build trust and avoid an awkward meeting at three in the morning.
2. Get involved with student organizations
Simply put, the best way to establish any kind of social circle is to surround yourself with people who share your interests. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go crazy and join every student-ran club; just get involved with one or two you’re passionate about.
“Don’t be worried about trying new organizations the first semester because even students living on campus are all in the same boat as you – looking to be involved,
 wanting to make friends and looking to create a new home for themselves,” Patrick Heaton, Florida State University assistant dean of students and director of new student and family programs, said.

So keep an eye out, the signs and e-mail sign-ups are constantly circulating on message boards around campus.
3. Look for student hangouts
When you don’t have the option to leave your dorm door open, you have to meet people in other ways. For commuters, it’s no surprise that three popular places to meet new people are the gym, library and the campus green. Everyone gathers here, and everyone wants to make friends (either that or they just like Frisbee). Jasmyn Sanders, a fellow commuter, credits the library for helping her meet students.
“The ground floor of the library, and I don’t mean the quiet part, is purely social,” Sanders said. “There are times you will have to sit with people you don’t know because it gets crowded and that’s a great way to meet other students.”
So once you meet at least one friend there, go out together. It is definitely a lot easier to make friends with someone else tagging along.
4. Get a job on campus or Rush
If you’re a full-time student, you probably won’t have time to juggle a job and a sorority/fraternity as a commuter. But be aware that each has its advantages: both will build your resume; rushing will help you network and socialize, and a job will fund your future pursuit to move out and become financially independent. If you can handle all of this and commute, go for both!
5. Maximize your social time on campus
To get the most out of your time on campus, space out your classes.
“Often commuters will intuitively schedule classes back-to-back in order to leave as soon as possible,” Heaton said, suggesting instead to leave an hour or two in-between to explore.
The Student Union is a great place to spend that time, since unions usually give students resources and space to relax. You know those ridiculous in class, get-to-know-everyone games that make you say one interesting fact about yourself? Well, they are actually a great opportunity to discover connections with other students. Instead of saying your favorite color, advertise a favorite hobby. For example, if you’re into volleyball, let everyone know if they need an intramural partner you’re interested.
6. Don’t pass up sports matches
If there is one event that brings all students together, it’s a good football game. You can’t beat tailgating and school spirit, whether you commute or not.
7. Take advantage of social media
Along with everyone else in your graduating class, you were probably invited to join a Facebook page keeping up with events. Joining this page and liking pages relating to school organizations that interest you will keep you socializing even when you aren’t on campus. While on Facebook, don’t be afraid to request new friends you connect with in class.
8. Keep in touch with old friends
Though they may be busy with their new lives, it’s important to keep ties with people who know and love you. Take tips from their dorm life experience, Skype, and hang out with them when they come back every now and then. This is a great way to integrate elements of your new life with the old one.
9. Venture off campus to local spots
Whatever college town (or major city) you might be in, you’re bound to find something suitable to your tastes. If not and you’re having trouble, take a look in the arts section of your student newspaper. If you are originally from your college town like me, you can even be an ambassador for the town’s best features.
“Really capitalize on the fact that you know the area, and introduce the restaurants and hangouts to other students,” recommended Heaton.
10. Find your balance
The major challenge we face as commuters is that we have to decide when to get involved, not necessarily how. Figuring out when to drive back to campus after class and fighting for parking spaces are challenges that often end in frustration. You’ll find however that your success really depends on how much effort you decide to commit to being involved.

Here is the bottom-line: managing schoolwork and finding time for a social life is something each student will find through trial and error, which is perfectly normal, so take pride in being a commuter. It makes you unique and I don’t think anyone wants to be like everyone else. So when life gives you lemons…well, you know the rest.


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