Parents of Commuter Students

Commuter students face many of the same adjustment-to-college concerns that all students face: making new friends, finding ways to become involved, managing their time, handling college finances, and learning new study skills. At the same time, though, there are some unique challenges for students living at home or off campus.

Commuters often believe that their classmates who live on campus have more fun, more friends, and more freedom than they have. Certainly, they can have the same opportunities as residential students, but where they live means they must approach those opportunities somewhat differently.

Most UW-L commuters do not regret living off campus, and those who live at home genuinely appreciate their families They choose to commute for several reasons:

  • Finances
  • Continuity in family life
  • Desire not to live in the residence halls
  • The family’s need to have the student at home
  • Cultural standards that keep family members together
  • The comfort of their own bed, their privacy, and the family menu

The frustrations that commuters feel come from several specific areas:

  • The commute itself. For some commuters, travel to and from school can add anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour each day.
  • Financial stress. Commuters both want and need meals and snacks during the day, but feel they can’t spend money; they’re living at home because it’s the best financial option, but they still need to spend at least some money each day.
  • Challenges related to evening classes, study group sessions, student organization meetings, and late-night commuting.

According to commuter students, parents don’t always understand those challenges.

“My parents don’t know how hard it is to get up at 5 a.m. to get ready then wait for a bus—because if I miss the bus, I have to wait another hour—in order to get to my 8 a.m. class.”

“My family doesn’t know how boring it is to ride a bus for an hour, and that’s an extra hour each way added on to my day.”

“My brothers and sisters don’t understand that I’m tired when I get home. They want to be with me, but I just need some time by myself and time to study.”

“My parents think I don’t need any cash, but when you have two or three hours between classes, you need to have something to eat.”

“I’m expected home by dinner time, but a lot of the student groups have their meetings in the evening. There are group projects for classes, and it’s impossible to schedule everyone during the day—we have to meet at night.”

What Parents Can Do

Parents who understand the unique challenges of commuter students can help make the college experience better for their student.

  • Attend Parent Orientation when your student attends New Student Orientation. Even if you know the University, if you have another child at the University, or if you work at a University, your attendance will show your child that you value his or her college experience and choice of schools.
  • Acknowledge the commute. Recognize the time your student spends waiting for a bus, riding to school, maybe driving through rush hour traffic, or hunting for a reasonably priced parking spot. By scheduling a checkup on the car, your child will see that you think the commute is important.
  • Acknowledge your student’s commitment to academics. By talking about changes in family chores and granting more flexibility for household responsibilities, you will let your student know that you understand and respect the fact that college is more demanding than high school, and that you are proud of your child’s academic efforts.
  • Be alert to stressful times. Midterms and exams are particularly difficult times for students, but quizzes and project deadlines also crop up throughout the semester. Taking over chores for your student, providing treats, or filling the gas tank of the car are much-appreciated gifts during those difficult times.
  • Encourage your student to stay on campus between classes and to attend athletic events, concerts, and other student activities. Students feel more committed to college when they participate in activities and share experiences with other students.
  • Most commuter students work, but there are benefits to working at an on-campus job. Even if wages are less than they could earn off campus, the support of college-based supervisors and the time on campus are beneficial.
  • Be aware of campus news and events. Ask your student to explain the things you don’t understand. If you acknowledge the importance of what’s happening at the college or university, your student will, too.
  • Encourage your student to find a commute partner. Students who carpool with classmates will meet new friends, have a more enjoyable commute and feel more connected to the University.

Tips for Students

  • For new students, encourage them to make the trip to school before the first day, at the time of day she will be commuting. Even if the route is familiar, it may seem different during rush hour or when driving to a specific parking lot. The bus route may require different transfers at different times of the day.
  • If a new semester means traveling to campus at a different time of day, once again students should test the route at the time they will be commuting. It could take longer than anticipated, and no one wants to show up late on the first day of class.
  • Students should develop backup transportation plans in case the primary plan breaks down for a day or so. A minor accident or service appointment means no car while it’s being repaired, carpool drivers may cancel, a transit strike can upset busing plans, or a late-night meeting might mean buses are no longer running.
  • Students do best in college when they join student organizations, work on campus, and stay on campus between classes. It is difficult for students to navigate three separate worlds—home, work, and college. By identifying themselves as students first, they will do better academically, be more likely to graduate within four years, and have a more meaningful college experience.

Adapted from http://www1.umn.edu/parent/transportation/commuters/index.html