5 Ways to Be a Successful (and Happy) Commuter Student

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As a commuter student, you might be able to lower your college costs significantly, especially if you live at home with your parents. Although your transportation costs will likely go up, you won’t have to worry about paying for room and board on campus.

At the same time, you might feel like you’re missing out on some traditional college experiences, like dorm parties and football games. This reality could make some students feel disconnected and lonely, perhaps even leading to college commuter student depression or poor academic performance.

If you commute to campus and feel like your car and classroom comprise your entire world, don’t give up. Here are some ways to improve your circumstances, financially and socially:

  1. Budget for transportation expenses
  2. Schedule your classes strategically
  3. Immerse yourself in campus activities
  4. Build a rapport with mentors
  5. Don’t forget your parents

1. Budget for transportation expenses

Commuter students may have cheaper college costs and lower student loans since housing and dorm expenses aren’t added to the price tag – but they’ve got their cars to contend with.

Parking registration costs can cost a small fortune at some colleges and universities.

Take the UC Irvine campus: Commuter students pay $75 to $94 per month in parking permit fees in 2020-2021. Assuming nine months of commuting to campus, that would add up to $675 to $846 per year.

Depending on how far away you live from school, you’ll need to incorporate gas, insurance and vehicle maintenance into your budget. Don’t forget the occasional street parking meter fees when you can’t find a spot to park in the commuter lot.

If you live closer to campus, find out if you can carpool with other commuter students, taking turns driving on certain days of the week. You might also check for nearby public transportation. Depending on the area’s infrastructure, an accessible rail or bus system can replace driving a car to class, at least on occasion.

2. Schedule your classes strategically

Any class schedule configuration for a resident student is naturally going to be more convenient. If you have two classes in the morning, you can walk back to your dorm and catch some z’s before returning later in the evening for a class after dinner.

Commuter students aren’t so lucky. Unless you want to drive home after your 10 a.m. class just to come all the way back for your 7 p.m. lecture, you’ll be wasting time, energy and gas.

Or, you can save money on transportation costs — and your own time — by scheduling your classes together two or three days a week. Stacking them in concentrated time blocks can give you at least one or two days off from driving, more time to study and a better school-life balance.

Keep in mind that if your schedule doesn’t quite work out the way you’d like, there are still plenty of ways to make the most of your time if you’re on campus all day. Become a regular at your campus library and take advantage of the quiet atmosphere for studying or catching up on homework.

Finding a work-study position or other jobs on campus is another way to utilize the time wisely, since it can earn you money, reduce your tuition bill and possibly garner valuable experience needed after graduating.

3. Immerse yourself in campus activities

If there’s one common complaint of a commuter student, it’s the lack of connection with the campus culture.

The resident students live on campus, so they have many opportunities to form friendships and live a somewhat independent, adult lifestyle. Conversely, commuter students can experience major “FOMO”, the recently coined colloquialism for the “fear of missing out”.

Fortunately, your school has a wealth of resources to choose from. Look into joining clubs, groups or student organizations you’re interested in and passionate about, and get involved in on-campus activities or sporting events.

Your school might even have a commuter student association, where you can meet other students who trek to campus every day. Stick with it; you may not make fast friends or hit it off with everyone, but keep engaging in campus events and you’ll find like-minded students.

Stay realistic about developing a social life, too. Living on campus isn’t one big party, as much as you like to think it is. Even resident students who live in a dorm full of people can have a hard time fitting in and finding their niche.

As a commuter, you have the chance to step back and approach college life in a more autonomous way, but you may need to get outside of your comfort zone to avoid getting stuck in a home, commute, school and repeat cycle.

4. Build a rapport with mentors

As a commuter, it can be hard to connect with your professors and advisors when you’re not a resident student who can pop on over to their department whenever you like.

Budget your time and schedule meetings with your teachers. Find out when their office hours are and schedule frequent check-ins with them to start building some familiarity. Ideally, every student — resident or commuter — should do this to foster a better relationship with their professors.

If you’re an undergrad, your student center may also be able to coordinate a mentor relationship, much like a resident student would have with dorm RAs. Having an older peer to talk to can help bridge the gap between commuter and resident students and make you feel more included in campus life.

5. Don’t forget your parents

If you’ll be commuting from home, you’ll need to devise some new living arrangements with your parents.

You and your parents should already be setting aside time to talk about the basics of college expenses and how you’ll pay for it. Use this as a chance to discuss everything from paying rent while living at home, contributing to bills, paying your own way when it comes to gas and transportation or buying your own groceries.

Opening a dialogue with your parents sets you up for true independence when you do move out to your own apartment. Sure, you might be just a bit envious of those resident students who seem to have it so much easier, but think about how much the responsibility will pay off in the end.

Lastly, talk to your parents about the prospect of commuting as early as you can. Are you commuting out of financial necessity? Is it a personal preference? Is it feelings of homesickness? What are your expectations, and theirs?

Ultimately, these are highly personal talking points that only you and your parents can solve. Make the most of your academic experience in college, keep your grades up and look to involve yourself in the campus culture in ways that suit you.

You’ll find that your time as a commuter student will give you unique perspectives and experiences, setting you up for post-grad success that can rival that of any resident student.

Plus, the money you save on room and board could mean way less student loan debt after graduation.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.89% – 6.66%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.89% – 5.90%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.25% – 6.09%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.99% – 5.64%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.98% – 8.55%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

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1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of October 1, 2020.


2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.09% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.09% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.18% plus 2.32% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of July 31, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 7/31/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


5 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 10/15/2020 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.98% APR to 8.55% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.99% APR to 8.77% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.