When I started at the University of Maryland, I was scared beyond reason of missing what I thought to be once in lifetime opportunities: sharing a dorm with a roommate, joining clubs and organizations or attending a ton of football games. Aside from academics, it’s these that make college unforgettable–discovering who you are in a new environment and making memories. Who would want to pass that up?
University life is tough–especially when you’re not living on campus to get stuff done. As a commuter, you encounter a whole new set of issues most on campus students never have to worry about. How can I get involved? What will I be missing? Can I really have a genuine college experience by living outside my university? The answer is simple: Yes.
1. Set Standards
When you’re living in a familiar environment with high school friends and parents around, it’s difficult to find independence you could’ve otherwise had living on campus. While you should respect the rules of your parents’ house, make sure you set an agenda. Before you start school, sit down for a family meeting to discuss curfew, chores and respected study time. Most importantly, let them know that you need room to breathe and grow.
2. Find Ways to Branch Out
The University of Maryland offers events for transfers and off-campus students. “Good Morning Commuters” is one event dedicated to giving you a refreshing start in your day by offering commuters breakfast. On Wednesdays from 7:30 am to 11 am, off-campus students and transfers can sit down for cool conversation with other commuters.
3. Communicate Early
During the start of every semester, people are anxious to make friends and activities fairs pop up everywhere. Not only is it easy to get involved, it’s going to make the rest of the semester easier for you. Make connections with people as you sign up for organizations. Get more involved in class discussions with both professors and students. Remember, as a commuter you have the benefit of getting to determine what people you want to associate with as opposed to just who you’re stuck with on your floor.
4. Stick Around
Sometimes commuters fall into the slump of missing out on school events because they dash straight home after attending classes. If you let the fast dash off campus become a habit, you start to develop a counterproductive routine. Don’t just attend school and leave. Stay. You’d be surprised what you’ll be pulled into: career and study abroad fairs, salsa dance classes or even a marathon.
5. Leave Room for Breaks
You’ve traveled a distance to get here, and you’ve just finished a couple classes. Take a break. As a commuter, you’re on the move all the time. Schedule a break or two between a few of your classes to eat lunch with friends or hang out in the Student Union. You can use the time to study as well as make friends while you’re on campus.
6. Get Involved In a Group Community
Try to connect with people who share your interests. If you’re feeling lost or want to make friends, join an organization that shares your ideas and make it easier for you to bond. Community groups offer a great way to strengthen your sense of identity but also open your mind to different viewpoints.
7. Be the boss of Your Own Schedule
Even though you’re anxious to make friends, be sure to only sign up for the clubs that meet during a time that works for you. If they hold late night events and meetings and you have homework to do, plan ahead of time and bring homework to school so you don’t have to miss out on the fun. If you have no time during the weekdays for on-campus activities, there are plenty of sports games and entertainment on the weekends.
8. Check Study Programs
If it feels like course work can be too overwhelming or if there’s a topic you’re just not getting, a study program would be great for you. Study programs can help you get closer to your classmates and professors as you’re helped with work each step. UMD has collaborative study groups such as Math Success that offers support on challenging mathematics courses without reservation. In addition, Guided Study Sessions (GSS) offers free 50 minute classes on courses to help you increase your final grade.
9. Get a Job On Campus
One of the reasons students tend to live off campus is because of money. Check out on campus work programs for administrative office assistance jobs, bus driving and more. On campus jobs usually have flexible hours and are required to work around your class schedule. Working with other students is also a great way to make friends on campus, too.
10. Hunt for Student Hangouts
It’s time to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Remember that college is both an academic environment and social environment. There are plenty of places on campus that students hang out like the library or the quad. If you find yourself sitting next to a friendly-looking stranger, don’t be afraid to start a conversation.
Remember, being a commuter shouldn’t feel like an inconvenience, because it’s not. You can have as much of a fulfilling, memorable college experience as anybody else.