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Does Commuting To University Exclude You From The ‘Student Experience’?

Is there any merit to the idea that, to properly experience and get the most out of uni, you have to move away from home and into student digs? Or can stay-at-home students become just as “fully integrated”?

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It goes without saying that living with people who aren’t your immediate family is a big part of university life. It is, after all, the first time many of us will feel somewhat independent, and living among other students will no doubt make it easier to build new lasting relationships while at uni.

That leaves you feeling that stay-at-home students get a bit of a bum deal. Students who don’t live in are, of course, still students, but it can be harder to form much of a social life while living by bus or train schedules. Of course, living at home should not mean that you’re a shut-in until the holidays, when your old friends come home from their respective universities.

However, while the majority of students will have ready-made friends from freshers’ week, those who commute will probably have to make a bit more effort into forging relationships.

Freshers’ week in first year is largely a no-go unless you’e absolutely positive you’ve got a place to crash for the night (despite what your friends might tell you, doing an all-nighter in an unfamiliar city is never a good idea); sport societies sadly often meet in the evenings, which can be a hassle if you’ve got a train home to catch. Even making friends with those on your course may feel like a bit of a challenge, as many courses only have a couple of hours of class time each week.

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But whether you’re a stay at home student or not, you’re pretty much guaranteed to make friends while at uni. You’d have to go pretty far out of your way not to. The majority of students will either know someone at uni who travels in daily, or be in that situation themselves, whether it’s for the whole four years or just for their final. According to a survey last year by Santander, 22% of UK students will choose to live at home, with over half citing the cost of living as their reason, and others simply preferring (somewhat understandably) to leave the trials and tribulations of uni behind them as they head home for the day.

Fitting your social life around bus or train timetables is never easy. But by allowing yourself an extra couple of hours after class before heading home, giving you time to hang out with classmates at the union, go to the gym, or even just head to the library, you’re likely to find university a much more rewarding experience than if you just show face in class then punch out. Granted, stay-at-home students may need to put more effort in than most (naturally those who commute won’t be as available as those living on campus), but there’s no reason why being a commuter should be synonymous with having no social life.

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Yet in those first few weeks when you go online and see pictures of your home friends having the time of their lives at freshers’ week, you can’t help but feel a bit despondent.

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It’s worth noting that most universities do seem to actively encourage prospective students to live in halls. Speaking to the Independent, an accommodation manager at Sheffield University said: “We encourage students to live in university accommodation, as this gives them the opportunity to live within a diverse and integrated community of students.”

So, does this mean that stay-at-home-students are excluded from becoming part of a “diverse and integrated community of students”? Well, hopefully not, but it shows that universities and students alike could do more to include the commuters. For instance, assuming that a student who doesn’t live on campus isn’t interested in going out is probably missing the point.

At any rate, it feels far too churlish to assume that the best option for everyone is to spring the nest at the earliest opportunity. While moving away from home will always be seen as a major aspect of university life, many simply choose not to live on campus (or are frankly unable to). Both sides are on to something: the commuters have considerably less student debt, while the campus students have the unburdened social life. The challenge is finding the middle ground. But whether you live at home or not, uni is still capable of providing some great memories.

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