When you hear of a student heading “off to college,” it may conjure up images of dorms, ivy-covered buildings, and missing home, but these days more than a third of students are attending public two-year colleges. And though some community colleges offer housing, the majority of students are living off campus and more than half of all college students live at home.

Community college is a smart choice for many students. College costs skyrocketed over the last generation and now the difference in cost between a four-year private college and a public two-year college is breathtaking. U.S. News reported “the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2018–2019 school year was $35,676 at private colleges” but at “public two-year institutions, tuition and fees cost approximately $3,570 on average per year for in-state students.” 

If you are a community college student and/or a commuter you may have a different set of concerns than someone living in the dorms, but the transition in front of you as you “head off to college” is still worthy of some consideration and preparation. Here’s some advice from commuters and community college students who’ve been there.

Real advice from real commuters

  1. Get involved! Come early. Come often. Stay late. Don’t just come and go around classes. Take advantage of clubs and activities. There are more cool people to meet and interests to share. Ask questions and make connections with peers, faculty, and staff. Be open-minded and try new things. 

  2. Use on-campus resources. The library and computer labs are there for you and people can be a resource too! Connect with classmates you can study with, and find a mentor — an older student in your major can be just the resource you need.

  3. On-campus jobs are a great option. Stay on campus and get paid to do it. You’ll save gas, time, and it will give you more ways to connect to the campus and the people there. Campus employment will often work with student schedules where some off campus employers may not.

  4. Participate in orientation. It’s easy to not to participate in on-campus orientation, but it gets you connected with new people and will help you find activities, clubs, and organizations that you want to plug into.

  5. Find a routine. Start early in your college career and establish a schedule for fitting it all in — your daily life, activities, and responsibilities. Take into account parking and traffic. Bring all your stuff for school so you don’t have to make emergency trips home. Find a place to hang out, during down time, maybe with couches. Adding up all these little pieces will help make you more comfortable.

Pack for the day

You may not have had to box up your whole life and fit it in a car but it still pays to “pack” for the day and be prepared. Whether your commute is ten minutes or two hours, you want to be sure you have everything you need for the day when you leave home.

  • Your student ID. You’ll usually need it to access places like the gym or library and even some buildings on campus. Get in the habit of being sure you have it with you.  

  • Small water bottle and/or a travel mug with a good seal that won’t leak in your bag. Something without handles is best. It is much easier to get through class with something to drink, hot or cold. Just be sure to find out first if food or drinks in class is irritating to your professor. They’ll often say so during the first class or on the syllabus.

  • Appropriate layers. Some lecture halls are frigid and some are steamy. Be ready for either.

  • A serious backpack. Once you start hauling those giant college texts around you’ll be grateful that you got a good one.

  • A budget. You’ve already made some smart financial decisions so good for you! And that $4 you spend on a giant caffeinated, sugary cup of goodness to get you through class may very well be worth it. But charts and graphs may make you think about how many times a week you indulge. 

  • Food or money or both. If you’ll be on campus for mealtime, have a plan. It’s hard to focus on the lecture when your stomach is rumbling.

  • Your school’s Class Cancellations page bookmarked and checked daily. There is nothing much worse than hauling yourself all the way to campus and finding a “no class today” note on the door. 

Just because you’re saving money on your college experience doesn’t mean you should sell yourself — or your college — short. You deserve the same opportunities to get involved, try new things, meet new people, and be challenged as any other college student!


Nora Bradbury-Haehl is an author, speaker, and a nationally recognized voice in the conversation about young people and the Church. Her book “The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything in Between” is an Amazon bestseller (some of this advice appears in Chapter 21 of “The Freshman Survival Guide”). She’s written for Saint Mary’s Press, BustedHalo.com, and Liturgy Training Publications. She’s been in youth and young adult ministry for more than 25 years and is involved in interfaith work in her hometown of Rochester, New York.

Start your day with Always Forward, our award-winning e-newsletter. Get this smart, handpicked selection of the day’s top news, analysis, and opinion, delivered to your inbox. Sign up absolutely free today!