The Westfield Voice

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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

The Real Tea on Resident Life and Commuting


On college campuses across the country, students have different ways of attending classes on the daily. Some roll out of bed ten minutes before class, grab a cup of coffee, and run to their 8 a.m. lecture still wearing their pajamas. Some wake up three hours early and make the train into the city, making it to campus half an hour early to avoid mid-commute disasters. Some drive, leaving home at least twenty minutes early to give themselves a buffer zone in case there’s traffic on the way to campus. However college students get to campus, as seniors in high school, they all decided what the best path would be for them moving forward. So, here’s the big question: Commuting or Residence Life? Which one is for you and how do you make that decision?

In my two years of college, I have had the opportunity to experience both lifestyles. My freshman year, I was a resident, living in a double dorm with one roommate and seventy girls on my floor. My sophomore year, when I transferred colleges, I became a commuter, living at home and driving to and from campus daily. In my personal experience and preferences, I prefer commuting 1,000% over resident life. But my experiences and preferences are not the same as every other college student. I know some people who absolutely love being a resident and wouldn’t have it any other way. Remember, it’s your college experience. Do what feels best for you. That being said, let’s get into the pros and cons of each.

First, Commuting:

The first thing to consider for commuting is your gas bill, bus pass, & parking permit price. Basically, overall costs. Even with a car that gets 26-27 highway MPG like mine, I am filling up nearly every week at $25 per trip, give or take the occasion. However, I still prefer paying the price of gas when I remember how much money I’m saving by not paying for room and board. Every season, when it’s time to fill out my loans, I can subtract the price of room and board from my overall bill. No matter how much I pay for gas each semester, it still doesn’t add up to a fraction of room and board, even at a public university. So, that’s a definite pro of commuting.     

The second thing to consider for commuting is the amount of time you will spend in transit. No matter how you commute to campus (either public transport, car pool, Uber, Lyft, etc…), it does take a significant chunk of time from your daily routine. Overall, on the daily, I spend about an hour in the car driving back and forth to Westfield, give or take the conditions of weather and traffic and running additional errands. In addition to the time spent in the car, finding something to keep you entertained during that time is a feat in and of itself. Personally, I switch between audio books, Amazon Music, and radio (shout out to Kiss 95.7), whatever I’m in the mood for that day. If you hate driving, I’d say think hard about commuting, or consider another reliable way to get to campus.

The third thing to consider for commuting is the parking. If you can’t stand parking lots and hunting down spaces on the daily, I’d say skip commuting or find another way to get to campus. Parking can be stressful at different times during the day. For example, Wilson Lot is practically empty at 7:30 in the morning, but an absolute pain in the a** around noon time. This is the part of commuting I dislike the most. I hate finding parking, but I understand it’s a necessary part of the commuter experience…I guess. Parking is never fun anywhere.

The fourth thing to consider for commuting is food. Relative to everything else on this list, this is the second most important thing to think about. Commuters are not required to purchase a meal plan, at least not at Westfield State. My first semester commuting, I had a meal plan, but I rarely ever used it, so I decided not to spend the money for one during my second semester as a commuter. Paying for lunch and (sometimes) breakfast can be a hassle and costly over time, but I often pack my own lunch or wait until I get home to eat something if I’m not terribly hungry. Personally, I like the flexibility of choosing where I want to eat. If I want to eat the dining hall, I can. If I want to eat at home, I can. If I want to buy lunch elsewhere, I can. It’s flexibility without the financial obligation of having a meal plan, being forced to spend all those extra swipes to not waste money.

The final thing to consider about commuting is the social scene. As a commuter, it’s no lie that I don’t go to a lot of parties and don’t have a group of 30 – 45 friends. Personally, I don’t mind it. I’m happy with my social life and small group of friends, thank you very much. I’d rather watch a movie and order pizza than get drunk and party anyway (no shade though! If partying is your thing, go for it! Have fun and live your best life!) However, that may not be the case for everyone. Making friends as a commuter can be difficult, as you don’t have the constant exposure of living in a dorm to help, but it’s not impossible. I know a lot of commuters who have dozens of friends on campus, go to parties all the time, and have sleepovers in a friend’s dorm. It all depends on how active you want to be on campus. As a commuter, I joined a lot of clubs, and have made friends through my classes and my clubs. It’s not impossible.

Second, Resident Life:

The first thing to consider about resident living is, also, the social scene. As a resident, I personally didn’t like the social scene. I can be extroverted, but overall, I’m an introvert who needs some time to herself to recharge and relax. In a dorm setting, you are constantly around other people, be it taking a shower in one of the many stalls or walking back and forth to your room. For some people, they thrive in that kind of social setting and don’t mind the constant buzz. For others, they may want a quieter experience. In my dorm, there was a group of girls down the hall who threw parties every weekend and continuously played loud music into the early hours of the morning. For some reason, our RA never talked to them about it, so it happened all the time (until they got busted by campus police towards the end of our Spring semester). If you don’t want to be awake all-night listening to other people’s music and dancing, consider whether resident life is for you.

The second thing to consider about resident life is roommates. In the grand scheme of things, I got lucky. I had a roommate who was awesome. We never became close friends, but we weren’t total strangers to each other either. We would constantly communicate if something was wrong, and we respected each other’s sides of the room. If she wanted to use something of mine, she would ask me, and vice versa. She was great! But I know that isn’t always the case. If you want to be a resident, consider whether you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with a roommate scenario. Single dorms are often reserved for those students who A) can pay extra for them or B) need them for a variety of reasons, such as medical or physical needs. It’s often difficult to get one, even as an upperclassman. Some colleges don’t even offer single dorms unless you have a documented and proven reason why you’re requesting one (which I think is ridiculous, but whatever). Most freshman dorms are doubles (two people), but some are also suites (4 to 6 people), climbing all the way up to double suites (8 to 12 people). If you don’t mind a roommate(s), resident life might be for you. Personally, having a roommate never bothered me, but I admit it is nice having my own room every night.

The third thing to consider about resident life is the space. Sure, being independent is nice, but having a decent dorm is half the battle of resident life. If your dorm building is practically unlivable and absolutely disgusting, consider whether you want to spend the room and board money to live there. Some dorms are wicked nice, some are decent and comfortable, where others are disgusting and desperately in need of an update. My dorm was decent and comfortable. It wasn’t perfect, but I never had any glaring issues with it. It was warm in the winter and relatively cool in the spring (no AC, but opening the windows worked fine). The bathrooms were cleaned on the daily (even though they weren’t always 100% pristine). The building itself was structurally sound with no issues that I knew about (then again, maybe there was something wrong and I was just ignorant to the situation). If you don’t mind the dorm building you could be situated in, then consider resident life. Personally, my dorm building wasn’t worth the money I spent on room and board, but that’s a whole separate story.

The fourth thing to consider about resident life is the overall cost. Like the overall costs of commuting, resident life has an overall price tag that goes beyond the typical room and board payments. Yes, you pay for room and board, but you also have to pay for the things that make your dorm “home”. Bed sheets, covers, laundry basket, closet hangers, snacks, storage bins/storage containers, lighting, decorations, etc…; those are all part of the resident life bill. Personally, I had fun with this step. I found ways to make it more cost efficient and I had a blast designing & picking out my new room. I bought fairy lights and printed pictures to stick on the wall. I bought a Keurig machine and invested in a new bed set. My grandmother even made me throw pillows for my bed (which I still use today, even though I live back at home. Thanks Nana!) If the overall cost of dorming does not affect you or can be reduced in any way you feel comfortable with, consider resident life.

The final thing to consider about resident life is the proximity to class and free time. As a resident who wasn’t allowed to have a car on campus, I spent a lot of my free time between the library, hanging out with friends, and the gym. As a commuter, I totally miss the free time I had as a resident. I also miss the ten-minute walk to all my classes, where I could sleep in late and not have to worry about traffic. As a resident on a small college campus like Westfield State, most classes are only ten minutes away. Additionally, with that commute time cut down to nearly nothing, there is extra space to fit relaxing and working out into the schedule as well as dedicating long hours to studying and homework. If you crave that independence and want a schedule that is virtually free all the time (give or take having a part-time job or something similar), consider resident life.

Honestly, the rest is up to you. Everyone’s situation is different. My biggest advice would be to follow your heart and do what feels best for you. If commuting is that best scenario, great! If resident life is that best scenario, go for it! It’s your money and your college experience, make the most of it!                                                                                                            

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