Young adults are moving back home after college in droves, but some are never leaving in the first place. As more families are struggling to pay for college, more students are opting to attend local schools so they can live at home—and with good reason. At many pricy colleges and universities, living expenses are often as high as the tuition.
The experience will definitely make things easier on your bank account, but going to college while living under your parents’ roof may make your college years seem less “authentic,” especially if you have younger siblings at home.
If you’ve daydreamed about becoming BFFs with your future college roommate since your freshman year of high school, living at home might seem like a disappointment, but you’re not alone. According to The New York Times, a 2012 Sallie Mae study found that roughly half of all college students lived at home during the previous school year.
It’s completely possible to enjoy your college experience as a commuter, especially if you use these 10 tips to your advantage:
1. Communicate with your parents. Unlike high school classes, college classes vary in length and do not meet every single day. This means that your day-to-day schedule will also vary. Whether you’re at school, work, or out with friends, it’s a good idea to give your parents a basic idea of your comings and goings to prevent unnecessary worry. If you think you’re too “adult” to bother, realize that you’re still living under their roof and you are their “baby” no matter how old you are. If you’re going to a party, tell them. If you know you’re going to be drinking, use a designated driver or have a safe place to spend the night.
2. Join a club or other organization. Academic clubs, fraternities and sororities, shared interest groups, and intramural sports are just a few of the many things you can join on campus. College campuses, even small ones, are home to more social opportunities than most people realize. You might think it sounds dorky or nerdy, but joining school clubs is an easy way to make friends and network, even if you’re shy. According to USA Today, the average college student is involved in two activities on campus and those attending smaller schools tend to join even more organizations. Added bonus—extracurricular activities are also a resume boost when it comes time to find internships or jobs, especially if you hold a leadership position.
3. Get involved with other commuters. If your school doesn’t have a lounge or other type of common area where students who do not live on campus can congregate between classes, strike up a conversation with people that you meet in the commuter parking lot. They’re in the same boat you are. Is there a commuter club on campus? If not, start one!
4. Become friends with people who live on campus. Just be sure to befriend students who live on campus, too. This will give you the ability to hang out in their dorm rooms and even spend the night if you ever need a place to crash, but it’s a fair trade—if they ever crave a home cooked meal, you can take them home to meet your family!
5. Eat in the cafeteria. It’s all too easy to get into a rut. Don’t let your life turn into the movie Groundhog Day, repeating the same day over and over again. Rather than eat in your car or while sitting on a park bench, head to the cafeteria or campus food court every now and then. If you recognize someone from one of your classes, join them. If not, find a friendly-looking group of people and ask “Is this seat taken?” Odds are, they won’t turn you away.
6. Study on campus. Unlike high school—where homework and busywork contributed to your overall grade—exams, projects, and term papers make up the majority of your grades in college. It might be tempting to study in your bedroom at home, but make an effort to visit the library or join a study group that meets on campus. It’s tough to feel like you “belong” at school when you only show up long enough to attend class. Keeping yourself isolated at home will only make the problem worse.
7. Take advantage of all the things to do on campus. Having fun in college involves more than keg parties. From football games and dance recitals to art exhibits and movie nights, college campuses are a haven of free and cheap stuff to do. Make plans with a friend or show up at something you saw advertised. You might even get extra credit—or at least look good—by attending an optional event for one of your electives!
8. Get a part-time job on campus. If you need to earn some extra money, consider getting a part-time job on campus. Not only will it give you the ability to meet more people, you might be able to put in short shifts between classes, something that is most likely not possible at an off-campus job. A lot of the jobs on campus are academic-related, so it could even lead to bigger and better opportunities down the line.
9. Use campus fitness facilities. Why pay for an off-campus gym membership if one is already included in your student fees? Head to the school gym, pool, or track to burn some calories and make some friends. If you have a regular fitness routine, there’s a good chance you’ll start to run into the same people on a regular basis. Become exercise buddies and you might become friends away from the gym.
10. Volunteer. If you’re not able to land a paying job on campus, see if you can volunteer. You might be able to work in the tutoring center or a campus museum, mentor younger students, or assist professors with research. Not only can a volunteer experience help you meet more people at school, it can help show prospective employers that you are interested in your community and your college.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.