Lots of students commute to school. But a very long commute might have negative effects on your college experience.
In some parts of the US such as the Bay area or Manhattan, rent is extraordinary. Commuters in these areas and others tend to travel much further to get to college. Hopping on a train and a bus in one direction is not uncommon.
For most students, there is a point where traveling too far is just not worth it. We analyzed the pain points to determine just how far is too far to commute to college. It can vary by school and location, but for most students, the results are pretty clear.
You live too far from college to commute if it causes academic challenges or takes away from the college experience and social life. To make the most of your college experience, you should limit commute time to less than sixty minutes each way. The distance will vary from 3 miles to 30 miles depending on how you plan to travel (as shown below).
There are several factors to consider before determining if your commute will be too far.
How far you can commute in 1 hour based on transportation type
The chart below shows on average how far you can commute in one hour. This includes the time it will take to get from door to door. Keep in mind that some school commutes will require getting a ride and waiting for public transportation, parking, walking to and from class.
|Transportation Method||Distance||Time||Things to Consider|
|Walk||3 miles||1 Hour||Weather|
|Bike||15 miles||1 Hour||Weather, securing bike, walking|
|Drive||20 miles||1 Hour||Stop lights, traffic, parking, walking, repairs|
|Public Transportation||30 miles||1 Hour||Waiting, walk or ride to and from stop, delays, walking|
Why would you commute far to school?
One of the most common reasons students consider commuting to college is to save money. Room and board at a university is expensive. Living at home could be free. According to a study done by Research.com the average cost of room and board is $12,785. Across four years that can total $51,140. If you don’t have a scholarship or grant, it can take many years to pay that back in addition to tuition costs.
A student’s family life is another reason students live at home. Caring for an elderly or disabled parent may be necessary.
Some commuters maintain a job or have other obligations in addition to attending school. This may be needed to pay college expenses or to support a family.
Many students are forced to commute due to a change in their current living situation. For example, a roommate dropped out of school or was a girlfriend/boyfriend that decided to break up.
Whatever the reason is, a long commute to campus does not always have to be a bad thing. Particularly if you use the commute time wisely.
Advantages of a long college commute
While traveling a long distance to get to classes may seem like a drag even if you have to, there are some advantages to a long commute.
As noted earlier, students who commute can save lots of money. Not having to spend an extra $50,000 is substantial. Even when you factor in the costs of gas, repairs, parking, metro pass etc… Commuting is far less expensive than living on campus.
If you have an opportunity to use public transportation, you can use your travel time to study, watch videos, or listen to podcasts. Services such as Spotify or Amazon are fairly inexpensive and can help you use your time on a bus or train to be effective.
Students today can record lectures and play them back while traveling.
Those lucky enough to grab a seat on a comfy train can catch a few extra z’s.
Of course not all public transportation is equal. You might get stuck without a seat or near noisy passengers. But throughout the semester you may be able to adjust and make it work.
Disadvantages of living too far away from college
Living far away from college and commuting can be tough. If you have crossed the line and it becomes too far, you will know when some of these things start to happen:
Not connected to school / friends – When you live too far from campus, you lose out on many of the opportunities such as friendships, clubs, sports and on campus activities. Instead of a 3 hour commute each day you could be exploring other interests.
Commuting drains your energy – After 90 minutes of battling with other drivers or passengers on a metro you will need to switch your thinking and focus on class. Then, when you get home you will need to focus on assignments and studying.
Late to classes – The further you live from class, the more opportunity there is for delays. Traffic jams, train delays, bad weather can lengthen your standard commute time making you frequently late for class.
Lack of parking – Long distance commuters have little extra time to “leave early” so you are sure to be on time. Any delays and you may have trouble finding parking.
Limited Study Time – Spending 3 hours of your day on the road may leave little time for studying and assignments (or anything else).
Less Sleep – Forget about sleeping in. When you have early classes you need to get up an hit the road.
How far should you commute to college?
In my article How far should I live from campus? I researched the average time students are willing to spend commuting and found that to be 25 minutes. But when trying to determine the maximum distance you should commute there are many factors to consider.
The chart below shows the pros and cons of commuting for various times/distances based on feedback from students. This gives us a good indication of what point commuting becomes too far and other options may be a better solution.
Commute Time One Way
Total Commute Time
Pros & Cons of Commute Based on Total Travel Time
- Can eat breakfast at home, stop for breakfast or coffee
- Plenty of times for delays and parking
- Make classes on time
- Participate in on campus activities
- Job after classes okay
- Plenty of times for delays and parking
- Can prepare food at home, stop for breakfast
- Make classes on time
- After class activities possible
- Job after classes possible
1 hour, 30 min
- Can grab something quick to eat
- More trips to gas station, maintenance
- Tighter schedule, prepare clothes & books at night
- Delays could make you late occasionally
- After class activities possible but challenging
- Job after class possible but challenging
- Get up at 6:30 AM for 8 AM class
- May want college meal plan, prepare meals at night
- Delays will make you late periodically
- Tight schedule, on campus activities challenging
- Job after class challenging or limited
- Expect to be tired after long day
2 hours, 30 min
- Get up at 6:15 AM for 8 AM class
- Maybe grab a bite on campus between classes
- Very tight schedule – no room for error
- Delays will make you late for class
- After class activities not realistic
- Limited time for study, class work may suffer
- Get up a 6 AM for 8 AM class
- Will likely be late for some classes
- Can not stay late or may miss the ride home
- Keeping exact schedule is crucial
- Nighttime driving can be issue
- Safety concerns
- Limited time for study, homework
- No on campus activities or job
Alternatives for a far college commute:
For those getting an idea that your commute to college may be too far, there are some other options you may want to consider.
Get a job and live on campus – Minimum wage these days is skyrocketing. If your schedule permits, you might consider a job on or near campus. If you can earn $250-300 per week, it should be enough to cover your costs.
Apply for RA – Many colleges and universities offer Resident Advisor opportunities to students. These are often competitive positions that require applications and interviews to make sure you are a good fit. The school will provide training and you will be required to make sure students living in the dorm are following rules, safe, and coordinate certain activities.
In exchange, the college typically grants you free room and board. This is a great opportunity if the cost of a dorm room is your primary concern.
Internship – Most schools have partnerships with local companies who offer internships to students. Some of these firms offer significant income and you can work in your field of study.
Research Assistant – College and University professors working on a research project may select a handful of students to work with them. Frequently students get paid (and may get their name published as part of the results).
Roommates – Getting together with a few friends and finding a rental close to campus is a common way to live at college and save money.
Carpool – Find someone who attends your college and lives nearby who wants to share a ride. When it’s not your turn to drive you can catch up on sleep or study.
Switch Colleges – Should living at home be required, perhaps there is a college a bit closer that would provide similar education benefits.
A lot of college students commute to campus. But when the trip is very far, you may have to decide if it is worth it. Once your travel time becomes a burden, it’s like adding an additional course to a busy schedule and not getting any credit. That is when you know it is too far.
Hopefully these insights help you decide before it gets to that point.