Commuter students: managing living off campus

One of the many issues commuter students face is rush hour traffic throughout the day, especially on the I-75/I-85 connector on a Thursday afternoon.

Commuters make up 79 percent of students enrolled at Georgia State, according to a college profile made by U.S. News & World Report.

The 2016 consolidation with Georgia Perimeter College has made Georgia State the largest public university in Georgia.

Maritza Contreras is a senior at Georgia State, and her normal commute to school from Winder is around an hour and twenty minutes—unless she leaves at rush hour. Then it can be over two hours, or what feels like an eternity moving inch by inch.

“I think the most annoying thing about being a commuter student is when a professor cancels class 30 minutes before it starts. No, I didn’t see the message because I was speeding down 285 to make it on time,” Contreras said.

“Then, I get to the classroom only to find a note on the door, and all I can think about is all the gas I just wasted,” she said. “I just wish some professors were more conscious of that.”

Contreras has been commuting for the entirety of her college career. She does it because it is convenient for her to live with her parents, work and save money for the future.

“It’s a lot,” she said. “The traffic. The long days and long breaks between classes and struggling to find classes that can all fit on two days so I can work the rest of the week. There’s a lot of things that commuter students have to consider that students that live on campus don’t.”

Contreras definitely thinks that the long drive to school is what holds her back the most from using resources on campus.

“Honestly, I never really think about tutoring or anything like that. I come to campus for my classes and then I leave, nothing really in between,” Contreras said. “Coming to campus for a meeting on a day when I don’t have classes is a huge chore. Imagine driving an hour and a half for a 20 minute advisement meeting.”

“It’s just not worth it,” she said.

Dr. Jill Lee-Barber is the senior director for Psychological and Health Services at Georgia State. As a Georgia State commuter alumna herself, she knows how important it is for students to be aware of their resources.

“I was a student here myself in the 1980’s when all of us were commuters. The best way to belong is to find a place you can pitch in and serve. I can truly say I got a fantastic experience as a commuter, largely because I got involved. You will too,” she said.

“Balance is one of the biggest challenges students face,” Barber said.

“In our experience, those students who are most successful have a few things in common: they have good organizational skills and make smart use of time, they know how to recognize when they are under stress and to intelligently respond to lower it and they know how to build and keep good relationships,” she said.

Contreras, like other commuter students, sometimes struggles to maintain these ideal qualities and persevere through the semester.

“Commuting gets hard at times because I’m not on campus as much as everyone else. I have classes twice a week, and I’m working every other day. It gets complicated to find time to do everything I need to do for school,” Contreras said.

On top of balancing school and life, mental health is a huge factor that can affect a student’s academic success.

“I’d encourage commuters to organize university time blocks to leave some time for taking care of themselves,” Barber said.

“The campus recreation center is a fantastic way to stay in shape, have some fun and keep stress levels down. Plan time each week adjacent to class times to avail yourself of free services,” Barber said.

These services include advising, career services, counseling, the student health clinic, Cinefest, student clubs and organizations, the recreation center and more.

“You will be surprised how getting involved adds to your college experience,” Barber said.

Barber considers getting involved to be an important part of being a successful commuter student.

“Definitely important to get involved in student life by enjoying all the rich benefits of being a part of one of the largest most diverse research universities in the nation,” she said.

Barber recommended to check out all the clubs, sports, musical and theatre performances, events in the multicultural center, Greek life, Panther Prowl and the excellent Distinguished Speaker Series.

Contreras thinks that at the end of the day, everyone can do it if they put their mind to it and get used to the lifestyle.

“I have made it work for three years and counting now,” she said. “It’s possible, but it is not easy.”

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