Dalia Maeroff | Senior Staff Illustrator
I’m not going to sugarcoat it — commuting is hard, exhausting and sometimes on the 61C at 2 a.m. you’ll think to yourself, “Screw it, I want to live in South Oakland with annoying roommates where my oven will be tiny and won’t work, and there isn’t a supermarket just a five-minute walk from my house.”
Fight back against these thoughts. Once we move past COVID-19 a bit more, I can’t wait to start commuting again. Commuting to college is the best decision I’ve ever made, and it will be for you too. But first, some things to make commuting a bit easier to swallow.
You will worry that you’re not getting the whole “college experience”
Trust me, you don’t have to live by yourself to be independent. I live with my parents and my 17-year-old brother and am lucky enough to have a relationship with them where I can pretty much do whatever I want whenever I want and always come home to a supportive environment. I get that plenty of people don’t have the greatest relationships with their family, and in that case commuting has an extra layer of difficulty. Welcome Week will be horrible, and honestly, it is for all new students, commuter or not. You will feel like you have no friends and you’ll wonder why everybody else has friends, is going to parties and is having fun. Trust me, they are not. Everybody is just as miserable and lonely as you for those first few months.
You will have to go out of your way to make friends
I reiterate, you will feel like you have no friends, even if you do have friends, because other people have more friends. While it’s important to remember that a few good friends are better than having a whole bunch of people you’re friendly with but barely know, there is never any harm in wanting to expand your social circle. But you will need to put much more effort into making friends than the average Pitt student. You aren’t in a dorm where you can just be friends with the people you live with, so your next best option is to throw yourself into clubs. Go to the activities fair by yourself or with the one friend you have — I took both the one friend I had and my dad with me — and get yourself on the email list for everything that looks even remotely interesting. The first few weeks will be exhausting, as you slowly weed out the clubs that just aren’t the right fit, but I promise you, you will find something you enjoy. Pitt has nearly 700 student organizations to choose from, and there is something for everyone.
Also, keep an eye out for job openings and events on campus. Both will allow you to further explore what Pitt has to offer. I never expected to be on Pitt’s competitive archery team or working for The Pitt News. Neither were organizations I discovered through the activities fair, and both have made my college experience so amazing.
Make a point of going to events to get free stuff
My singular friend from the lonely first months of college has an obsession with free things, which I later adopted. We went to high school together, and I never saw this side until we ran around to every Welcome Week event just to get free tote bags, fanny packs, food, Amazon gift boxes and more. This applies to everyone, but commuters especially — take advantage of the free stuff you get as a college student. Your Pitt ID works as a bus pass, and Pitt’s Commuter Student Programs will have events at the beginning of the fall semester with plenty more free useful things like portable chargers and really nice Pitt script lunch bags to keep your packed lunch cold all day long.
You will lose a certain amount of time of your day to the commute
I spend nearly 2 hours a day commuting back and forth to campus. In the very beginning of college, I used to try to go back home in the middle of the day during the gap between my classes, because that’s what most non-commuters did — they had dorms to retire to for an afternoon nap. After about two weeks I realized how painfully stupid it was and just accepted that I had to get used to being on campus for 12 to 14 hours a day.
My advice — take advantage of the commute. In my case, I usually use the time to take a quick nap, listen to an audiobook or even do work on my phone. Pulling out a laptop on a crowded bus just sucks, but some people do that too. I prefer to just take advantage of the Canvas, Google Docs, Drive and Slides apps. By the end of the day, I’ve gotten two hours’ worth of work done just by sitting on the bus.
You will spend so much money on food
I beg of you, for the sake of your wallet, pack a lunch. Yes, sometimes we all need to cry in Panera during finals week over a bread bowl filled with mac ‘n cheese, and sometimes that Roots salad is just too good to resist because you saw someone else with one in Hillman and now you can’t stop thinking about it and also Five Guys Cajun fries just need to happen sometimes. Don’t even get me started on the Milkshake Factory — that place is dangerous. But regardless, always pack a lunch, snacks and even dinner if you can fit it. Commuting burns a lot of calories, because you’re doing a lot more walking and standing around than non-commuter students. Out of boredom, hunger or just plain studying and forgetting that you’re eating, you will eat constantly. I eat breakfast before I leave my house in the morning, and pack a full lunch and dinner in my cooler bag, along with a large variety of snacks. To maximize food space, I only put food that needs to be refrigerated in my lunch bag, and everything else goes in a separate bag in my backpack.
Commuting is sort of like backpacking
Your backpack will be massive, and that is okay. I travel and hike a lot, so I am fortunate enough to have lightweight gear that can easily be transferred from hiking bag to school bag. I actually have a sort of packing cube system in my gigantic green backpack, because it just makes things so much easier. When you’re on campus for so long every day, crash at a friend’s place for a night or pull an all-nighter at Hillman, you really have to be prepared — or at least I do, because I don’t like to be caught without everything I need on me. I even use a lot of the same items I would while backpacking or traveling that are lighter weight than their full-size counterparts. I always carry a full mini toiletry kit, a mini first-aid kit, a lock, a tote bag, an extra layer and a change of comfortable clothes and shoes along with my school supplies, food and a big water bottle. Carrying all that stuff on your back gets exhausting, so if you would prefer to rent a locker on campus to keep things as well, there is always that option.
People will judge you for living with your parents — don’t let it get to you
If you do choose to live with your parents and commute from home, people will judge you all the time. It’s sad, but it’s true. The best piece of advice I can offer is to just not let it get to you. You get home cooked meals, an emotional support system and you’re making the best financial decision of your undergraduate career. The money you save by commuting can go toward building a future for yourself. When you get to take that money and put it toward a house or grad school or a trip to Hawaii, you won’t regret commuting.
Dalia Maeroff writes primarily about issues of psychology, education, culture and environmentalism. Write to her at [email protected].