Borrebach: Living close to home: Students must balance independence and family

By Naomi Borrebach / Columnist

For many of us, going away to college doesn’t necessarily mean driving for hours or buying plane tickets, but loading up the minivan for a short drive to a campus near where we grew up.

According to an article in The New York Times last week, the trend of students staying close to home is increasing nationally. The article profiles college students, especially freshmen, who chose to go to college close to home even though they applied to colleges farther away.

Three years ago, I was a freshman at Pitt living in a dorm about 30 minutes away from my parents’ house. By that point in my first semester, I was starting to feel at home at Pitt, even though I really wasn’t far from my parents’ house and I was living in the city in which I grew up. After making the short drive home for fall break, I asked my mom if she would take me “home” — to my dorm — early so I could see my new friends. Going home to do laundry was not exactly high on my list of priorities.

While I had initially wanted to go far away from home for college, the logistics of having me and all three of my siblings in college at the same time made it more realistic for us to stay close to home. A lot of students in Pennsylvania also make the choice to stay in-state, whether for financial or other practical reasons. Sixty-seven percent of Pitt’s freshman class this year is from Pennsylvania, and 17 percent is from Allegheny County, like me. 

As the author of the New York Times article points out, having Mom and Dad so close to your college life can make it difficult to define boundaries. Asking your parents to bring you your favorite groceries after their Costco trips can turn into never buying your own food or cooking anything for yourself. I’ll admit that over the past couple years, my parents have helped me repair things in my dorm room and taken me to the doctor when I’ve gotten sick — things that most students have to figure out by themselves. Having never been forced to be completely independent, I’m quite possibly less prepared for being a “real adult.” 

For local students who are still trying to figure out the potential awkwardness of living close to home, remember that your parents most likely want to help you out and see you every now and then, but they also want you to have your own life. Even if you live close enough to your parents to go home for dinner every night, you should still go to Market Central with your new friends. Don’t infringe on your parents’ kindness by bringing home all of your dirty laundry from the past month. 

Even though your parents are right there to help you, try to navigate things like your own health care, credit card bills, taxes and Ikea furniture set-up as independently as you can. Doubtless, your parents will help you out a lot at first, but making a good effort to take on more adult responsibilities as you get older will make your transition to being a “real adult” much smoother. 

A benefit of going to college close to home is being able to spend time with siblings and other family. One of my brothers currently goes to Pitt, and another graduated from Pitt’s grad school last year. If you have the opportunity, hanging out with your siblings when you’re not all living at home can make your relationships better and more mature. If you’re living close to some of your siblings but you never really hang out with them except when your parents make you, try spending time with them on your own terms. Even though a lot of people try to get away from their siblings when they go to college, forming a better relationship with your family while you’re in college will definitely help you when you’re home for the summer. 

Even if you really wanted to go farther away for college, you might find that living close to home has a lot of perks. Strike a balance between mooching off your parents and pretending that they don’t exist: Go home for family birthdays and to visit your parents every now and then, but try to exist as independently as possible. Don’t make going home an excuse to get a flu shot, have your parents iron your clothes or have them sort out your credit score for you. Work on building a more adult relationship with them that will last beyond your college years.

Write Naomi at [email protected].