For some of us, Brock is a home away from home. In other words, it’s a commuter school. And for those of us who commute, making the most (and the best) out of your university experience takes a little more effort than the average student. As someone who makes the one-hour commute from Stoney Creek to St. Catharines daily, I can attest to the fact that you can have just as good (or an even better!) of a university experience as those who live on-campus.

Here are eight tips for surviving and succeeding as a commuter student in university:

1. Plan your schedule accordingly.

This is probably the most critical aspect of commuting. Because you don’t have the luxury of going to your dorm room between breaks for a nap, try to fit in all of your classes back-to-back with a few breaks. If possible, it helps to schedule your classes on three to four days of the week to minimize the amount of days you have to be on-campus. Last semester, I had Wednesdays off, and this semester, I have Thursdays and Fridays off, which saves both gas and money, leaving time for other commitments.

Tip: Be sure to hop online as soon as registration opens (according to your credit count) to get the best options for your schedule.

2. Bring your own food.

Snacks

Considering the high costs of on-campus food and not having the convenience of a meal plan like those who live in residence, it’s crucial that you bring your own food and snacks. Aside from avoiding the “freshman 15” or the “fourth-year 40”, bringing your own food will save you a ton of money. This is especially important if you have a long day. For example, if you have an 8 a.m. class, a seminar at 12 p.m., work until 4:30 p.m., and you’re going to the gym after that, it’s unrealistic to bring a breakfast, lunch, and dinner; but you can have breakfast at home, bring a lunch, and grab a protein shake from Booster Juice before heading home for dinner.

Tip: It’s tempting to pull up to the McDonald’s drive-thru, appropriately located next to campus. I found that having snacks in the car and not skipping meals helps with poor decisions caused by hunger. Especially when it’s 9 p.m. and you know that you have a long drive home.

3. Budget for gas, insurance, and car payments.

The plus side about not living close to or on campus is that you don’t have to pay rent or double your tuition costs. Unfortunately, you have to pay for gas, insurance, and car payments… which will probably add up to the cost of rent anyway. Whether or not you get assistance with any of these payments, it’s a good measure of financial responsibility and organization. The amount of money you’ll spend on these things depend entirely on fuel prices, how many days a week you have to be on campus, your insurance premium, and whether your vehicle is owned, loaned, or leased.

Tip: Always, always, always make sure you have enough gas for your commute. I’ve played my hand in luck by driving on an empty tank and never had my car stall on me (knocks on wood!). Please don’t do what I did and actually be responsible. Also, ask your insurance company about student discounts!

4. Stay social.

Getting involved not only amplifies your university experience, it’s scientifically proven to enhance your academic performance. It’s even more imperative for us commuters to stay “in the loop” because we aren’t on-campus as much as others. If you don’t, you’ll risk feeling isolated and lonely — something I experienced in first-year. The hour-long drive to school, just to go to class and drive home again is not the way you should spend your years at Brock. Don’t try to justify or rationalize not being able to go to social events just because you live far away. I was simply sick and tired of being the commuter student that was never a part of anything so I got myself two on-campus jobs and volunteer on-campus as well. That way, it’s inevitable that I’ll constantly meet new people and have more reasons to stay on-campus.

Tip: An easy way to stay social is to join clubs of your interest or simply attend the plethora of on and off-campus events Brock has to offer.

5. Make time for parking.

Parkin

We’ve discussed how crucial time management is to the commuter. However, we don’t think to factor in the time it actually takes us to park our cars and walk to class. In particular, people like me, who have to park in Zone 2 and walk 15 minutes to a lecture in Academic South (maybe I’m just a slow walker). Factor in how long it ultimately takes for you to get from Point A (your house) to Point B (your class). Because, let’s face it, most of us don’t have that oh-so-wonderful VIP parking in the “Reserved” area of Zone 1.

Tip: The best times to find parking are 8 a.m., before anyone gets here, or in the late-afternoon/evening, when everyone is leaving. Also, it’s good to note that Zone 1 parking permits sell out very quickly, so unless you want to make the trek in the snow every winter, buy early.

6. Discover alternate routes home.

Commuting may be a headache sometimes, but we are extremely fortunate not to have to deal with Toronto traffic. We’re always going against traffic, even during rush hours. But even then, accidents, closures, and construction will happen. If you take the 406 and QEW like I do, it’s worth scoping out different routes to take home. It might take longer to take the country roads or city streets home, but it beats sitting in traffic for half an hour, which I’ve done. Additionally, you’ll discover new, cool places when you drive “off the beaten path”. I used to get lost if I entered the inner streets of St. Catharines, but now, I can proudly say that I’m able to navigate my way through the Garden City without using my GPS!

Tip: Monitor news media outlets for accidents and plan detours if necessary.

7. Find your ideal sleep routine.

Sleep Schedule

Once you succeed in doing so, tell me how. Because you don’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed 10 minutes before class starts, sprinting from your dorm room in Decew, across Jubilee Court, to your seminar in Mackenzie Chown — you have to put a little more effort to get a healthy (and essential) amount of shut-eye. Just as you would with your classes, work, volunteer, gym, social life, and other obligations, schedule sleep (6-8 hours) into your calendar. If you’re not an early bird (I’m a total night owl!) and you have a super long commute, don’t register for 8 a.m. classes or you’ll never end up going. Learn to find your “prime time”, which is when you sleep best and when you study best.

Tip: Take naps if you have to, especially if you had a long day and a long commute to follow — naps have saved my sanity so many times.

8. Watch the weather

We all pray for snow days, and thankfully, our prayers were answered twice this winter. However, commuters don’t have the comfort of checking our Twitter feeds to see if it’s a snow day and roll back to bed if it is, because most of the time, it isn’t. We can’t just throw on our sweats and UGG boots and drag ourselves into class either — we have to factor in extra, extra time for our commute. Thankfully, University Marketing and Communications are very efficient in pushing out information regarding inclement weather, with decisions being made by 7 a.m. So, unless you have an 8 a.m. class, you’ll still have time to use your own discretion as to whether or not you should make the trip.

Tip: Just because the university is open doesn’t necessarily mean you should drive in. If the weather and roads looks bad, chances are, the highways are worse. It isn’t worth jeopardizing your safety. Professors are often very understanding and accommodating towards driving and weather situations.

And a few mini-tips:

  • Carpool with others to save gas money (although it can be unrealistic to find someone who lives near you with the same schedule).
  • Find your “secret, special spot” at school for those three-hour breaks where you can read, relax, or just have some down time (mine is on the third floor of Thistle. Kidding — would it be a “secret, special spot” if I told you?).
  • Know that commuting is a fantastic way to transition into the real world, where you most likely have to commute to work.
  • Don’t let commuting take away from your university experience — you’re still a Badger and you deserve to have fun and be successful!