My Experience as an Off-Campus Freshman

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My Experience as an Off-Campus Freshman

Emma Filev-Mihalak, Contributor

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It is surprisingly rare to find an off-campus first-year student at UMass Amherst, a university known for its populous and diverse community. When I committed and put down my deposit in April, I did not know what I was getting into, and I was ok with that. 

Then I realized I was going to live only half an hour from campus, and didn’t have to spend extra money on plane or bus tickets just to come home once in a while. I was going to be doing it all right here, where I grew up.

I spent the summer almost bragging to my friends about not having to find a roommate, buy a bunch of supplies for my dorm, and of course pay an extra $10,000 for living on campus. Let me say, that premature excitement would definitely come back to bite me.

As time came closer to actually starting classes, I began to ask myself how was I going to pull this off. I wondered how I could manage commuting to college a half hour from my house, then go to work, another 20 minutes from my house in the opposite direction of college, and do this all in the same day, every single day.

I panicked and realized I had to adjust my schedule. With scholarships helping my regular tuition and no need to pay for room and board, I also took the opportunity to sign up for an online class.

With that one issue out of the way, my mind eased up in some aspects while simultaneously forming new issues to ponder. My next worry was: how will I afford gas with the few hours I’m working? Should I give up my coffee addiction? Absolutely not, doing that will send me insane before I even make a dent in my credit completion. I’ll figure that part out later. Finances, particularly my own, have never been my strong suit. 

Is it any wonder that I chose to drive the equivalent of a small road trip every day instead of paying a large, flat fee to be closer to my classes? I panicked again, said a prayer over my little car to at least make it through the school year, and confirm my off-campus status.

Finally, the part that everyone, regardless of their housing status, finds themselves obsessing over: will I ever make friends? This is hard enough to do as a freshman who dorms, but being completely separate from the campus for all social events is even more difficult. I promised everyone, including myself,  I would not feel left out as a commuter. 

I’ve never been one to be caught up in the “scene” of parties, which I heard many rumors about before I saw the campus. I thought partying was my only option to be social at UMass, so I didn’t feel I was missing out on much.

However, as I began to see the immense amount of opportunities on campus, I realized I could do so much which involves being social and bettering myself and my future, and do this all at the same time. 

Club participation and being social with peers feels more taxing when living off campus, but it is not impossible. Simply looking around on social media, asking classmates or friends, and making that extra effort will mean a productive and enjoyable year without making that big investment to be in closer proximity to campus. 

Living off-campus is a different world, but it is not the end of the world. You learn to find your way around campus even with the far-away parking spaces. You still meet new people every day, and even if it’s just one person in a class whom you happen to have a laugh with, it’s a plus for that day.

As a commuter, it may be a struggle making it to meetings but with little effort, there are still ways to stand out and be involved. As an off-campus student who is actively involved on campus, it can prove to be especially impressive.

This is the very beginning for me and my college career, but it is something I look forward to navigating on my own and hopefully with other commuters I may meet along the way.

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