By LINDSAY RUONGRAT
Off-campus students tend to face more challenges than on-campus students when it comes to their level of involvement with on-campus activities. As an off-campus student, I’ve struggled with making new friends and feeling involved with the campus community. Off-campus students need to take extra steps to feel included because we spend less time on campus. This means taking the initiative and spending extra time meeting new people, studying and networking with other students on campus, joining clubs and attending campus events, all while juggling a full course load, work and family responsibilities.
Currently, there are 4,100 students on campus, and approximately 1,600 of them are off-campus students, according to Chris Porter, director of Transfer and Off-Campus Student Services.
To me, living on campus is the ideal situation while attending college. However, I commute because I’m not typical college age and other responsibilities demand my attention when I am not on campus. Choosing to be an off-campus student is better fitting for my schedule and life, however, after a couple semesters, I realized that it takes extra effort than just showing up to class to be involved if I didn’t want to feel like an outsider or “different” because I live off campus.
After speaking with students, I realized my situation is more common than not.
Many off-campus students spend extra time commuting which can make it difficult to get to classes on time and can take away from time spent studying. Jasmine Alanis, a senior marketing major, described her commute: “I live in Spotsylvania County, so I either have to take route 3 or route 1 to school, and they can very easily become parking lots, so I consider myself lucky if I can make it to campus within 30 minutes.”
Another issue is finding time for meals. With busy schedules, it’s problematic for any student to eat a proper meal, but being an off-campus student means having to plan all of your meals during the school day, especially without a meal plans.
“It can be such a hassle to drive back to school from my house, and as someone that doesn’t have a meal plan, I have to pay out of pocket, plan out snacks and meals, or go hungry if I am back on campus during breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Alanis.
Another issue I have as a commuter is finding parking regularly. With the new guidelines instilled at the beginning of this fall semester for parking on College Avenue, off-campus students are more limited in areas to park. While I am aware this is a common issue for majority of UMW students, it is even worse of a burden for commuters.
“On campus students tend to take the nearest parking or parking on the highest levels of the garage, and they pretty much never leave,” said Alanis. “Last semester there was an event going and all the parking in the garage and behind the school was full. I always park over there and wasn’t familiar with other parking areas, so I ended up being 30 minutes late to class after finding student parking on the opposite side of campus.”
These small everyday challenges add up and can limit the time the student spends on activities outside of their regular class schedule, not to mention extra time spent on unexpected events like leaving a book at home or forgetting your homework on the printer. With the strains of working, I tend to focus mostly on academics while on campus. After my final class of the day, I’m normally exhausted, and don’t stay late for campus-related activities.
“I do think activities and events on campus make a difference in the college experience for most students. I personally don’t go to many due to schedule conflicts. I would participate if I could,” said senior and accounting major Tori Pilkerton.
Porter, along with graduate assistant Lindsay Crawford, tend to the needs of off-campus students with a variety of resources and networking opportunities through the Office of Transfer and Off-Campus Students. There is an off-campus student lounge, the Talon Lounge, in the UC where they display weekly events and send out monthly newsletters. The office offers coffee hours twice a week in the lounge and times vary so that if times do not work for students one week, they could potentially work another.
Porter also shared that she meets with each commuter student at the beginning of the semester to check in with how classes are going, their commute route and to discuss any needs. The office also hosts several open forums based on common issues that are reported. As previously mentioned, parking is a difficult task for most commuter students. Recently, Porter had staff from Parking Management attend to mediate questions and provide answers for commuter concerns.
On-campus students are arguably viewed as having a higher success rate, and I would agree with that statement. Off-campus students can be just as successful, with successful time-management to lessen the effect these obstacles have on their college experience, and using extra time to make an effort to be involved on campus.
“We can offer all kinds of suggestions and connect you with people to talk to, but when it comes down to it, you’ve got to take that step into an organization,” said Porter. “Just making sure you get to see what’s going on. Just put an event on your calendar and just go.”
Spending more time away from campus means not gaining the same opportunities and experiences that on-campus students have. Having strong time-management skills and a desire to feel included can help off-campus students, like myself, gain the most out of the college experience, while still working towards academic success. If students want to feel involved, they have to get involved themselves.