More Logistics: Campus Life or Commuter?

One of the first questions people ask me when they find out I’m going to graduate school is, “Where are you going to live?”. As I am 39 years old and married, that’s a reasonable question. It’s not the same as when I was a brand new adult undergrad with no attachments and no one to worry about but me. There’s a bit more to consider now.

COMMUTER OR RESIDENT?

A dorm room at the Harvard Law School.

As Western Carolina University is about one hour from my house, “Where am I going to live?”, became the next issue to resolve. The program I’m in will require that I attend school year-round, with a lighter schedule in the summer. The round trip journey from my house to campus and back is 130 miles, mostly on the highway, which takes about an hour each way. I could get an apartment with a roommate for about $450 a month, including utilities, internet, etc. Comparing the cost of a round trip to school and back home every school day versus the cost of a weekly commute and renting a small apartment near campus, we came to the conclusion that the cheapest option would be for me to live at home and commute to school. (You can find average gas prices at http://gasbuddy.com/GB_StateList.aspx)

Spreadsheets are fun, aren’t they!? That 3rd option, only renting in the fall and spring, relies on being able to find someone whoDriving

is willing to rent to me from August to the end of May every year. I found out that might not be as feasible in reality as it is in theory. Seeing how I am forced to live in the real world, the 3rd option was essentially OUT. It looked like I was going to be a commuter student.

Then one day, as I was studying for the GRE (that hellish test that’s required for graduate school application) it occurred to me that there was one big problem with commuting to school and living at home: I LOVE spending time with my husband. Anytime he was home I ended up talking to him instead of studying, no matter how good my intentions and determination to study. If I ignored him, I felt bad. It wasn’t his fault. We just enjoy talking and hanging out together. (That’s kinda one of the reasons we’re married!) But it was suddenly clear there was no way I’d be able to dedicate the kind of attention that was necessary to be a successful student if I was at home. If I was going to fulfill the promise I had made to my husband and myself to “kick butt” in school, I needed the freedom to be completely absorbed with my studies and not feel guilty for neglecting my spouse.

English: A male and a female holding hands.

Fortunately, Scott agreed. He was already a little tired of leaving the house so I could study and as long as I was home he found it impossible NOT to talk to me. (Awww…)  If I had to spend all my time in a library so I could concentrate, than I might as well not have a long drive every day on top of it. Time was going to be precious enough without losing two hours out of each day to driving back and forth. Additionally, the wear and tear on the ol’ car would be considerable. There would be an additional cost with wear on the vehicle that I hadn’t included in my original calculations.

Cost savings would have to give way to productivity and peace of mind when came to the housing issue. It’s kind of a relief. Now I can focus on my work without distraction or guilt. He can enjoy some quiet time throughout the week and have friends over without worrying that he’s bothering me. It might be a neat boost to our relationship.

By the way, I DID consider on-campus housing since I had never lived in a dorm before and was a little curious about the experience. I was stunned to find the cost of room and board is $8,401 for the fall/spring semesters! That doesn’t even include any transportation money to go home on the weekends. I was not terribly impressed with the dining options

Cafeteria

on campus during my visit (especially for the cost involved) and I don’t eat large quantities of food anyhow. I’m a total waste of money at a buffet. I’m thinking I may even lose some weight, since I wouldn’t be eating my husband’s delicious dinners during the week. (Hello, Lean Cuisine!)  I’m not averse to salads, protein shakes and Cliff Bars as meals, not just snacks. As long as there are still Dove Dark Chocolate bites in the world, I’m a happy camper. Who wants to live in a dorm with a bunch of kids almost young enough to be my kid anyhow? No WAY I wanted to play dorm-mom. Talk about making a gal really FEEL old.

I was fortunate enough to find a roommate (on Craig’s List, believe it or not) who is in the same master’s program, which I think will be mutually beneficial. She’s much younger than me (23 years old) but seems to have a calm disposition and a pretty steady head on her shoulders. Surprisingly, we have similar taste in music and share a few important pet peeves: food/plates left in the living room overnight and full trash cans. Historically, these are issues which have been known to cause roommate trouble. We’ll just have to play the rest by ear.

I move down to the college apartment on Sunday and school starts Monday. Wish me luck!

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