The great college debate: to commute or to live on campus

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Suburban-based students attending college in Chicago this fall have more to think about than papers, books and a teacher's dirty looks. They must consider: should they live near campus or commute from home?

For some students and parents, the decision is easy. For others, factors such as finances, time and distance are a deeper consideration.

Amanda Coughlin said when deciding whether to commute the one-and-a-half hour trip from her hometown of south suburban Matteson to DePaul University or to live on campus during her freshman year, her mom wanted her to have what she didn't at college: the dorm life experience.

Coughlin moved into the dorms in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, and she said she loved every minute of it.

"I wanted to be in the city; to be in the suburbs your whole life gets boring," Coughlin said. "[The city] is a change of pace and somewhere new and more exciting."

Coughlin said she met many people, especially through her roommates at the dorms.

"You spend so much time commuting; it's hard to get involved. I've made friends just because of my dorm mates," Coughlin said. "You're kind of forced into meeting people, and for people like me, I'm kind of quiet and shy. It's such an easier way to get involved in the school experience instead of just going to class and going home."

For others who do commute: the relationship is give-and-take. They may sacrifice some aspects of college life, but it's worth it to save money.

After attending college in Scotland, Anders Milton, who lived in Lake Bluff, moved back to the states to attend the University of Illinois-Chicago as a political science major. Although his original plan was to eventually live downtown and go to school, Milton said commuting wasn't so bad.

"The original plan was to start off as a commuter and once had figured everything out [and] gotten situated, I would find a place downtown to live," Milton said. "Once I actually started though, I really didn't mind commuting since it was so easy. I decided to save some money and keep commuting."

Milton's commute was 45 minutes each way. On the train ride, he said he worked on homework. For him, after already experiencing college in atypical fashion, missing dorm life was no big deal. He does admit it was hard planning around the Metra train schedules and meeting new people.

"The only frustrations I would mention are primarily it is more difficult to meet new people on campus because so many of the people get to know each other through living together and not through classes," Milton said. "It requires more effort."

After attending the College of DuPage before transferring to Columbia College Chicago, former student Mandy Treccia commuted daily from Naperville. Treccia's job required her to be in the city five days a week. Although Treccia said she had to pay the $126 monthly Metra pass to accommodate her work schedule, she said it was cheaper than living in the city.

She said one downfall was that Metra station parking was limited. Therefore, her parents would drive her there and pick her up, which required a lot of scheduling. While she was in the city, Treccia said not having the luxuries the students who live in the dorms or live in the city have - that nearby convenience - was frustrating.

"It would [have been] nice to run home and take a nap in the middle of the day," Treccia said.

Even when she only had one remaining semester at Columbia, Treccia said she still commuted.

Former Columbia student Konrad Biegaj made the decision to commute to save money. He didn't want to rack up student loans to pay for rent and utilities. Additionally, he had a great relationship with his parents.

"Some people don't, and need to get out," Biegaj said. "I'm not one of those people."

Former Columbia student Katrina Alfarao, who transferred from the University of Illinois-Chicago, did the same as Treccia until the commute became too difficult. At first, she drove from her home in Downers Grove to the University of Illinois-Chicago. After transferring to Columbia, she had a two-hour commute: driving to the Metra station, taking the train and then taking a CTA bus to school. If she missed a train, she had to wait 90 minutes before she could catch another one. She eventually rented an apartment in Lincoln Park. She said she wished she had done it sooner.

Former Columbia student Kaila Sanabria said she would tell anyone coming to college to live in the dorms for at least a year.

"[The dorms] is where I met all my friends," Sanabria said. "It would be hard to move into the city and not know anyone and be on your own because you don't meet anyone, you don't know where you're going."

After she left the dorms, Sanabria lived in the Pilsen neighborhood, but she took a lot away from her dorm experience.

"It was nice to have a place that was structured and [to be around] people who knew the city and could show you around," she said.

Once Sanabria left the dorms, she enjoyed that she was no longer required to hang up decorations with sticky tack.

"It's the simple things; having your own place and feeling independent," she said.

For commuters, it's just the same.

"As long as you make an effort to get to know people, you can have just as much fun and probably save some money by doing so," Milton said.