A Complete Guide to Student Transportation and Commuting

Transportation is an important consideration in planning for college. This transportation guide shares options and tips for getting around campus.

portrait of Laura Bengs
by Laura Bengs

Updated April 29, 2022

Edited by Will Baker
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A Complete Guide to Student Transportation and Commuting
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Some undergraduates take advantage of a campus's living arrangements. But data shows that about 85% of students commute to campus. It's possible this number is even higher with the rise of virtual learning offerings born out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether you're saving money by living at home with your parents or guardians, renting an apartment nearby, or paying a mortgage in a neighboring city, it's important to consider how you'll navigate transportation around campus.

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Ready to start your journey?

How Can I Get Around Campus Without a Car?

The College Board estimates that transportation can account for almost 20% of college living expenses. As such, many students opt to leave their cars at home and find alternative ways to get to and from campus. Here are some of your options.

Join a Student Carpool

By carpooling, you can ride to campus with other students, split costs for gas and parking, and socialize as you commute. To set up a carpool, find people who share a similar schedule. Then, clearly discuss how to commute together, touching on health and hygiene preferences since you'll share close quarters.

Use a Rideshare Service

A rideshare service can help you find people to carpool with. Rideshare services may be offered through a school, state, or company. Rideshares can help you locate a regular carpool, or you can use popular services such as Uber or Lyft for one-time needs, like a trip to the grocery store.

Take Advantage of Campus Transportation

Many campuses offer their own transportation around campus to help students and faculty easily get around. A campus bus service typically runs a regular route at set times throughout the day. Some campuses even provide a free campus shuttle during evening hours to ensure student and faculty safety.

Opt for Public Transportation

If a campus is located in or near a city, public transportation can be an affordable way to get to and from campus. Some colleges offer programs in which students can use public transportation for free or at a discounted rate with a student bus pass.

Consider Alternative Transportation

If you live close to campus, your commute could be an opportunity to get some exercise. Walking or biking are common modes of transportation for students living in off-campus housing nearby. For adventure-seekers, rollerblading or skateboarding can be more active options to add a little sport to your commute.

What to Consider When Bringing Your Vehicle to College

Having a car in college can provide you with flexibility, but it may bring other challenges and factors to consider. Parking areas are likely reserved only for college students or faculty, so you may need a student parking permit to park in these areas. Campus parking lots may only be open for certain hours as well, meaning access to them could be limited.

If you're attending college in a state subject to winter weather, you'll want to make sure to keep a snow brush (and even a shovel) in the car for those unexpected winter flurries. You should also consider good safety practices, especially if your campus is located in a big city.

7 Tips for Keeping Your Vehicle Safe on Campus

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, motor vehicle thefts accounted for 11% of campus crimes in 2018. Just like in any highly concentrated area, you should make a conscious effort to protect your vehicle (and your belongings) from theft, vandalism, or damage.

Remember that keeping your car safe is also about keeping you safe.

1. Keep Your Vehicle Locked at All Times

Always lock your vehicle's doors when you're not in it to avoid car theft or vandalism. You can also protect your personal safety by having your keys ready and examining the car's surroundings before entering. Keeping the doors locked while inside your vehicle can also keep you safe.

2. Keep Any Valuable Items Out of Sight

Even if your car is locked, keep anything valuable inside hidden. Avoid leaving your driver's license, house keys, and other personal items with information about your identity in your car. Stow anything valuable in the trunk and make sure you lock it.

3. Park in Well-Lit Areas

Parking in areas with good lighting where your car will be highly visible can also ward off break-ins. When selecting a spot, consider what time you'll return to your car (especially if it will be dark). Avoid parking in isolated areas or areas that limit the visibility of your vehicle.

4. Whenever Possible, Park in a Garage

If your apartment or house has a garage, try to secure a space there. Parking in an area where your car is less visible, like a garage, can reduce the likelihood of something bad happening. A garage can also shield your car from the elements.

5. Do Not Lend Your Vehicle Out to Others

Some insurance companies may not cover damage to a vehicle (or damage to another vehicle) if the driver is not listed on the policy. If you'd like to help a friend in college without a car, consider giving them a ride instead of lending them your car.

6. Keep the Car Well Serviced

Driving your car more often can maintain its battery life and give you an opportunity to check that nothing has been vandalized. Staying current with oil changes, tire rotations, and other routine maintenance can also prevent breakdowns and reduce the chance of getting stranded somewhere.

7. Don't Drink and Drive

College can come with added recreational opportunities and peer pressure. But you should never drive a vehicle when you've been drinking or get into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking. Many colleges offer evening transportation for students, so take advantage of this when needed.

Transportation Costs for Students With Vehicles

The College Board estimates that undergraduates spend anywhere from $1,060-$1,840 per year on student transportation costs. While this includes some regular fees associated with owning a vehicle, it's important to work transportation costs into your budget.

Staying on top of vehicle maintenance is an investment that often avoids issues down the road. Student car insurance is another expense you'll need to cover, but you may save money if you can stay on your parents' or guardians' insurance plan.

Many insurance companies also offer discounts for good grades and a clean driving record.

Frequently Asked Questions About Student Transportation and Commuting

Should I buy a car or save for college?

This answer varies based on each student's situation. If you live close to campus and can use public transportation or walk or bike to your classes, putting money toward college is probably a better use of your resources.

However, if you live far from campus and getting to class is challenging, the best way to get around campus may involve buying a car. Look into the options available to you and evaluate your situation before deciding.

What is a good commute time for college?

The Census Bureau reported that the average one-way commute in the U.S. was 27.6 minutes in 2019. Use this average to gauge how long of a commute you're comfortable with. Shorter commutes can save valuable time needed for studying or working.

If you're looking at commutes that are an hour or more each way, you may want to reconsider either your college choice or your living situation.

Can you make friends if you commute to college?

Yes. Carpooling is a great way to meet other students. It can also relieve stress because rather than focusing on traffic and finding campus parking, you can spend your commute time socializing with your peers. Rideshares can also expose you to other commuters, opening more possibilities for meeting people.

Can you request student parking permit waivers?

Yes. If you have a medical reason for needing a parking permit, you may be eligible to request a waiver from your college. If you're seeking a waiver for a different reason, visit the school's student transportation services webpage or the office on campus to ask about other parking waivers and discount programs.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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