For many students from poorer or working class backgrounds, commuting to campus from home is the new reality of student life. This group is three times more likely to live at home while attending university than their most advantaged classmates, according to a recent study by the Sutton Trust.
Plenty of “commuter students” do so for other reasons besides money; those who care for family members, study locally, live with disabilities, or just don’t want to relocate. They told us the common stumbling blocks of studying from home, with advice for getting over them:
Once you’re no longer a full financial responsibility of your parents but still living under their roof, you may need to sit down and negotiate. “A lot of stress came from being perceived as lazy or idle, because I was studying instead of working,” says film and TV production student Liam O’Toole. “ It’s quite hard when nobody in the family has been to university, because they don’t know how it works.”
Assuming you have a student loan, you could ease any tensions by offering to contribute to bills, rent and food. “I’d say it’s about setting boundaries, and learning to live with your family a little more like flatmates,” says film and television production student James Willis, who decided to move home to study when his mum became ill. “Pay some rent, offer to cook once a week, pull your weight – and make the most of cheaper rent and premium loo roll.”
Brace for train strains
It takes an unseen mental effort to travel an hour a day to the same lecture your friends will roll out of bed for. Live-at-home law student Heather Laws suggests scouting out the best railcard deals and to use your commuting time smartly. “If that means doing some work, or getting a hot chocolate, reading a book, or listening to music – just make use of that time.”
Leave the house
“My biggest difficulty was how little my confidence grew being at home, in a sort of safety zone,” says O’Toole. “Many of my projects involved interaction with people I didn’t know. It was harder to be sociable. I wasn’t thrust into those situations.”
Society events, course socials and the lingering space before lectures and seminars all become opportunities to meet new people. Laws highlights that managing a disability – in her case, full deafness mediated by cochlear implants – can exacerbate the small inconveniences of living miles away. “You may not want to burden friends with your problems, especially since living at home is sometimes perceived as being an advantage.” Laws says she has learned “not to be afraid to confide in people – it makes life easier for everyone”.
“Try to make plans, even if they are only once a month,” she says. “Sometimes it’s nice to make a proper event of it all – something to look forward to.”
Carve out a workspace
With a contact-light (or for some postgrads, a contact-less) timetable, degree work can be very remote. “Occasionally the difference between housemates and parents becomes really clear – if I need get my head down, I’ll often feel bad in that I’ll want to talk to family more, in a way that I wouldn’t feel obliged to with a mate or someone in a house share.”
Find a space where you can study uninterrupted, Laws advises: “For healthy living and studying you need to have a routine that works. You should try and find your space and time to work, and balance this with spending time with your family.”
Enjoy the perks
“Staying at home for that little bit longer made me feel a lot more secure,” says Claire Johnson, who studied history from home. “Not everyone is ready to leave home at 18. And there’s nothing like a hug from a loved one when you’re having a tough day.”
O’Toole adds: “There was no anxiety, or leap into a new way of living for me. The money I was granted from student finance went a lot further. I didn’t need to work as there was enough to budget my maintenance loan per week to live off. I was able to study better knowing I didn’t have any money troubles.”