Commuting generally spells earlier mornings, longer days, and less sleep for many students at the University of Toronto; combined with the monetary constraints that arise from the costs of tuition and textbooks, commuting is often incurred as a necessary evil.
While the average commute varies, students travelling from destinations such as Scarborough, Brampton, and Mississauga can lose upwards of three hours each day on public transportation. Commuting detracts from students’ time and energy, which can constrain their ability to balance the demands of academic life with extracurricular involvement.
In such a predicament, a silver lining may seem elusive, yet commuting may actually help increase a student’s productivity and involvement on campus.
Universities hail time management as an essential skill for undergraduate success. While this skill is important for all students, it is especially meaningful for those who commute. Clearly pressed for time, these students have greater incentive to utilize theirs more productively. As such, a draining commute can lead to academic success and improved extracurricular involvement by challenging students to develop better time management skills.
Commuters are likely to find themselves in two different scenarios during a typical school week. In the first, commuters file through a full day on campus, which, apart from classes, labs, and tutorials, is likely to consist of long gaps in one’s schedule.
Although students may choose to treat these gaps as free time by procrastinating on the Internet, this time can also be productively used to refuel before hitting the books, which will allow commuters to more easily complete their tasks.
In this way, commuting serves as a daily reminder that students need to prioritize their tasks and manage their time effectively. As students improve these skills, their attitudes and grades will follow suit.
In the second scenario, commuters may find their day on campus too brief. Because commuter students face more barriers to getting involved on campus — mainly due to very late meetings — they often take off right after class in order to get home on time. Yet, a connection to one’s school is often established through activities, clubs, and organizations, and scheduling accordingly can enable commuters to become more proactive in seeking out opportunities that do suit their schedules.
The U of T Co-Curricular Record (CCR) site aids students in this process; not only does the CCR database allow students to search for opportunities specific to ‘Commuter Life’, but students are also able to narrow their searches to opportunities offered on days and times that fit their schedules.
Students will find that commuting an hour and a half downtown for an hour-long tutorial will seem less taxing when they decide to volunteer some time to a student group beforehand. Thus, perhaps paradoxically, the added difficulty of getting involved may lead commuters to be more dedicated to their extra curricular commitments.
Finally, access to campus resources — namely libraries and other quiet study spaces — is sometimes overlooked and taken for granted by those living in residence due to their close proximity. However, commuter students may come to view such resources as luxuries. College writing centres and instructor office hours can hold new value for commuter students when they are viewed as advantageous ways to fill gaps in schedules or as coveted opportunities when time is limited. In either case, a new appreciation for resources leads to more usage, and ideally, rewarding academic results.
While commuting is not always an ideal reality for students, through a change in habit and perspective, commuter students can lessen the burden imposed by their commute. This does not mean, however, that the onus to accommodate commuter students shifts to the students themselves. Executives on student-led groups, for instance, should consider commuter student needs; all that may be required is simply pushing meeting times earlier. As the costs associated with university continue to rise, there will be no shortage of commuter students to benefit from such changes.
Zara Narain is a second-year student at Victoria College studying Ethics, Society, and Law, History, and Philosophy.