Part of the attraction of going away to university used to be just that – moving away from home and gaining long-awaited independence. But something has changed in recent years; more and more students are choosing to sacrifice that freedom in favour of saving a buck.
Recent Hesa figures show more than 328,000 students in the UK elected to remain in the family home last year. But with living costs on the rise and monthly rent in London now at a whopping average cost of £1,508 per month, it hardly comes as a surprise. The age of the student waster is dead; The Millennial generation is one of soft drink consumers and long-suffering commuters.
Alice, 22, lives in Kent and pays £477 per month for her daily four-hour commute to and from Islington. She says she really struggles with missing out on aspects of student life: “Most of my friends are lucky enough to live in London but unfortunately I just can't afford it. It's such a shame because when they want to go to the pub after uni I usually have to say no because I have to tutor and drive home from the station.
“It’s upsetting because in my undergraduate degree I had barely any contact time so didn't make many friends on my course, whereas on my MA I have loads of contact time and friends, but I'm missing out because I can't socialise with them.”
The constant travelling is incredibly draining, as she has a part time tutoring job outside of her studies – meaning she is rarely home before 10pm, reheating her dinner and climbing into bed before it all starts again at 6am. “I feel I can't dedicate myself to my studies as much because there is literally no time,” Alice adds. “I cannot afford to live in London, but I cannot magic more hours to make it worth my while.”
In order to cut commuting time, some students choose to stay with significant others who do live in the city rather than spend multiple hours a day travelling. Amelia, 23, lives near Milton Keynes and says she will only go home during the week when she has to, as the time she loses on her daily three hour commute takes too much of a toll. Her boyfriend, Youssef, lives in halls right in the centre of London.
She explains that her staying over most weeknights has caused the couple to become more serious: “If I lived in London we might not spend as much time with each other, because it would mean we could go to and from each other’s flats – it means I’m either at home or with him, and because my course is so intense it means we’re together more often. For example, last year we lived in opposite ends of Norwich and we’d see each other three times a week, now it’s most weekdays.”
Amelia adds that the commute, besides being expensive, impacts her studies. The stress of turning up late and flustered to lectures following train delays leaves her feeling stressed and unprepared for the day.
Of course, there is the issue of maintaining a social life alongside studying. Although the idea of missing nights at the pub after lectures does not sound like anything to lose sleep over, it is important for those who are completing an intensive course to have a strong support network.
Mimi, 21, completed her undergraduate degree at UCL while living with friends, but chose to move back in with her father in an outer London suburb whilst achieving her master’s degree at City University. She finds the aspect of going out with friends a “massive hassle” as staying out past midnight means she needs to find a place to stay, and it takes all the spontaneity out of a night out with friends when you do not have a spare toothbrush: “it’s always a bit icky staying at someone else’s house when you don’t have all your things with you.”
Despite the many drawbacks of being a commuter, certain students claim they would prefer it to their halls of residence. Sarah, 22, lives in halls of residence and pays an extortionate £950 per month for an ensuite room with a shared kitchen. She says the cost of living in the capital is not worth it at all for her, and she would commute from her home in the Midlands if it were possible: “Now I’d rather be fed for free.”
The postgraduate student does admit that the halls are in prime location, a mere ten-minute walk from her university campus, but she thinks the necessity for living so close is more necessary for first year students, who require more independence when first starting university.
Another student said that her arduous commute was a contributing factor to her decision to defer her studies for a year. Meg, 21, found her commute from Batandball in Kent isolating, explaining, “I didn’t realise how much it would affect me – it had a lot more of an impact than I thought it would.”
Meg quickly found herself overwhelmed with how exhausted she became, and began drinking copious amounts of coffee to stay awake in lectures – which did not help her anxiety problems. She acknowledges that the constant delays on her train line made her feel less and less inclined to go to lectures; once you know you’ll be two hours late, it makes it difficult to make the trek for only another two hours of more of university.
Meg found her consistent tardiness challenging, and out of character “I’ve never been someone that’s late, but because of the trains I became that person.”
Alongside the commuting is of course the transition back to living with parents. No matter how close a twenty-something may be to their family, learning to live in a family unit after three years of independent living at university is never easy. Meg says the commute itself brought out a snappy, irritable side in her that does not usually appear: “I get on really well with my family, but I was so tired and stressed that I would lash out when they would ask me questions, which is obviously not what I want to be doing.”
How to cope if you’re a student commuter
University College London’s Welfare Officer, Mehj Ahmed, is a student commuter herself and recognises that the constant travelling is exhausting. She recommends several tips for postgraduates who are feeling the strain:
Plan your meals
Eat well before morning commutes, the long days mean students will require more energy.
Use your commuting time
Get your work done – failing that, download a mindfulness app to relax on a busy carriage.
Join commuter Facebook groups
Find people going in the same direction as you. Mehj explains that it helps to know that “we're all in the same boat of expensive travel and endless journeys”.
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