Look around you for a second when you are in class or walking to the gym or somewhere on campus. Chances are you will see students carrying around a lunch bag, with a meal packed from home, or students carrying their backpacks with their books and laptops into the gym while most people around them are dressed in workout clothes and carrying just their phones and ID cards.
You might see a face you can’t quite put a name to – a classmate you only see twice a week, during that particular hour, and then they disappear. You seldom see them come to events or join any popular clubs. In fact, when it starts to get dark or close to rush hour, they always seem in a rush to get home. Sometimes you just think, “Who are these people?”
We are the off-campus students. No, we do not live with you in the dorms. No, we do not know you very well. No, we did not find our best friend within the first week of college. We spend an hour or so getting to campus every day and get home tired and feeling like we have no way to connect and make friends on campus. We are the off-campus students.
I chose to live off-campus to save money and because my house is only about a half hour drive from campus. It’s been difficult since I have to wake up earlier than on-campus students and take the bus and light rail daily because I don’t have my own car yet, and parking is expensive anyway.
I have to pack my own lunch and set out about two hours before class starts because of the bus and light rail’s schedules. But when I get home, I have my family and my own room and as much closet space as I want. Living off-campus has its own pros and cons.
Several off-campus students I’ve interviewed share common difficulties that come with the off campus student life. They have to get up much earlier than their classes to get to campus on time, face traffic during rush hour and agitation when it gets dark on their way home. They find it hard to make friends. They can’t attend club meetings even if they join because they’re always at night, just like many events on campus.
“The only time I can meet new people is during class, which can be inconvenient since everyone is focused on the lectures,” Sanna Naveed, a freshman biomedical science student at the Tempe campus says. “Therefore, right now, I still mostly hang out with my high school friends who also go to ASU.”
Off-campus students can’t usually attend club events if they can’t drive, unless they have someone to pick them up later. If it gets late, my dad comes to pick me up. If he can’t come, then I have a network of friends’ parents who can come pick me up instead.
“I am unable to join the clubs I am interested in because they meet at night,” says Manas Subbaraman, a freshman sustainability student from Tempe, “and I need to be home before it gets dark for the sake of security and safety,”
The commute is rather long and inconvenient for many off-campus students, even though their homes aren’t that far away. Jocelyn Mora, a freshman criminology and criminal justice major on the Downtown Phoenix campus, complains about being unable to do homework after being caught in traffic right after classes end.
Other peeves of living off campus are that students cannot just jump from home to campus willy-nilly when they need to, like meeting their advisors or get help. They need to consider the time and the commute.
Iwona Tolpa, a freshman community health major from Downtown Phoenix says she cannot spontaneously run over to get some aid.
“It takes a long drive both ways, which is just dreadful, forcing me to communicate via email or phone call,” she says.
Judging your earliest ability to get to campus is a huge factor when it comes to registering for classes too. There are many classes we get emails about that seem really interesting. Unfortunately, they usually don’t fit into our schedule.
Last semester, I heard about a really interesting class the Cronkite School was offering on Mondays where we can test out the apps and tools offered by Google Labs. It didn’t fit in my schedule though because the second half of the class overlapped with another class I had registered.
I thought I could swap timings for that other class then, only to find that the other time that was offered is at 7:30 a.m. on the same days. I can’t make it to campus at 7:30 a.m.; it’s too early. If I were in the dorms, I would just get out of bed at 7 a.m., get ready and go to class easily.
Do you see the struggle?
“I’d say that the part I dislike the most is that I don’t really feel like a part of the school. Like, yes, I have friends, but I feel like I just don’t really belong. People will be like, ‘What floor do you live on?’ And I’m just like, ‘The west side of Phoenix.’” says May Phan, a freshman journalism student from Downtown Phoenix.
The feeling of not belonging resonates strongly among off-campus students. It’s especially hard for the freshman students who are just joining this alien world called college. Not having friends can lead to loneliness and depression, causing students to drop out of college or perform badly in classes.
What could make life easier for these students?
The off-campus students I interviewed all unanimously agreed that club meetings and events could happen a bit earlier in the evening, at a time they can attend the event.
Classes that promote group activities are the favorites for off campus students. These are the only times they can interact with and get to know their classmates.
Barrett from downtown Phoenix puts their freshman students into pod groups, with pod group meetings once a month. This also helps a student find some friends in college, off campus or not.
I personally felt slightly more at home thanks to B-Town D-Town, what Barrett of Downtown Phoenix is called there. They host a lot of events and let me hang out in their office in the UCENT building.
The next time you see an off campus student, try talking to them and being friends with them. Tell them about things happening on campus, because there is news you get in the dorms that we don’t. Invite us, maybe, once in awhile, and if we can make it, then we will be so thankful to you for being a good friend. I know I would.
Reach the reporter Ranjani.Venkatakrishnan@asu.edu
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