For many, college involves leaving home for the first time and gaining independence. However, this notion of “going away to school” does not apply to a large number of students at USC: commuters.

Commuter students live off campus and drive or take other forms of transportation to get to school. According to US News and World Report, 30 percent of USC students live in college-owned, operated or affiliated housing. The other 70 percent live off campus, many of those commuters.

While student schedules are often tailored around class time and extracurricular activities, commuters are forced to adjust their schedules around driving times. Long commutes often interfere with students’ ability to immerse themselves in campus life. Similarly, according to a study conducted by University of California, Berkeley professor James Bishop, long and late commutes are associated with a lack of sleep.

One major factor for commuting is affordability. Ruth Turley, a professor of sociology at Rice University, said, “The ability to attend college close to home is often among the most important factors that U.S. high school students, especially minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged, consider.”  

On campus housing at USC is estimated to be a between $10,000 to $17,000 a year, according to the university’s housing website.

Living in the neighboring Downtown L.A. area falls in a similar price range.

Due to high housing prices, many students must make the economically sensible decision of living at home or in less expensive neighborhoods.

For sophomore Beyza Bozbey, commuting to school is out of necessity, not choice.

"I live with my family, so I already have a place in L.A. to live," Bozbey said. "However, I really would like to live on campus or somewhere around the campus…but housing is too expensive and it would be a huge burden for my family since they're already paying a rent for their apartment and my school tuition."

Sophomore Nicholas Foster shares similar feelings about housing prices.

It can be especially hard to find housing close to campus because the cost of living does not provide realistic housing options,” he said.

As a result of commuting, many commuter students feel they miss out on many experiences and opportunities on campus.
“I think that I could get involved in school activities and student organizations more if I lived on campus,” Bozbey said. “If my class ends at 3 p.m. and there is an event at 7 p.m., it is hard to make a decision since it means that I have to wait on campus for four hours, without anywhere to go.”

USC commuter students are not alone. In a 2015 study conducted by Ohio State University comparing on-campus, off-campus and commuter students, 63 percent of on-campus students at Ohio State reported involvement in a student organization. Only 33 percent of commuter students at Ohio State reported involvement in one student organization.

USC was unable to provide data on commuter students at the university.

Commuting can also take a toll on academics. With so much time spent driving, it can be hard to make time for studying and homework.

"Working at home is very difficult," said Foster. "The journey home is annoying, and exhausting. I have to do any schoolwork at school before or after class. I spend an average of 20 hours a week commuting. That is time I could be improving my academics, or going to the gym."

Unlike other schools, such as New York University, Miami University, Ohio University and the University of San Diego, which have specific lounges available to commuter students, USC does not offer specific amenities.  

For some commuter students, carrying multiple bags around campus and living out of their cars has become the new norm.
Dean of Financial Aid Thomas McWhorter says USC operates on a policy of meeting the full need of its students.
“USC evaluates the financial strength of a family each year and provides a financial aid award to meet the student’s need,” McWhorter said.
However for many students such as Bozbey, this financial aid is not enough.

The only reason I can’t live on campus is because it is very pricey. I can’t afford housing as well as going to USC. It is way too expensive,” said Bozbey. “It would be very helpful, if USC had housing scholarships, and if they made housing prices cheaper.”

Sophomore Mark Cook said, “The honest reason why I am commuting is because it saves money to live at home versus moving out towards USC. “
Living at home or in a less expensive area may have multiple drawbacks, but the benefit of being economically sensible outweighs them all, explains Cook.
For numerous commuter students, knowing they are saving an estimated $64,000 in rent over the course of four years allows them to take on the late nights waiting out traffic and hours spent driving to and from school.
Many commuters agree the promise of a degree and future career make the commute worthwhile.