Halls vs home: Why I chose to commute to university

Wondering what it’s like commuting to uni? Here’s what two City students told us

For many prospective students, living in student halls is all part of the uni experience – drinks in the kitchen before a night out, games in the corridors and endless social encounters are synonymous with never-ending fun. But for others, the idea of this full-on, close-proximity living holds slightly less appeal… 

Many students opt to live at home and commute to their chosen university instead. It costs less, for starters. You can also still enjoy home cooking and old friends, plus it can be a welcome escape from busy and bustling campus life.

We spoke to two students who commute to City, University of London – located between Angel, Farringdon, Old Street and Barbican – about why they chose to navigate the Capital’s famous transport system every day, and why it’s actually the best decision they made.

Zonaah Tariq, third year law student: “Commuting to uni gives me head space”

Zonaah’s commute takes her about an hour and a half from her home in South Woodford, northeast London, to Angel, where City’s Law School is located. “It really isn’t that long a journey in comparison to some of my friends,” she says. 

The decision to commute has worked well for Zonaah. She lives at home with her parents and her brother and sister; she has a part-time job on top of her studies, and she doesn’t have to fork out thousands of pounds on student digs. What’s more, she claims the journey offers her some valuable time and head space.

“There are a lot of good things about the journey,” she says. “I see my commute as time I have to relax. It works better for me than if I’d just got up and walked a minute down the road to my lecture. I really appreciate that chill time first.”

Of course, public transport doesn’t always run smoothly, and Zonaah has encountered a few sardine-can style squeezes and signal failures. “I have missed the odd tutorial or lecture because my train has been cancelled, but my lecturers have always understood that’s what happens with public transport. There’s nothing more you can do, and they appreciate you making the effort to come in.”

She adds: “But there’s ways around this and you never fall behind. If it’s a tutorial, I’m offered the option to join in with a different group if they’re discussing the same topics, and our lectures are all recorded and available online, so I can watch them back and catch up. That makes it a lot easier.”

Commuting has also offered Zonaah a more diverse social life, as the various routes to campus take her past some of London’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. “I’ve found new cafes and restaurants, and I spot a lot of posters and billboards on my journey, so I discover lots of cool events happening. And if there’s something social happening at uni, I can still go – I’ve never felt like I’m missing out on anything by commuting.”

Ben Frost, first year computer science student: “I enjoy the separation between uni and home”

“I’ve previously lived in halls and now I commute in from home – they’re both pretty good options,” says Ben, who has just finished his first year at City.

He spent the first few months living in halls but moved home after Christmas and now makes a trip of just over an hour from the leafy village of Wendover in Buckinghamshire, to the Barbican. “I liked halls and had fun there, but I wanted more of a separation between university and home,” he says. “I also wanted some more space to focus on my work, which can be hard to do in halls.”

For Ben, the trick to making the commute work is about being in the right mindset. He plans his days in advance, mixes up his routes, and makes sure he doesn’t waste his travelling time.

“I listen to audio books – I’m listening to an Alan Turing one at the moment, which feels quite relevant to my course,” he says. “I also plan my days so even if I just have one lecture on my timetable, I can achieve other things with the day, like go to the computer lab or meet up with friends, so it feels like my journey is never wasted.

“I try to vary my walking routes, so I get to see different parts of London each journey. It feels more open and flexible than living in accommodation onsite and going along the same short stretch of road each day.”

Both Zonaah and Ben advise taking time to research rail cards and travel options, to make sure commuters get the best value for money. Some universities also run car share schemes, helping students to pair up with people coming from similar directions. Student union staff are often the people best placed to advise on this, so it’s always worth checking out.

For more information about studying at City, University of London, visit their website.

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