What it's like commuting to university in London

Why studying in London doesn't always mean living in London

Living away from home is still the most popular choice for students going to university, but there is a growing number of students who commute to class every day.

We spoke to some commuter students, travelling to university in London, about how they handle the commute.

Expense

One of the main questions commuting raises is expense. Is it actually cheaper to travel into London, rather than just finding a place to live near your university?

Rail travel can certainly be expensive, but canny students can find ways around this by booking far in advance, making use of the Young Person’s Railcard or by travelling in off-peak hours.

Nicola Berkley commuted into central London from Colchester in Essex for a year while studying for a Master’s.

"My university timetable meant that I needed to be in London for lectures or seminars three days a week," she says. "The cost of train tickets into London on these three days was partly offset by the fact I could often travel off-peak as I did not always need to be in London before 10am. Also, investing in a Young Person's Railcard meant that I could get a third off my rail fares." 

Managing that cost meant Nicola could find a flat outside the high-cost areas in the capital. "My travel costs were higher than those of my fellow students who lived in London," says Nicola. "But the cost of renting a flat in Essex was considerably lower."

Making the most of it

Of course, not living at university will change your experience of student life. Social events become trickier to manage, and spontaneous nights out less common. But that doesn't mean you'll miss out on everything.

Christianah Babajide lived at home with her parents in central London, while studying at a university a tube ride away. 

"Despite being a commuter student, I can truthfully say I had a great social life," she says. "I made friends by getting involved in societies and clubs at my university, I had a great nightlife and [by living at home] ended up saving a ton of money in the process!"

The university where Nicola took her Master's was a 90-minute commute from her home; a stark contrast from the 10-minute walk onto campus she'd enjoyed while studying for her undergraduate degree.

"I suspected that the student experience would be very different this time around," she says. "I was a bit concerned that I'd feel detached from university life, and that I wouldn’t enjoy the student experience as much as I did during my undergraduate degree. 

"I soon realized that I would need to put in a bit more effort. Instead of socialising with my course mates almost by accident and without making firm plans (as had been the case with my undergraduate degree) I and other commuter students, and also part-time students on my course, soon found that having a planned timeslot for regular weekly drinks worked out really well." 

The perks

While some elements of commuting might require more effort, the daily trip to uni does make some things easier.

"One of the distinct benefit of being a commuter student was the reading I could get done on the mainline train," says Nicola. "I think I must have done at least 75% of my course reading while commuting! 

"Plus there's nothing like being stuck on a train delayed in the middle of the Essex countryside to force you to get on with reading that complicated journal article that you’ve been putting off for weeks."

Commuting into London everyday also helped our commuter students to develop some very important non-academic skills:

"Before university I used to have poor punctuality and struggled to arrive at places on time," says Christine. "Since commuting I have become better organised with myself and my time."

Not only that, but being apart from where you study might make you appreciate it all the more.

"As I wasn't in London every day, I found I made the most of the days when I was," says Nicola. "After mornings filled with lectures and seminars I definitely made the most of cheap afternoon trips to the cinema, and London’s galleries or museums."

"There will be times where you feel like you’re not having as much fun as your other friends who live on-campus," says Christine. "But don’t forget that all of London is your campus."

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