While most students roll out of their beds in high rises to make it to classes in Williams or Huntsman Hall, others have a 40-60 minute drive ahead of them each morning.
Students who commute — that is, live off-campus with their parents or guardians and travel to Penn each day — save about $9,060 per year, based on Penn’s estimate of the median housing allowance. But since this number is the median of all on-campus and off-campus housing, some students who commute may be saving much more than they would otherwise pay.
College sophomore Harsha Kolla said the savings are the primary reason he lives at home, but added that he also enjoys the time he gets to spend with his family. He drives to campus, which usually takes 40 minutes on weekdays, largely due to the traffic. One of the biggest drawbacks for him is the sheer quantity of time he spends in the car.
“You don’t really get to do anything during that time,” he said. “You have to wake up really early as well. You can’t just wake up and go to class.”
Creating and maintaining social connections also presents a challenge for Kolla, since he usually gets to campus for his first class and leaves when the last one ends.
“A lot of people really get to hang out, spend time together after class,” he said. “That’s typically the time when I just go home.”
Kolla said Penn could do more in terms of supporting commuters, like encouraging bonding and fostering community during New Student Orientation.
“During NSO they had a group of six or so commuter students and basically said, ‘You guys should talk amongst yourselves and be your support group,’” Kolla said. “But otherwise they left it at that.”
Kolla has formed most of his friendships through clubs. He especially enjoys working for Penn’s Bioethics Journal, but often has to hang around campus longer than he would otherwise to wait for the weekly meetings to start.
“It’s something you have to deal with it,” he said. “Usually they’re around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., and if my classes end at 3:30 then I just have to wait. I mean I do homework, I’m productive, but it’s still a lot of time wasted.”
There is not a clear administrative outpost for overseeing commuting students.
When asked about the percentage of Penn students who commute, the Office of Admissions directed requests for comment to the Office of the Registrar, which directed comment to the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach, which was not immediately available for comment.
College and Wharton sophomore Lavi Ben Dor also commutes, but he takes public transit to get to Penn. His commute can range from 40 minutes to an hour, since he needs to time it correctly to catch both trains, one that runs every 10 minutes and one that runs every 20 minutes.
Dor, who is a former Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, said his reasoning for commuting is “pretty much financial,” but he likes having his own space at home.
“When I get home I can study in the quiet of my room,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about roommates or people partying around me or not having a good place to study.”
He also said that his bedroom is larger than the average dorm room, another added perk.
Dor echoed Kolla in that one of his least favorite things about commuting is the amount of time he spends in transit. He added that since he has to wake up two hours before his first class, he tends to schedule classes on the later side.
Even when he has rehearsal for the Penn Symphony Orchestra, Dor usually can leave campus around 7:30 or 8:30 p.m. When he has meetings that go much later than that, he sometimes has to skip them.
“I end up not being able to do things that go late at night,” he said. “Commuting sort of limits my ability to go to those.”
Even though he lives at home, Dor does not think that makes him any less independent than other students.
“I have my own car,” he said. “I set my own schedule.”
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