How to Get the Most Out of College While Living Off-Campus

You don't have to live in the dorms to be all you can be at college. Who wants that perfect college story anyway? Cliché.

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College can be one of the most exhilarating roller coaster rides of your life – filled with highs and lows, twists and turns and, at the end, instead of a goofy, open-mouthed photo, you get a degree. You are accomplished and ready for life’s next thrills. Traditionally, students stay on campus during their college experience, but what if you’re going at it another way and commuting?

Maybe you’re attending a community college without dorm rooms or a university that’s close enough to home that it makes sense to stay put. Carla Gonzalez, director of undergrad admissions at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, recognizes that every student’s situation is different, and she’s offering up her wisdom. Because you deserve to get the most out of your college career, no matter your path. Making lifelong memories and beneficial connections while thriving academically is within reach if you keep these tips in mind.

Get Involved

A great way to feel like you’re still involved on campus while commuting is to truly immerse yourself in your college’s culture. Depending on your school, they may be called organizations, groups or clubs, but they all represent a special campus subculture and serve the same purpose: to help you forge lasting relationships and networking opportunities.

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Signing up for a campus club is a great way to meet other students with similar interests – or help you to pinpoint your own passions, if you’re still figuring it out. You’ll almost certainly find a list of organizations on the school’s website, like clubs that center on sports and recreation, religious and spiritual organizations, student government opportunities, academic honors clubs and more. And if you don’t see an organization that whets your appetite, start your own!

Connect with the Faculty

Find an instructor or advisor that you vibe with. They’re there to teach but also to mentor. At CCS, every student is assigned a faculty member who knows the program and is willing to offer guidance tailored to each individual’s experience and who’s cognizant of the big picture and the end goal. In college you’re making a lot of heavy decisions for the first time.

It’s important to have the ear of someone knowledgeable who you can bounce ideas off. In true young person fashion, you may never have considered that your chosen path isn’t the best option, but beware of that tunnel vision. An outsider may be better able to spotlight something you may have missed.

Explore the Campus

Spend time exploring everything your campus has to offer. Walk around the different buildings on campus and discover the hidden nooks and crannies. Don’t just go to class and go home. Instead, commit to finding something different to do each day that you’re on campus. One great thing about college campuses is that they’re usually smack in the middle of a thriving community.

Stroll the neighborhood and find a little coffee shop in the area to do homework. Who knows, your new best friend may also be hitting the books and sipping a latte at the next table. And take advantage of “Welcome Week,” during which the school will typically highlight campus amenities. On the institution’s website, you’ll find a calendar filled with happenings – most free – on and around campus.

Take it a step further and volunteer to help out with some of those events. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people who also want to squeeze all they can out of their college experiences. And hit the school’s gym. Again, another member of your future squad may be one treadmill over.

Form a Study Group

Forming a study group may require you to step out of your comfort zone, and you want to do as much of that as possible. Your school’s website may list a directory of enrolled students’ email addresses. If you’re shy about just walking up and talking to people, why not send out a mass email asking your classmates if they’d like to get together sometime during the week to study?

As a student, you’ll spend so much time stuck in your own head. Accessing different perspectives can be inspiring and therapeutic, and of course, study groups offer yet one more opportunity to network – one of the most valuable skills you’ll learn while in college.

Stay Engaged

This might seem like a no-brainer. Of course you’re going to go to class, right? But, it’s not enough to just be in the room. While you’re in class, ask questions and engage with your peers. Don’t be afraid to speak up and offer your insight into the discussion – or start a new one.

Read through your syllabus front to back and back to front. In it, your instructor will outline your assignments, due dates and expectations. In order to stay fresh and avoid the dreaded burnout, you have to learn how to balance work and play, and staying ahead helps. But don’t forget to stop occasionally and take it all in. College lasts but a short while.

Learn Outside of Class

Presumably, you’re going to college to learn, but also to grow, and it’s impossible to make a whole person using classroom materials alone. You’ve got to get out, live and experience. If you’re studying art, for instance, join an art club, visit local museums and galleries, and connect with other creatives. Study abroad! If you’re majoring in creative writing or communication, go to poetry nights, or intern at a newspaper or magazine.

Being in a creative space away from academics will keep your mind fresh and open to new ideas that you can then bring with you to the classroom and beyond. And hopefully, you’re making priceless connections. College is a place to find yourself, so go at it fearlessly and with abandon.  

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