I'm a 21-year old graduate of a London university, and I've never lived away from home. I work in London, my partner and friends live in London, all I want is to live in London, but I'm still in my parents' house in the tiny seaside town I grew up in. It's hard not to feel that life is passing me by.
I made the decision three years ago to commute to university from home. At the time, those around me told me I would regret it. University is about the whole experience, they said: the friends you make in halls, the parties you go to, the sex and drugs and alcohol. A four-hour round trip every day is far too much for any 18 year old to commit to, and isn't it going to be expensive to use the trains so much? What about those 9am lectures? No student should have to get up at five and not get back until eight that night.
I defiantly stuck my fingers in my ears. It was my life, my degree, and at some point I had decided that commuting was what I wanted to do, so let me get on with it. So they did, and I did it. First year down and they told me I'd surely change my mind for year two, but I didn't. Third year came around and there seemed little point in changing tactics, so on I pushed.
According to recent figures from Santander, more than 22% of students still live at their family home. There are more testimonials from commuter students as to the viability of it as an option than ever before. Cost of living is the most common reason cited for the choice, and it is certainly true that you do save money - more so if your journey isn't several hours on a train a day, I'm sure. Having done it for three years, I have little doubt that some would find it manageable, and get from their university experience exactly what they wanted. I'm just not sure I can say the same.
On paper, my time at university was a roaring success. It was an unusual experience, yes, but I graduated with a first class honours and started working the day after the ceremony. The problem is, they tell you plenty about how much you're going to change when you go to university - new friends, new independence, new knowledge - but they don't tell you how much everything around you changes, too. When I entered first year, I was in a blossoming relationship with a boy in my hometown and had lots of friends that made going back there every day worthwhile; coming out of second year, that relationship had crashed and burned and those people were not my friends anymore. Going to university in London meant that my new friends and lovers could be city-based, but at the end of the day I had to leave them to go back home. By the time I was certain that my heart in London, I was into dissertation season and moving would have been too much of an upheaval. When it came to the job hunt, my ideal role ended up being part-time. I knew I could commute it, because that was exactly what I had done for the prior three years, so that's what I'm doing. But I don't want to.
Then there are the things I never got. I've got the great degree, but I can count the good friends I made whilst getting it on two fingers. The others are just acquaintances with whom I have few lasting memories, if any. I don't have wild Freshers' stories or awkward halls experiences, the money I saved was mostly insignificant, and I'm mentally and physically exhausted. I'm accompanying my younger sister to open days with burning jealousy, looking around their residences like a gameshow contestant being shown what they could have won. As a triple A student I could have applied to most places with a hope of success, but I limited myself to only those institutions within a commutable vicinity; I do not regret attending the university I did, but the thought that I could have missed out hasn't left yet.
It is vitally important that students do what is right for them, regardless of any conception of what a university 'experience' should be. For some, that will be commuting, and I don't want this to be read as a warning. I would just urge anyone considering it to really think about the things they will inevitably lose in doing it, because I certainly feel it now.