Cars on Campus

For most of you who won’t be residing at home during your college education, living away from Mom and Dad should be a study in independence. Having a car with you on campus can enhance that independence — for better or worse — dramatically.

The “better” parts of a campus car are flexibility and adventure. You won’t have to depend on public transportation or the generosity of others to get to places at odd times during the day, when a bus and even a taxi are hard to schedule. The “worse” aspect is cost and temptation.

To park your car on campus, colleges charge fees and most times have strict regulations about where to park. When I was at Penn State-University Park, I had to park in the infamous Parking Lot 80, which seemed to be miles from campus goings on. Getting to and from my car was a genuine hoof, so I had to make sure that I was properly equipped with bad-weather gear during my hikes in late fall and winter. I often questioned whether or not the convenience, such as it was, was worth the expense of the ongoing fees.

Temptation enters the formula when the urge for a road trip strikes. Getting tired of the same old excitement on campus? The solution is easy — head off campus, sometimes way off. And of course, the public knowledge that you have a car spreads like wildfire. New “friends” emerge from the woodwork at an amazing pace. Therein lies further temptation. Many times, to foster a more positive personal image you may submit to repeated calls to haul those new buddies various places.

The real downside of having a car on campus is that it can engender time away from studies. When things get stressful or boring, you’ll always know that your machine is sitting out there waiting to take you away, even if you have to call Uber to get to Parking Lot 80.

otter's 'vette

There’s a good bit of information on the Web about this issue. If you’re a parent trying to make a decision about your child’s access to a car on campus, you may be interested in these links. One of them leads to a very helpful article by an organization called College Parents of America. Their motto is “Don’t go to college without us.”

Their article, Should My College Student Have a Car on Campus? addresses and details the issues involved with cars on campus and lends credence to the points I mention above. Here are some essentials from their wisdom with some chime-ins of my own:

… You and your student should think carefully about whether it is important for your student to have a car on campus.  Of course, it is possible that this may not be a decision that you will have to make during the first year.  More and more colleges are prohibiting first-year students from bringing cars to school …

… There are several reasons why many schools are telling their first-year students to leave their cars at home.

– One issue may be as simple as parking.  As more and more students bring cars to campus, parking has become a difficult issue … [I’ve already alluded to that. Colleges have a limited amount of real estate and adding more pavement over top of luscious green doesn’t make sense in a lot of cases. I prefer lawns to parking lots.]

– … For many students, the first year of college is a year of exploration – and of testing and defining limits.  As students are testing this new freedom – and yes, that often involves drinking  – at least they will not be getting behind the wheel of a car. [Their own car, that is. Simply having a network of friends who have cars can lead to dangerous situations. Thinking back to my own college daze, I recall a number of times when car-less friends of mine needed to go somewhere fast for something important and they asked to borrow my car. Of course, being the good friend that I was, I accommodated their need, oblivious to the possible complications with my parents’ insurance company had an accident happened with a friend behind my wheel.]

– … Colleges recognize that having a car can provide a distraction from studying.  Keeping students on campus may help them to stay focused on coursework. [I view this as one of those “Duh!” statements. As if campus life itself didn’t provide enough distractions, a car ups the ante significantly. Why do differential equations when that car can make a big difference in a weekday evening?]

College Parents of America summarizes on the issue:

For many students, leaving the car at home – for one year, two years, or all four years – is the right decision.  They save money, have less responsibility, stay focused and get involved.  For other students, having a car on campus may be important or necessary …

I had two different cars when I was in college. The first used to belong to my grandfather. After he passed, my grandmother, who couldn’t drive, allowed me to take that car to college. It was a brown 1959 Chevy Biscayne 4-door. It looked something like this (except for the color, of course):

1959 Chevy

If I still had that car today, it would be collectible. Those huge fins in the back are iconic and the ’59 Chevy rocketed to the top of sales for General Motors that year. My college buddies were mightily impressed and a little jealous of my automotive “style,” such as it was.

My second car was a yellow 1968 Plymouth Fury “fastback.” It looked exactly like this, except for the custom wheels shown here:

1968 Plymouth

You may recall Flounder’s car in the movie Animal House:

Flounder's car

If you’re at all familiar with that movie’s story, you’ll see how Flounder’s frat brothers took advantage of him having a car (actually, his brother’s car on loan to him) and the consequences that ensued. “Mayhem” is putting it mildly. Incidentally, I posted a picture of Flounder’s Delta frat brothers at the top of my post here. They’re posed around Otter’s 1959 Corvette, which is one of the most sought after vintage cars these days,

No post of mine would be complete without a nod to the seasoned College Confidential forum participants, most of whom speak from their own experiences. Here’s a thread about Living on campus and having a car at UCLA. Even though the comments are specific to UCLA, some of the insights are universal:

– I’m pretty sure parking permits are given by a lottery. Having an off-campus job just really increases your chances of “winning” the lottery. So you can get a parking permit if you have an on-campus job (i have a friend at ucla who works on campus and has gotten a parking permit for his whole first year) you just wont have a great chance at “winning” the lottery. You can try to increase your chances by showing it would be a hardship or something like that …  

– … my daughter and her current dorm roommate decided to rent an off campus apt. for next year so that they both could be sure of having parking spaces. They will each pay $60 a month in addition to rent in order to have a space and their apt. is only one block further from campus than her current dorm. So get a scooter/motorcycle or take your chances with a permit application but you chances with that are low …

– Since permits are not required for motorcycles/mopeds, that may be an option I’ll think about …

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Cars on campus? There are definitely pros and cons. Our two college-student kids didn’t have their own cars during any of their years in college, unlike their Dad. Their social life didn’t seem to suffer, that’s for sure. They both had jobs, but those were work-study duties that took place on campus. There just didn’t appear to be a need for them to have exclusive personal transportation.

So, you may want to know, how did they get around when they needed to leave campus? My answer to that  has two parts: (1) public transportation and (2) (a parent’s prerogative) don’t ask! Some things are better left unknown. To the Food King!

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.