Should My College Student Have a Car on Campus?

Cars.  Many of us spend a great deal of our time in them.  Our teenagers can’t wait until they can get their license and gain some independence.  Some surveys tell us that as many as 70% of college-age students own or have access to cars.  Cars have certainly become a part of the fabric of our lives.  But should they be part of the fabric of your college student’s life?  The answer is – it depends.

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.  Obviously, if your student is commuting to college then whether or not to have a car may not be an issue.  But many college families will need to give thought to the issue of whether or not to take a car to campus.

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.  One solution may be not to allow freshmen to bring cars.  Since the freshman class is the largest class at most colleges, this will reduce the number of cars significantly.
  • However, there are other reasons that colleges may not allow cars for freshmen.  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.
  • Another limit new students often push is simply the issue of sleep.  Students not only “burn the midnight oil”, they often “burn the candle at both ends”.  Students who are up late – whether it is studying, partying, or just socializing – often decide to head off campus for food during the wee hours.  Tired students are more apt to have accidents.
  • Colleges may also ask first year students to leave their cars at home to encourage those students to stay on campus and become more involved in campus life.  Actively involved students are better students academically.  Actively involved students are often happier students socially.  Actively involved students are often more satisfied students who remain at the institution.  Students who head off campus for all of their activity or who head home several times a week, or every weekend, are not as involved on campus.
  • Colleges recognize that having a car can provide a distraction from studying.  Keeping students on campus may help them to stay focused on coursework.

So your student’s college may tell him to leave his car home during his first year.  But whether it is a decision that you and your student must make during first year or during a later year, you may need to decide whether a car will be going to college with your student.  The decision is certainly a personal one.  Each family will have to consider different factors.  Here are some things that you might consider as you discuss this with your student.

  • Does your student need to take a car to campus as a means of getting back and forth from home?  Are there any alternative means of transportation?
  • Does your student need the car on campus in order to get to an off campus job or internship?
  • Will the car serve as a distraction from studying or from on-campus activities?
  • Is your student prepared for the costs of having a car – gas, repairs, registration, insurance, parking permit.  Will she end up having to work, and take time away from studying and activities, simply to pay for the car?
  • If your student owns a car, and chooses not to take it to school, can you take the car “off road” and save on insurance money?
  • How will your student feel if he is constantly asked to drive his friends places because he has a car and they don’t?
  • Will your student be comfortable loaning his car to his friends?  They will likely  ask to borrow it.
  • Does your student always want to be the driver when students go somewhere?  Is she willing to always be the designated driver?  Will she take that responsibility seriously?
  • If your student gets parking tickets on campus, who will be responsible for paying for them?
  • Are there any rules or expectations that you have about the use of the car.  Are they clear to both of you?

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. Colleges are doing more and more to make it easier for students to leave their cars at home.  For other students, having a car on campus may be important or necessary.  The decision about whether or not to take a car to college should be one that is well considered and that you make together.

Related Posts:

Alternatives To Having A Car On Campus

College Parents Can Help Freshmen Overcome First Semester Challenges

Should My College Student Come Home for Weekends?

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7 thoughts on “Should My College Student Have a Car on Campus?”

  1. I’ve always found that in College, there are two types of students: those who their asses off and who have Mommy and daddy bought them everything they ever wanted.

  2. You will have to apply and pay for a parking permit. Once you arrive on campus you will pick up your permit and will be assigned a garage or a lot. Those who live on campus are usually given a garage to park in. As a freshmen you may not receive the best parking space because current students are given first dibs on spaces.

  3. Great suggestion, Nate. We’re not really a bicycle campus, but I’ve begun to notice a few more bikes lately. I know that on many campuses bikes are very common. I appreciate your suggestions about the advantages of riding a bike in your post on bicycles on campus. I think more and more students may consider bikes.


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