Do You Need A Car at College?

When I made the brave and lengthy journey to college many years ago (just kidding, my school was 70 miles from home), I spent the first two semesters carless. Freshmen didn’t have the privilege of parking spots, and if we’re honest, my freeway driving skills were still developing.

Weekend trips to visit mom and dad required either the generosity of mobile friends or six spare hours to spend on the painfully slow train. But navigating the tiny college town without wheels was easy, and before long I didn’t miss Kermit (the family name for my hand-me-down green Ford Taurus — may he rest in peace) at all.

When I came back as a sophomore, however, Kermit came too, and having my car at school suddenly opened up new opportunities — driving to the closest big city mall, skipping the dysfunctional bus service and sleeping in, blasting Ashlee Simpson albums on the way to my boyfriend’s house (it was 2006, okay?). But was all that driving necessary? Of course not. So from my dated dilemma arises a modern question: do kids really need their cars at college?

The Pros
There are some compelling reasons to bring a car to campus:

  • The convenience factor. If you live off-campus, a car could help you get to lectures on time or make it possible to snag a job that pays more than any on-campus gig.
  • Grocery shopping is a lot less of a workout. Once you’re out of the dorms, it’s pretty much up to you to bring home the bacon (and eggs, and bread, and heavy arm-crushing produce). Having a car certainly makes it easier to transport a shopping haul.
  • You’ll have a place to call your own. College life can be cramped. Having your own car means you’ll have a sacred space to escape to (and escape in) any time you need a break from your roommates, classmates, study buddies, etc.

The Cons
Yes, having a car at college means a bit more freedom and autonomy, but it also means:

  • Paying for insurance, parking, maintenance, repairs, and more. There’s no way to avoid it: driving is expensive.
  • Spending precious time searching for a spot. Driving may shave minutes off your commute, but that time saved can quickly be replaced circling the block.
  • Being less invested in your campus life. Having an easy escape means you’re probably not spending a ton of time getting to know the people around you or exploring new opportunities and adventures. And isn’t that kind of the whole point of college (besides that coveted degree, of course)?
  • A higher risk of accidents. If you’re behind the wheel at all, you’re already at risk for an accident. But if you’re tired from studying, partying, working, and just generally depriving yourself of proper shut-eye, you’re putting yourself at an even higher risk.

On Balance
Having a car at college can definitely have some perks, but overall, the cost — financial and otherwise — is far higher than the potential benefit. And leaving the car at home means more time and energy to invest in immersing yourself in the college experience.

It won’t come as a surprise that we’re encouraging people to drive less; we think a world with fewer cars, less crowded streets, and cleaner air is something to shoot for. Do you agree? If so, we’ll be here with insurance to make things easier.

Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer.