One of the big decisions that you will have to make when you go to college is whether or not you should bring a car. Before you bring your car to school, you need to ask yourself some important questions about what you can afford and what makes sense for your life. When I attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I had a car and my roommate did not, and both options worked for our individual situations. We both lived on campus for most of our college career and had part-time jobs on campus. Here are some ways that a car (or lack thereof) played out for both of us.

Why having a car worked for me:

  • All of the expenses were manageable for my situation: I was very fortunate because my parents were willing to pay for registration and insurance on my car, as well as my university parking pass, while I was responsible for gas and maintenance. The expenses that I managed were affordable through my part-time work-study job. 
  • I wanted to visit home on occasional weekends: My hometown is about a three-hour drive from Lincoln, so traveling home on occasional weekends (and having my mom do my laundry) was important to me and fairly easy to do with my own car.
  • I wanted the freedom to go off campus: I lived on campus all four years, but I had several activities that I liked to attend off campus. Having a car gave me the freedom to do this basically whenever I wanted without any hassle. 
  • I did most of my moving in and out of my dorm by myself: Whenever I moved out of a dorm room, I did most of the moving myself. Since I had a car, I was able to fit all of my things into my car and haul it all to my next residence.
  • I was available to give rides to friends without a car: In addition to my roommate, many of my friends on campus did not have a car and I was able to be the driver when we all wanted to go somewhere. I would also give a high school friend a ride when I went back home for the weekend in exchange for gas money.

Why not having a car worked for my roommate:

  • She was attending college 1,500 miles from home: My roommate was from California, and going home was about a 21-hour drive for her, so she decided to forego a car and stick to plane and train travel for school breaks.
  • Our campus was within walking/biking distance of almost everything she needed in town: UNL city campus is located right next to downtown Lincoln, so almost everything that my roommate needed was within walking or biking distance. When we lived off campus for her senior year, she also took the bus as needed.
  • She had options for car rides when needed: Most of the time she could get by without a car, but on the rare occasion that she needed one, she had me and a few other friends who were able to give her a ride. 
  • She was able to work around most complications that come from not having a car: Lincoln is a pretty car-centric town, so it wasn’t always easy to be without a car, but my roommate worked around those complications. She had a bike, she had a bus pass, and she bought a small collapsible shopping cart that she used to haul groceries and other supplies. When she had to move, she brought home only the necessities and stored her bigger items in Lincoln with friends until she returned.
  • She had other financial priorities: In the end, the cost of having a car far outweighed the benefits for my roommate. Not having a car allowed her to focus her money elsewhere, and she was actually able to graduate from college debt free due to careful planning and a generous scholarship. I doubt she’d have been able to do that if she had to pay for car licensing and registration, gas and maintenance, and a parking pass.

In the end, whether or not to bring a car to college is up to you, but you first need to carefully consider whether you can afford it (including parking—trust me, college campuses have limited parking available and you do not want to deal with constant parking tickets!), whether it is needed to get to class and/or work, and what kind of alternate transportation methods are available in your college town.

Other blogs in the series: