When I decided to come to UofT, I had no doubt in my mind that I would continue to live with my parents in the west end of Mississauga and commute into the downtown core. I did a ~50 minute commute to McMaster University in Hamilton for my entire undergraduate degree with little regret. I graduated debt free, made plenty of friends, and became a couch-surfing master.
But as September approached, I began to have my doubts. I realized that getting to Flavelle House would require taking both GO Transit and TTC, which would take upwards of an hour of time and ~$300 a month of transit fees. But I also wanted to stay with my parents, I knew nothing about finding an apartment or living on my own, and I didn’t want to take on an astronomical debt. To cover my bases, I sent in a late application to Grad House and just forgot about the issue for much of the summer.
I ended up moving to Grad House in early November of the school year and moving back home in the beginning of April. The decision to commute or live downtown is a complicated one and is dependent on a lot of factors such as how much commuting costs you, what conditions you are willing to live in, personal factors keeping you in your current city, etc…. And as someone who did both during the school year I thought it would be good to mention a few key points to know about both options.
As an obvious disclaimer, I should mention that what I’m going to say is based entirely on my experiences and mine alone. As such, my experiences downtown and commuting may not be similar to yours at all, so don’t take this blog as gospel. Now that I’ve attempted to rid myself of any and all liability, here are some things that I think people should know about commuting to UofT:
Commuting did not save me a noticeable amount of money
It would make sense to assume that living at home with a $0/month lease, and a $0/month grocery bill would be cheaper than living in downtown Toronto. But the way UofT’s financial aid system and OSAP work means this may not be true. As of now, the maximum debt OSAP allows you to take on a year is $7300. Any money they give you after that is a bursary. So when I moved out, my OSAP loan increased, because I had more financial need, but since I was already passed the $7300 mark, the extra “loan” given to me was actually a bursary. Likewise, my UofT bursary also increased, because that bursary is calculated based on my expenses and how much of those expenses are unmet. The combined total of my increase in UofT and OSAP bursary ended up covering most of the difference between the cost of living in Grad House and spending $300 a month commuting. The extra debt I took on from moving out was negligible.
As I mentioned before, this may not be the same experience for you. I am not a financial aid officer. I don’t know how much your commute costs, nor do I know what your lease will look like. All I am suggesting is that you speak to one of our fantastic financial aid officers about what your aid situation will look like if you choose to move downtown before you automatically assume it is not worth the money.
But if it turns out that it you can’t afford to move, or you have personal factors keeping you in your current city it’s key for you to know that…
The Commute is Definitely Do-Able
Law school is hard. But it’s not hard to the point that if you are spending an hour or so on a train twice a day, your marks will suffer. On the contrary, the hustle and bustle of catching a train in the morning meant that I was actually alert for the 9 am classes I had four times a week. The fact that I had to catch the train with my father or else end up stranded in Mississauga for the entire day also meant that I never slept in for class when I commuted. This was a stark contrast to when I moved into the downtown core, and I found myself sleeping in and missing far more classes than I should admit to on a public blog.
That being said, the commute definitely takes a physical toll over time. Waking up early and getting home late is never fun. You also feel like you are just wasting time if you spend two hours of your day sitting on a bus. So here are some tips to making the commute easier:
1. If you can, study on the bus
Reading on a noisy or bumpy train is hard. When the book is a law textbook that can be even harder. But I found that when I made manageable goals for how much to read on the train, I accomplished them quite often. Reading 10 pages of legalese is actually quite a feat. If you read 10 pages on the way to school and 10 pages on the way home, you can typically cover a lecture’s worth of readings on your commute.
2. If you can’t study on the bus, make your commute fun.
In the chaos of 1L, it’s often hard to remember to take some time for yourself and do things you enjoy like watch television or read *gasp* for fun. But if you really feel like you can’t study during your commute, you are essentially forced to devote 2 hours a day to downtime. So take a nap, read a novel, catch up on your favourite show, write, draw; do whatever it is that you love to do during your commute. Don’t see it as a waste. Don’t try and make it pass by doing a crossword (unless you really love crosswords). Value that time.
3. Make tupperware your best friend
With the amount of free food the law school gives out, tupperware is every student’s best friend, regardless of how close they live to the law school. But if you are commuting, bringing plastic tupps with food every morning is a necessity. Law school, particularly in second semester, can be filled with long days at the library. And if you decide to go home around dinnertime, you probably won’t have a lot of energy to cook or to study by the time you get home. Leaving the library to buy fast food to bring back to your study session is a long-term disaster for both your wallet and your waistline. So get used to packing 3 meals in the morning and heating them up throughout the day. Flavelle house has a kitchen with a fridge, microwave, kettle, and even dish soap and sponges to facilitate this need.
4. Don’t be afraid of napping in public
Yup. I’m saying it. To the entire internet. There is no shame in curling up on a couch during your lunch break and catching up on sleep. My favourite nap location is Emmanuel College, conveniently located right across the street from Flavelle House. But the couches on the 2nd floor of Bora Laskin Library can be transformed into nap-worthy beds as well.
5. Never let the commute stop you from doing something you want to do
There are a lot of activities held by the law school. And a lot of them happen at night. But don’t ever let the fact that you have to commute stop you from attending a social event or joining an extra curricular that you really want to do. If something ends after the last train/bus to your home leaves, there will always be someone who will gladly let you crash on their couch. Contrary to any rumours out there, UofT Law is a very collegiate atmosphere, and it is filled with people who want you to have the best law school experience you can have. So speak up if a meeting time doesn’t work for you, or if you need a place to stay, and your peers will accommodate. Commuting is only a barrier if you let it be one.
Katherine Georgious is a 2L who thinks Mississauga is the greatest city in Canada purely because of its shawarma selection.