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Freshman life: Can you live with a car?

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Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2002 10:00 pm

Costlier insurance payments, parents' hearts fluttering nervously and a grin ear to ear on a teen-ager's face can only mean one thing: There's a new driver in the family.

And once teen-agers get their first taste of being behind a wheel without a parent in sight, the indescribable feeling of independence becomes one of the most memorable and positive milestones in a teen-ager's life - provided, of course, that you're a good driver.

Nevertheless, teen-agers often become accustomed to either driving their parents' vehicles or managing to purchase their own during high school. However, when college approaches, the question of the necessity of a vehicle at college is often raised.David Harris

Do you really need a car in your first year of college?

To this question, there is, unfortunately, no easy answer.

Kenneth Lay would probably plead the Fifth on this question, too.

To decide whether or not a car is necessary for your upcoming freshmen, weighing both the pros and cons as well as the needs and wants can be beneficial.

During freshman year, the majority of students will reside in dormitories. On most college campuses, dorms are either on campus or within blocks of campus, so classes are often just footsteps away.

However, for those living further away from campus, in a fraternity house or an apartment, a car might be necessary to get to and from campus.

However, traveling to campus is only half the battle. Most college campuses suffer from a lack of sufficient parking. Logically, at a campus with a modest amount of 15,000 students, it's highly unlikely that the school or city will offer 15,000 parking spots.

Costly parking permits, ranging from $50 to $200 per semester depending on your school, can be a detriment to an already tight college budget. Parking at timed meters rarely offers much help, as most parking spots are taken by 8:30 in the morning.

If you're lucky enough to grab a spot at a parking meter, pumping quarters into it every two hours becomes an exhausting stress.

While growing up, most of us were lucky enough to have our parents provide us with food, clothes and personal necessities. Luckily, during freshmen year, shelter and food are often provided, so a car won't be necessary for trips to the grocery store.

However, school supplies, personal hygiene products, banking and clothes aren't included in your tuition, so having a car to get to and from places like Target, the bank, Office Depot, and clothing retailers will be valuable.

All things considered, befriending somebody who owns a car can be nearly as beneficial as you can usually catch a ride form them.

Having a car during freshmen year presents a great deal of responsibility, which could be a pro or a con, depending on how you view the situation.

For some students, proving that they can handle taking care of a car, as well as paying for gas and general upkeep of the vehicle can prove how mature the teen-ager really is.

However, this can be a dangerous risk, as the responsibility of owning a car can be too much on a freshman whose plate is already quite full as it is:

. The price of gas is back on the incline.

. Car washes aren't cheap.

. And just when your bank account goes hooves up, so does your transmission or tires.

Needless to say, owning a vehicle is a big responsibility.

In the end, there's simply no easy answer to whether or not a freshman will need a car at college.

Walking, riding a bike or taking a bus are almost always available as transportation to school or around the city.

But then again, having a car around just in case you might need it is a smart move as well.

Just ask yourself, "Do you want a car, or do you need a car?"

Once you've got that answered, problem solved.

That is, of course, unless you drive a 1970s station wagon that stalls at every stop sign.

Then, I say, your problems have just begun.

David Harris, of Lodi, is a student at California State University, Chico. He can be contacted at

Comments about this column? Send mail to the News-Sentinel newsroom.


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