What Commuting to High School Is *Really* Like: Averages, Advantages, and Advice for Students

New to the notion of commuting to school? Here, students coming from all over Boston and surrounding towns share their commuting experience and advice for making the most of the trek. 

No big yellow school buses here. When you go to high school in a city, your commute to school often looks like other professionals’, with subway transfers, brisk bike rides, and everything in between. 

Commonwealth School students use practically every mode of ground transportation available: MBTA commuter trains, buses, and the “T” (Boston’s subway). Walking and biking. Hitching a ride with their parents or neighborhood carpools. A scooter might sneak in on occasion. And students often combine modes of transit, stitching together commutes from all over the city and towns like Woburn, Newton, and even Providence, Rhode Island. They commute to and from extracurricular activities and internships, too. (If you see a young person carting a cello on the Commuter Rail, it just might be a Commonwealth student.)

They learned the following lessons along the way. 

Average Commutes

First things first: what is the average commute to school? It varies widely depending on where students live, of course, and Commonwealth commutes range from a measly three minutes to a whopping hour and a half each way. But the average commute is forty-seven minutes. 

That’s because Commonwealth students come from, well, all over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Many live in downtown Boston, including several within walking distance of school. Nathan '23 is one of those students. “It's really easy to get to school,” he says of his fifteen-minute walking commute. “In the past few years, I've lived in four or five different places, and my commute has always been thirty minutes or less.”

“I live in a really convenient town,” says Tien ’24, from Braintree. “It's really fun to just relax on the train, since I'm at the end of the line and I get to do my homework first thing in the morning. I also have time to do my homework on my commute back [home] as well.” He hops on the Red Line in Braintree, taking it downtown to Park Street station, where he transfers to the Green Line, riding it to Copley Station. (Most Commonwealth students taking public transportation come via Copley or Back Bay Stations, which are three- and eight-minute walks from school, respectively.) It usually takes forty minutes—thirty minutes if the train timing is perfect, he says.

Tien’s classmate Douglas ’24 lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, and takes either the MBTA Red or Green Lines to school, made all the more convenient given the Green Line extension near his house that opened just last year. Real-time commuting info using Google Maps helps him decide which route is faster. 

Matthew ’26 spends about thirty-five minutes commuting each day, most of it on the T: Red Line to the hub at Park Street, where he also transfers to the Green Line. He either drives or walks from home to the T station. “It's easy,” he insists. Walking the eighteen minutes from Park Street station to Commonwealth is definitely doable, too.

Coming from Manchester-by-the-Sea, more than thirty miles north of Boston, Bella ’24 has one of Commonwealth’s longest commutes. They wake up at 5:30 a.m. and take the 6:30 a.m. train to North Station, getting in around 7:30 a.m. There they transfer to the Green Line, riding another fifteen minutes or so, before arriving at Commonwealth at 8:00 a.m. Done in reverse, after sports or extracurriculars, they arrive home around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.

Tyler ’24 of Hopkinton takes a ten-minute car ride to the Commuter Rail, then rides the train for forty-five to sixty-five minutes, before finishing with a ten-minute walk to school. “I enjoy having free time to be alone on the train and do homework or research on my own, as well as the break that commuting gives between the school day and my home life,” he says. 

Walker ’26 joins a small but hardy group who’ve commuted to Commonwealth from Rhode Island, “about an hour and a half door to door,” he says. After his parents drive him the mile or so to the train station, he gets on the Commuter Rail at its terminal stop in Providence. “It's really not bad, because that hour can be spent doing work that you would otherwise have to do at home or during the weekend,” Walker insists. “It's a little less efficient than working at home. But it's fun.”


Grow More Independent

Commuting can seem nerve-racking at first, but as you become more familiar with the journey, learning to read schedules and manage different types of transportation, it gives you the sense that you can literally go anywhere. Suddenly the city opens to you, and you become confident in your ability to get to fencing practice across the river, the internship on the North Shore, or just home after a long, joyfully exhausting dance or game night at school. (You can also spare your parents or older siblings from shuttling you to and from your activities.) This is also why Commonwealth requires all new students to take our City of Boston course, which discusses the practicalities of public transportation and common-sense safety tips. 

Get Things Done 

Many students, particularly those with longer journeys, use their commute to catch up on work: doing problem sets, reading a few chapters for English, planning presentations for a club meeting, responding to email, etc. “I tend to get a lot done, because I have an hour in the morning and an hour an hour in the afternoon,” Bella says. “It's really helpful for homework, because I'd rather do homework in a confined space where I have nothing else to do than at home, where I could relax.”  

Take a Break 

Even a full train on a busy weekday morning can be pleasantly quiet, even meditative, as professionals pour into the city, waiting for their coffee to kick in. You can use your commute to center yourself before class and/or recharge after a busy day. Or maybe your commute is your designated, guilt-free YouTube or gaming time. “It's a nice way to unwind after a long day,” Bella says. You might even take a quick nap—just don’t forget to set an alarm before your stop!

Protect the Environment

For Douglas, public transportation isn't just convenient; it’s all about avoiding the automobile. “They're bad for the environment, they're expensive, and the car infrastructure that you need takes up a lot of space in cities,” he says. Not to mention driving in Boston is notoriously unpleasant. “Trains are cool. It's definitely faster than walking,” Douglas adds.

Sneak in Some Social Time

Time flies when you’re catching up with friends, whether you’re walking to school together or taking the train to an after-school activity. When students commute to and from soccer practice on the Charles River Esplanade, for example, they tend to travel in chatty packs you can spot from afar, given their Commonwealth red uniforms. 

Master Time Management

Your commute to school will define your schedule, particularly if you’re beholden to more rigid time tables, like an hourly commuter train. Add in classes and after-school activities, and your days will be effectively chopped into neat little blocks. Many Commonwealth students start their day with things like swimming practice or orchestra rehearsal, and they fill their afternoons and evenings with everything from running theater tech to poetry readings. But these constraints can be freeing, and your days will develop a rhythm, as you learn how to allocate your time most effectively. You’ll discover what you can get done—often more than you think—in the five, ten, fifteen minutes you have on the bus or before class. If you like puzzles (and Commonwealth students generally do), piecing together the perfect schedule can be a neat challenge.

Related: View Sample Student Schedules

Be in the Center of the Action

If you want to immerse yourself in the dynamic heart of a city, you need to commute there. For downtown high schools like Commonwealth, the central location is part of the charm. Here you have a home base in the Back Bay, making it easy to bounce around, whether for a Newbury Street snack, a study session at the Boston Public Library, or a calming walk around Boston Garden. 


Soggy Weather, Delays, and Other Snafus

Little commuting complications, from adverse weather to delayed trains, are inevitable and unpredictable. “The Green Line between Science Park and Lechmere is supposed to be twenty-five miles an hour, but ever since they reopened it, it's been ten miles an hour,” Douglas says. “They've had a few more shutdowns since then that were supposed to fix it and didn't.” And Tyler says his train “is very inconsistent.” No one likes a late bus or wants to sit in class soaking wet after getting caught in the rain walking to school. But you also learn to pack an umbrella and roll with the punches.

Long, Taxing Commutes

If you’re comfortable with a longer commute, you can expand your school options, so you can find the perfect high school for you. But spending an hour—or more—commuting can also be taxing, especially if you need to combine modes of public transportation. Matthew wishes he could bike commute from his home in Arlington, Massachusetts, but it’s just not feasible, given the lack of direct routes. For those with the longest journeys, like Walker, “the commute is rough, definitely for the first few months,” he says. “You get used to it.” Above all, “prioritize going to bed early, especially if you have to wake up at 6:00 a.m. to make your train.”

Time Constraints

Students commuting from farther afield are particularly tied to train schedules. “You have to make your train, because if you miss it, you have to wait about forty-five minutes for the next one,” Walker says. (If he could, he’d move his house, Commonwealth, and everything in America to Japan, where he could take high-speed trains, he says. “That'd be nice.”) You might expect Bella to want a high-speed train, too, given their hour-long commute. “I don't think that I would change it,” they say. “Sometimes I wish I lived closer to my friends who go here, just so I can hang out with them more easily. But I don't really mind it…because I like my time and I like doing homework on the train.” 


Do a Test Drive

All of these students encourage anyone new to commuting to go on at least one trial run. “If you're taking public transit, make sure you test out your route before the school year starts,” advises Nathan. “I remember when I first moved to Boston, I didn't realize that the Green Line had different branches, and I ended up getting lost for an hour.” Tien agrees: “Over the summer before my freshman year, I just explored it by myself before coming [to Commonwealth].”

If your parents/guardians have trepidation about sending you off on a bus by yourself, try testing the commute together. You might start with a quieter time, like the weekend, then give the typical (peak) travel time a shot. Or you might decide as a family to carpool for a year before you “graduate” to commuting by yourself. 

Plan Ahead

“You should leave your house early, because any amount of things could go wrong on the T, especially on your first day,” Matthew says. “You might get lost. You might get off at the wrong station or enter in the wrong place. So just give yourself room.”

Use Your Time Wisely

“Really be aware of the time that you have so that you don't waste the commuting time, because there are a lot of things…that you actually can get done on the train and even on the Green Line,” Bella says. And if you can’t catch up on work, Tyler says, “just take some time to relax!”

Enjoy the Ride

“Have fun!” advises Tien. “I just read the news on my phone or play crosswords,” Matthew adds. “If I have reading for English, for example, that's something that's very easy to do on the train.” Tien agrees that reading on the train “is a great way to pass time.” 

Give Commuting a Chance

“Take the train at all costs,” says Douglas, and “those costs are not as high as you think." Wherever you’re commuting from, there are reasonable public transportation options available. "You shouldn't discount the suburban buses,” he adds. “Some of them are not super great but a lot of them are good." Even when they’re not so frequent, “at least they’re fast.”

The time and (sometimes trouble) of commuting ultimately expands your world. “There are really good schools in Providence, but none of them really come close to matching the education you'll get at Commonwealth,” Walker says. “Commonwealth is worth it.”

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