By Maggie Austin

When I started my college search during junior year of high school, I wanted to pick a university far from home. It was a classic mistake made by a moody, self-centered teenage girl. I actually thought my parents would drive from Chicago every weekend to come see me, so I looked at Syracuse, the University of Minnesota and, of course, the University of Missouri, which was the closest to my home in Chicago. But it still was a seven-hour drive.

In hindsight, I now realize that I very much wish my parents were closer to me and that seven hours can be quite a long trip — especially on a Greyhound bus.

I did not have a car freshman or sophomore year of college, but I did have the power of social media to find a way back home. My savior from bus rides back to school came in the form of a FaceBook page called “University of Missouri // Mizzou Rideshare Group!”

Even though I don’t know many people from Chicago who go to Mizzou, I was able to make a post on the page stating the facts: I need a ride to Chicago for this weekend and I have gas money if someone could drive me. Students with cars and open space can post the sametype of message, and then the parties connect over FaceBook Messenger.

In my experience, I ended up paying the driver around $30 for gas per trip, but depending on how full the car was, I have paid as low as $20. The monetary cost of a Greyhound ticket back to school is about $40, but the emotional toll is much greater.

With the rideshare page, I was able to ride back to students who I already had something in common with — we all went to Mizzou. Once when I was a sophomore, I got in the car with two freshman who were also majoring in journalism. We were able to chat about classes and exchange stories and advice.

The rideshare page functions so efficiently because the group only serves a very specific portion of people, but also because the page benefits from the network effect. The more people who use it, the more effective it will be, and the group currently has over 4,000 members. It’s possible that some of those students have already graduated, but nevertheless, I was able to find a ride every time I needed one.

Some students used the page as an underground business platform. I got a ride with the same girl, whose name is Marcella, on three separate occasions. If Mizzou was having a school break, she would have a post on the page a week in advance. Every time I rode with her, there were five of us total in the car at $20 a head. Gas back to Chicago varies depending on the car, but for me it has ranged between $50 and $60. Marcella was making $80 on the trip, so the only costs she paid were the mileage on her car and the labor of driving.

Since a lot of people are from the suburbs of Chicago rather than the city, my dad would drive out to pick me up at the closest point on the ride back to her house. I’m from the far southside of Chicago, so he would trek about 45 minutes west to meet us somewhere off the highway. Although it wasn’t the most convenient, he said he would rather drive 45 minutes to get me than seven hours.

I have gotten to Mizzou by car, bus and plane over the past four years, but most of rides to and from school came from students I didn’t know with a little extra room in the car.

Maggie Austin is a senior majoring in journalism at the University of Missouri.