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7 Fun Ways to Explore College Towns With Your Student

The local area near a college is as important as the campus itself. Here are seven ways to get to know the town where your student may spend several years.

There’s more to a college or university than just the campus. Whether your student chooses to attend a school in a big city like New York or Los Angeles or prefers a suburban college in North Carolina or Massachusetts, where they live will impact their college experience. That’s why it’s important to explore the area outside campus on college visits. After an official campus tour, it’s beneficial to spend the afternoon exploring the surrounding area with your student. If you have the time, you could also spend the night plus the next day to help your teen navigate unfamiliar territory and get used to a new environment. Here are six fun ways you and your student can get to know the area where they could be spending four years or more.

1. Check out campus bulletin boards

Before you do anything, check out bulletin boards while exploring campus. Local venues take advantage of campus bulletin boards to advertise to students, especially if they’re promoting free events, and local bands will post flyers about concerts nearby. There could also be postings about open mic nights. These are great places to meet locals and ask questions about the town or surrounding area if it’s a large metropolitan city. You’ll feel more comfortable with your student being in a place that you’ve all gotten to know better and experience firsthand.

Related: Where and How to Find Free Events in College

2. Talk to current students and locals

Current students and town or city locals will know the most about the hidden gems of the town: where you can eat, drink, and relax. Since college tours only give you so much information, talking to those who live there will help your student feel like a part of the community. They will not only know the best places to eat but can also fill you in on the best places to shop, take dry cleaning, get a bike repaired, or where to find a local farmer’s market.

3. Eat at local restaurants

The best way to learn about a city’s culture is through its restaurants and local eateries. Skip the chains and visit some local and family-owned establishments. Ask a current student or a local about their favorites and visit some of them. Try different cuisines and discuss your favorites with your teen. It’s likely they’ll want to leave the dining hall on campus and support some of these local businesses, and they can start college already knowing the best places to go. Don’t forget to try the local coffee shops too!

4. Check out local parks and nature trails

Even large urban metroplexes have green spaces. Local parks are great places to decompress from the stress of college and can provide a welcome escape for your student when they need it. Spend some time walking the trails or rent some bikes to explore if possible. There are often bike companies or stations available for reasonably priced rentals in college towns, while larger cities have bikes and scooters available to rent on the street.

Related: College Extracurriculars for Students Who Love Nature

5. Take public transportation

Many schools don’t allow students to bring a car freshman year, but most colleges will offer transportation for students to leave campus and travel to places like the grocery store, shopping malls, and entertainment venues. However, there’s a good chance your student will need to use public transportation at some point at college. While visiting, you and your student should take advantage of public transportation. Hop on a bus or subway and learn to navigate the city using transit maps and schedules. This will help your teen get familiar with the area ahead of time, and it’ll be much cheaper than using Uber or Lyft. In fact, many public transportation systems offer discounts to students.

Related: How to Talk to College Students on Campus Tours

6. Turn off your GPS

Have you ever gotten in the car and started driving without any specific destination? This is a great time to do this with your student. Drive somewhere, park your car, get out, and start walking. Notice the local shops, street vendors, sidewalk cafés, and parks that might catch your eye. Simply exploring without a destination is an excellent way to find some of those local hidden gems by happy accident.

7. Go shopping

Your student will likely need to shop for all sorts of things while at college. While you’re exploring, stop in some stores and do a little shopping. You might visit a grocery store, a clothing store, a shoe store, or even an office supply shop. Look at the costs and see if they differ from the prices at home. This will give your student an idea of the budget they’ll be working with at school. Also make note of these shops’ locations. Are they easily accessible with public transportation, or does the college provide transportation to the area?

Related: The Best Student Discounts: Food, Clothes, and More

It won’t be long before your student will make their home on campus for at least nine months out of the year near in one of these college towns. Helping them prepare and gain knowledge of the area will make their transition to college much easier—and ease any worries you may have about them being away from home.

If you need some help planning where to go on off-campus visits, check out The Best College Restaurants Across the Country: Part 1 & Part 2 for some awesome spots with great food.

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About Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families about college preparation through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured online in the Huffington Post, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report Education, Smart College Visit, and more. She is also a freelance writer featured on CollegiateParent, UniversityParent, TeenLife Media, and Road2College. In the past, she has written for Zinch/Chegg, Classes & Careers, Winterline Study Abroad, and GalTime online magazine.

Suzanne's advice has also been featured on podcasts like Prepped and Polished, How to Pay for College HQ, The College Bound Chronicles, and The College Checklist. Her articles have been featured in print publications created by UniversityParent, CollegiateParent, and TeenLife Media as well as in the book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind by Nancy Berk.


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