Your student has headed to college. Before she made her choice of college you and she spent lots of time getting to know all about the college. She made her choice and has headed off to her new adventure. It may be a few miles away, or may be a long way from home.
But whether your student’s college is close to home or half way across the country, the school is located in a town or city. And that town or city has become your student’s new home. Hopefully, as your student spends time at her new home-away-from-home, she’ll get to know her surroundings. The college experience is all about expanding horizons, and getting beyond the bounds of the college campus is part of that experience. Your student’s college experiences will be richer the more she broadens them.
Why does the college town matter to parents?
You’re not going to live in your student’s college town, your student is. So why should you have any interest in getting to know it? Largely for two reasons: you can help your student discover some new things – or let her show you what she’s discovered, and – it can be fun!
College towns can be great places to get to know. Obviously, large university towns have many opportunities available, but even in a small town with a small college; there are often fun and interesting things to do. Many families will visit their student’s college town at least three times a year – to drop the student off in the fall, at a Family or Parents’ Weekend, and to pick the student up in the spring. (Of course, students with their own cars, or who fly to campus, may not be dropped off and picked up.) These visits are opportunities to get to know the town or city.
Many families turn these visits into mini-vacations. You might extend the visit by a day or two just to spend time exploring. Or you might choose to visit at a less busy time when there are no crowds. According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, many college towns have become hot travel destinations. Some schools even offer special programs with discounts and special deals at local businesses just for families.
There is even a new chain of hotels, called Graduate, opening in university towns and using the school theme for all of its décor. College and university towns are becoming destinations on their own.
What can I do in a college town?
Most colleges – and the towns in which they are located – have lots to offer.
- You might begin by just exploring the college campus. They often have green space and are great places to walk, or sit with a book or cup of coffee. People-watching on a college campus is seldom dull.
- Colleges also offer many amazing facilities right on their campus: art galleries, museums, planetariums, botanical gardens, arboretums, vast libraries. Take advantage of these facilities.
- College students love to eat. College towns usually respond with all sorts of interesting restaurants. Some are inexpensive and cater to student prices. Other restaurants may be more elegant and cater to faculty and parents. Certainly, most college towns have an abundance of local, often interesting, coffee shops. A college town can be a great place to eat well! Admission offices often have lists of local restaurants. If you didn’t get one when you were visiting the college, contact them now and ask.
- Check out local stores and craft shops.
- Explore the nature and history of the area – both within the town and in the surrounding area. Are there special attractions nearby?
- Think about different ways to get around. Of course, you can drive, but consider exploring public transportation. Many colleges and universities also have bike sharing programs. And walk, walk, walk. Most college towns are great places to explore on foot.
- Check out local cultural offerings as well. There are often high quality concerts, lectures, theater offerings – some at student prices.
Connecting your student with her town
Many college students work at getting off campus and exploring the local area. Encourage your student to get out and about and expand her world as much as possible. She might even find opportunities for community service or other ways to actually become involved in the local community. Some students attend local churches, participate in local theater groups, orchestras, or other community organizations.
As you explore the local area, you may explore with your student – or you may be able to suggest things for her to do. Consider buying gift certificates to local businesses or restaurants and giving them as birthday or holiday gifts. Students always appreciate anything that will save them money – and they may be delighted with a certificate to their favorite local coffee shop!
If you can’t get to the town, don’t despair. Try looking online to find information. You might be able to find the names of local restaurants or other places that offer gift certificates on line.
Both you and your student will enjoy getting to know the personality of the college town. Your student will become more connected to the broader world in which she now lives. And you may find a favorite new vacation destination!