By Douglas Fehlen
Finding Your Way Off Campus
If you live in a residence hall at college, it's quite possible that days, weeks or even months have passed since you last were off campus. Even if you don't live on school grounds, it might seem like you spend virtually all of your waking hours there. And why not? When you decided on your college, it's likely that campus housing, school atmosphere and student activities all ranked high on your list of priorities. Spending a lot of time on campus is perhaps the best way to make a lot of friends and truly feel connected at school.
With that said, there are times when getting off campus can be very appealing. Maybe you really need to focus on an upcoming exam, but every time you go to the library you run into friends and end up chatting all night. Or you might want to widen your stomping grounds for social reasons. Perhaps it seems you can't stop running into an ex or someone else you don't get along with on campus. Maybe you've just absolutely had it with dining hall services and can't go another day without a real cup of coffee or an authentic made-from-scratch meal.
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When it comes to studying off campus there are some tried-and-true options that can be found in virtually any university city or town. The first place to consider is the off-campus counterpart to the most popular study spot at school: the library. Whereas your campus library is probably swarming with friends and other opportunities for distraction, a community library is likely to offer a place where you can be more or less alone to complete your studies. You'll have to contend with other library patrons for space, but unlike at school you'll have the benefit of anonymity.
Severe budget cutbacks are causing hours reductions at libraries nationwide, so you'll also need a Plan B for getting studying done off campus. Coffee shops, of course, are reliable places that have the bonus of providing proper caffeination for serious homework sittings. If the off-campus coffee shops near you are too noisy, you might consider bookstores that have cafes. Barnes and Noble and other bookshops often provide quiet places to sit down with a beverage. In for an all nighter? Visit a nearby 24-hour diner, where you're only an order away from food to fuel a marathon study session. A nice study spot for daylight hours is a municipal park that has chairs or picnic tables. Or lay a blanket in the grass and get some sun as you work, weather permitting, of course.
If you've finished all of your studying, it's time to reward yourself. Off-campus entertainment destinations vary a lot based on the size of the city or town near you, but there should be at least a few options available to you. If you're still relatively new to your school, finding off-campus fun may seem daunting. A good first step is to explore entertainment districts that are known to cater to students. Many colleges and universities are located near neighborhoods or district with eclectic shops and hot nightspots. Your college's website may even have an entertainment guide online that you can use to explore options.
In large metropolitan areas, city weeklies offer comprehensive information on local dining, arts and music options. Many of these publications put out an edition in the fall for students arriving on campus. This special issue typically offers a full roundup fashionable eateries, hip record stores, chic multimedia art spaces and trendy nightclubs. These guides to local entertainment are usually also available online. Of course, consumer websites, hyper-local blogs and smartphone applications can also help you to navigate various neighborhoods. Yelp!, MenuPages, iWant and Urbanspoon represent only a small sample of location-enabled tools that can help you enjoy your night out on the town.