I know what I would have said about the University of Notre Dame – my dorm room, the Harry Potter-esque South Dining Hall, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Grotto, and the football stadium (obviously).
With some variation, students tend to gravitate towards the student center, dining hall, living spaces, and even the library when they want to socialize and blow off some steam. But most campuses have even more than students realize in terms of academic, professional, and social opportunities.
Universities are a place of learning, and one way campuses incorporate scholarship into their design is through small museums and galleries. Stroll through the art building and see featured work by talented professors and students. Stop in the museum you pass by every day and see what exhibits are currently running. Take a good look at the walls in the classroom building you pass through every day. Chances are something interesting is there.
When I was at Harvard, there was a Central Asian textiles exhibit a friend convinced me to go to. I will admit, it wasn’t wildly fascinating, but I appreciated that it was there, free, and something to do to break up the monotony of our schedule.
When I was an undergraduate our professor offered us extra credit if we attended Russian-themed guest lectures. Sure, you might end up sacrificing some of your free time, but it was an easy way to raise your grade. It introduced us to professors from other universities, sometimes people we had read and now got to ask questions of in person.
And when the lecture was actually a sort of “audition” for the faculty member, who was being interviewed by our university for an open position, occasionally the powers that be actually solicited student feedback.
Conferences Open to the Public
Similarly, conferences hosted by the university are a great way to meet some fellow professors and students in your field of interest. If you’re an undergrad considering grad school, don’t be shy about attending conference talks and observing firsthand what will be expected of you as a budding scholar. If you’re really brave, you can even offer a question or comment at the end of the talk.
Student Written and Directed Plays
Theater and music was never, ever my thing, but I had a few friends in college who were incredibly talented. One in particular moved up the ranks of a student-run theater group and ended up directing a musical. I went as a show of support, certain I wouldn’t enjoy watching people burst into song and prancing around the stage. But you know what? It was really good. I was impressed with what my friend had done, and moreover, that all of it was accomplished in his spare time and purely because he loved it.
University programs and clubs have tons of options for getting away from campus. Some groups do weekend day trips to a nearby city. Volunteer or social clubs sponsor longer visits over breaks. If you’re not interested in doing something as long as study abroad, many professors still organize 1-2 weeks trips to somewhere overseas to supplement your studies. Ask around – it’s a great way to meet more people and break out of the college bubble for a little bit.
When you’re feeling somewhat limited by what your campus has to offer, remember that it’s very possible you have yet to experience the full scope of your school’s academic, professional, and social opportunities. Hanging out with your friends in your dorm’s common room is fun, but when that gets old, look into attending a polo match or stopping by the student art exhibit.