by Steve Graham
No Need to Feel Deprived
12 Tips for Inexpensive Entertainment
Night on the Town on a Budget
Most colleges and universities offer a plethora of cheap activities and events for area residents. Here are a few examples of free campus entertainment, and how to find events in your area.
A school's primary objective is (hopefully) education, and most colleges host free campus lectures to encourage learning. The talks are often a good opportunity to join a thoughtful discussion of a timely issue or interesting topic. To quote Fat Albert, "If you're not careful, you might learn something."
Dr. Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" is now a hugely popular YouTube video and iTunes download, but it was simply a public lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. Professors and other lecturers are, by definition, experts in their field. If they host lectures in large campus auditoriums, there is also a good chance that they are engaging speakers. They might also be controversial, which always makes for heated give-and-take (the school might charge for some controversial and popular traveling speakers, but prices are likely low).
Universities probably don't have the advertising budget to buy TV spots or newspaper space for most lectures, so bookmark your local college homepage and look for the events section. You might even be able to sign up for weekly e-mails listing campus events. Residents and local organizations also often mention lectures on Craigslist or other local Internet forums.
Need less cerebral free campus entertainment? Many schools host free, public movie series. And just because a college is hosting the movie, it's not necessarily going to be an experimental art film (though student-made films certainly can be). Ohio University hosts free second-run movies on campus every weekend at midnight. Other large schools show first-run movies a few days before they hit theaters. Knowing college students are great for word-of-mouth advertising, studios often screen free campus movies.
The University of Colorado at Boulder hosts Roger Ebert for one week every year to slowly discuss and dissect one of his favorite films over a week. South Carolina's small Francis Marion University hosts a free campus film series with choices this year ranging from the comedy Juno to the science-fiction classic Metropolis.
Your best bet for finding free campus movies is probably the student newspaper, either online or in print.
There is also all manner of free campus music to suit any taste. Any university with a music school should have free student and faculty recitals, which are often top-notch performances. Terrific college choirs and marching bands are often featured in nationally broadcast concerts and parades. But the same groups play on campus for free or at reasonable prices. Music schools often publish monthly or quarterly catalogs of upcoming performances. Look into a free subscription to these publications.
For pop, rock and rap music, college kids are forming bands right now and playing on campus or at nearby venues. Most of these garage bands rely on guerrilla marketing, so check bulletin boards and poster-festooned walls around town.
Finally, sports can be a great option for free campus entertainment. Of course, March Madness finals and high-profile bowl games are far from free. However, most schools have varsity, club and intramural teams in a range of sports. Skip the parking hassles and high prices of Major League Baseball and spend an afternoon in the sun cheering on your local college.
Unlike many other free campus events, high school and college sports at all levels are usually listed in the tiny "agate" type in local newspapers and news websites.
Debt is preventing me from taking a vacation this year or the vacation I'd like to take this year! Tell us: Yes, debt is affecting my vacation plans! or No, we're going exactly where we want to go but we'd love to learn make our trip as inexpensive as possible!
Take the Next Step
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