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A Guide to Gap Year and Semester OpportunitiesCambria Pilger
It wasn't that long ago your student was home for winter break, but you may already be hankering to visit. I work in Parent and Family Programming and encourage families to spend time on campus learning about the culture and community. Spring semester is the perfect time to see the college in action!
Take advantage of opportunities to get to know a department outside of your student’s academic area. Spring concerts, exhibits and lectures provide a different view into the college than Family Weekend and Homecoming. Visit an academic showcase or a musical performance that will make the campus feel smaller and more personal.
Some campuses offer unique opportunities for families to engage. Sacramento State, for instance (where I work), offers a one-day mentoring opportunity where parents put professional expertise to work by judging a student academic competition.
An academic showcase may take place midday and midweek, but if you can take time off work, this is a wonderful way to experience the fruits of your student’s academic endeavors and to see a major area of study come together.
Academic showcases are free to attend and provide an opportunity to view student work. Don’t expect a tour or a host; do expect projects to be displayed for the public with explanations of the assignment, materials used, time frame of the work, etc. Be sure to include both your college student and younger kids. This is a quick event — likely less than an hour — and could inspire the whole gang. See Texas A&M's Engineering Project Showcase for an example.
College campuses often host wonderful shows and festivals in the spring months, with a range of performance dates. This is a great evening date activity for you and other adults. Younger children may not appreciate performances so this isn’t for every family, but if your kids are older, and/or just the adults are visiting, choose a night when your student can join you. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are typically offered.) Check websites for attire expectations for some nicer orchestral or wind instrument concerts. College theater tickets will range from $5 to $25 per person; concerts can get pricey, depending on performers — up to $100 per ticket for famous acts. Recitals by students and faculty are usually free or low-cost.
These rich traditions on college campuses mark significant cultural events, celebrate authors and thinkers, and expose the audience to new ideas and experiences only found in a setting as rich as academia. And they’re not just for students!
This academic year, the theme for the University of North Texas's Distinguished Lecture Series is "Activism." Amherst College in western Massachusetts hosts an annual LitFest — this year's event, scheduled for February 27–March 1, includes two National Book Award winners. CUNY, the City University of New York, offers lectures nearly every day.
Does your student’s campus boast a Division 1 baseball team or have a world class track? Baseball and track and field are less visible than college football or basketball but can be just as much fun for the family.
Research top sports and see what interests your family. If your student is an Oregon Duck, chances are you know Eugene is known as Tracktown USA, but maybe the younger sister does not and would be interested in watching a meet. Is the school near a body of water? Rowing is an exciting and popular crowd sport. University of Washington men’s rowing coach Michael Callahan explains the lure: “It’s our Kentucky Derby...It’s a rite of passage, the opening of spring and the boating season.”
Niche activities might spark interest in younger children or in you or your partner! Tickets will range from about $12 to $18 per person with children under 10 probably free. Bring appropriate attire — hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for baseball in Arizona in springtime; parka and gloves for sprint rowing races in Seattle or Maryland in March.
Quirky, wacky and weird signature campus events might be the most fun way to get to know your student’s university. If you're lucky, your student might be at a school with an odd tradition such as New Hampshire’s Throwing of the Fish, where after the first ice hockey goal is scored, the UNH Wildcat fans throw a fish onto the ice. Cornell University has a tradition called Dragon Day, where first-year architecture students create a huge dragon and parade it across campus.
Our holiday shopping list is full of awesome ideas that are on trend with what students desire this gift-giving season.