12 Must-See Attractions for Making the Most of a College Visit

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EXTRACURRICULAR ATTRACTIONS

Students and their families often travel far and wide to see whether a college or university is a good fit. While touring campus hot spots is the priority on a college visit, sightseeing in and around campus can help make the time and expense of a trip more worthwhile. Visitors to these 12 universities are a stone's throw away from popular and inexpensive tourist attractions.

CORNELL UNIVERSITY: CORNELL PLANTATIONS

Located on the Cornell University grounds in Ithaca, New York, Cornell Plantations showcases unique botanical gardens, an arboretum, and nature preserves. Visit the welcome center for information about current exhibits and artwork by local artists. The grounds are open sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, free of charge.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON: GEOLOGY MUSEUM

The UW-Madison Geology Museum offers free admission and self-guided tours (booklets are available at the museum and on its website). The collection totals more than 120,000 rocks, minerals, fossils, and other specimens, including a mastodon skeleton.

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: MALL OF AMERICA

Located just 15 minutes from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, the Mall of America is more of a tourist destination than a shopping mall. It's packed with more than 500 retailers, including Lego and American Girl stores, as well as a Nickelodeon Universe theme park and an aquarium.

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER: FISKE PLANETARIUM

A number of free exhibits in the lobby of the Fiske Planetarium entertain and educate visitors to the University of Colorado at Boulder. Tickets to public events such as "Black Holes" and "Solar Superstorms" cost $10 for adults and $7 for students, children, seniors, and veterans. This is a no-brainer for prospective students interested in astronomy.

BROWN UNIVERSITY: FEDERAL HILL

This historic neighborhood sits just a mile outside the Brown University campus in Providence, Rhode Island. It's the city's Little Italy, home to award-winning Italian restaurants and authentic emporiums. On Atwells Avenue, the yellow lines down the middle of the street change to the red, white, and green of the Italian flag.
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PENN STATE: ARBORETUM

At the Arboretum at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, visitors can stroll the H.O. Smith Botanical Gardens from dawn to dusk. The Childhood's Gate Children's Garden, named for a line in the university's alma mater, appeals to all ages. Admission and parking are free.

DUKE UNIVERSITY: DUKE LEMUR CENTER

Duke houses the largest population of lemurs, one of the world's most endangered mammals, outside their home of Madagascar. The center in Durham, North Carolina, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The Lemurs Live tour costs $12 for adults and requires a reservation.

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO: BIRCH AQUARIUM

The Birch Aquarium at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography has more than 3,000 fish in more than 60 habitats, plus an additional museum dedicated to earth science and oceanography. The aquarium is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $17 for adults and $14 for teens.

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: BAT HOUSES

If you don't like bats, this isn't the attraction to add to a college visit in Gainesville, Florida. Every night at sundown, more than 300,000 bats emerge from two bat houses, built specifically to draw them away from campus, to feed on the insect population of nearby Lake Alice. The spectacle is free; just don't forget bug spray.

STANFORD UNIVERSITY: RODIN SCULPTURE GARDEN

The Cantor Arts Center in Stanford, California, hosts one of the largest collections by Auguste Rodin outside his hometown of Paris, with about 200 pieces on display. The outdoor sculpture garden features 20 bronzes and remains open all night. Admission is free, and free tours are offered on Wednesdays and weekends.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: THE CACTUS CAFE

This highly regarded live music venue helped launch the careers of Lyle Lovett, Ani DiFranco, and Lucinda Williams, among others. In danger of closing in 2010 due to university budget cuts, the Cactus Café was saved through a partnership with KUT Radio. Tickets to shows right on campus typically cost $10 to $25.
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UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH: CATHEDRAL OF LEARNING

The second tallest educational building in the world is located on the Pitt campus. The unique architecture of the 42-story Cathedral of Learning includes a dramatic, four-story Gothic-style hall at the ground level. The building holds classrooms, a food court, libraries, computer labs, a print shop, and academic and administrative offices. Visitors may catch a glimpse of peregrine falcons that have made the 535-foot-tall structure home.