The life of a college student isn’t exactly easy: When you aren’t engaged—or at least physically present—in lectures, homework, and extracurricular activities, you’re stuck trying to decide if a large pizza or box of Ramen would give you the best value for a week’s worth of meals (because let’s face it, that’s what’s in your budget). On the upside, college years probably provide the most free time you will ever have as an adult—no strict schedule, limited work responsibilities, and enough energy to burn. But on the downside, being strapped for cash doesn’t open up many options on how to put all that free time to good use. Having a social life doesn’t have to put a strain on your finances. There are plenty of cheap –even free!—activities for college students all over South Carolina to engage your mind and body without much participation from your bank account.
Geocaching: A mega multiplayer game that has no losers and costs zero dollars to play. On various trails around the state, others have hidden gems, or caches, alongside the trails, waiting for you to spot them. Each container holds a logbook for you to sign—think of it as a declaration for completing the mission—as well as a small item or prize left by the previous winner. This item is yours for the taking, so long as you leave something of your own in its place. Or, if you want to get super creative, create a cache of your own and see if others can find it.
If you want to veer from the typical dinner and a movie entertainment, soar higher with a visit to a planetarium. There are five interstellar facilities throughout South Carolina, and each offers their own variety of out-of-this-world infotainment that ranges from free to about $14. The TC Hooper Planetarium at the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville features a free Starry Nights program each month, open to the public. If you happen to be near Aiken, a trip to the Dupont Planetarium is well worth the $5 admission fee. Bonus points if you belong to an official Student Activities group at USC-Aiken—these folks get in for just $1!
No other city in South Carolina offers the depth of American history that Charleston does, nor will you find as many historic monuments, landmarks, and important sites than what you will find here. You can pay to take a walking tour of the historic district, or simply set out on your own and soak up the culture. Check out the French Quarter Art Walk, stroll through the old Charleston City Market, grab a few photo ops at the Battery or Rainbow Row, or tour through the Charleston Tea Plantation. There is plenty to see and do in the midst of history without spending a dime.
Last time we checked, sun, sand and surf were still nature’s free gifts to all. Pack a cooler and head for the coast, where you can pick a sunny spot and enjoy a day near—or in—the ocean. If you live too far inland to enjoy the hundreds of miles of coastal greatness, some of South Carolina’s lakes and state parks offer a pseudo-beach experience, sans waves and salt water.
Boutique wineries, like Carolina Vineyards, have made an impression along the Grand Strand, and they house some of the most unique, offbeat flavors of wine you could imagine. Much of the wine sold in these shops come from South Carolina-grown grapes, as well as grapes sourced from trusted international vineyards. At Carolina Vineyards, a mere $3 gives you entry to a tasting room where you can sample up to seven of their fun flavors. It’s cheaper than an evening at the bar, and in a much classier atmosphere.
Take a behind-the-scenes tour and see how some of the goods coming straight out of South Carolina are made. South Carolina cranks out some crazy good products, like BMWs, Bigelow Tea, wines and spirits, and goat milk soap—and you can see exactly how it’s done from start to finish.
Charleston’s creatively-named Closed for Business is a restaurant and bar with the “best beer selection on tap,” according to the Charleston City Paper’s “Best of Charleston.” The 42 beers on tap are just one of many elements that attract the local college scene. Food is made with fresh ingredients, sourced locally, to create some truly traditional Southern dishes. This gastropub is the ideal place to unwind with your friends after a long week of studying.
For quiet study sessions or Instagram-building opportunities, you’ll be hard pressed not to find a fabulous public garden nearby. The South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson, Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell’s Inlet, the Furman University Japanese Garden in Greenville, Hatcher Gardens in Spartanburg, and dozens more dot the state to provide a relaxing, scenic—and usually free—outdoor experience.
Strap on your safety gear, grab your skateboard, and grind some rails at Columbia’s outdoor skate park. It’s free for everyone, and open daily during daylight hours. They have stairs, rails, bowls, flat areas, and other obstacles to help you perfect your tricks. Bikers and skaters also welcome.
As if regular golf were hard enough, someone thought that changing a club and ball for a Frisbee-type disc and swapping a hole for a metal basket on a pole would add a fun challenge to the game. And they were right. There are over 70 disc golf courses scattered throughout South Carolina, including free ones in Greer, Greenville, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Chapin, and other towns.
From steep mountains to flat coastlines and every type of terrain in between, South Carolina students have their pick when it comes to the great outdoors. There are hundreds of miles of trails spanning all through the state, including the 500-mile Palmetto Trail that takes hikers from the western Blue Ridge Mountains to the salty water’s edge of Awendaw.
The Saluda River has always been a popular watering hole for college students in the Columbia area. Grab an inner tube and set sail with some friends in downtown Columbia, where the Saluda and Broad Rivers meet to take you on a river cruise through the city.
College football game day isn’t an activity—it’s a way of life for thousands of fans. With two major sports following—the Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks—along with several other smaller teams, it’s a battle royale of school spirit every Saturday at the home fields. Tailgating in South Carolina usually consists of cocktails, cornhole, and tables full of food, but most of all it’s a time for making memories while supporting your team.
Make friends with the animals at one of the many zoos throughout the state. Several zoos, like Hollywild Animal Park, offer a student discount, while the TIGERS Preservation Station in Myrtle Beach is free.
While some folks look see volunteers as “free labor,” the gesture as a college student has plenty of perks. Aside from doing a good deed, you can start to build a network of contacts that can potentially be useful once you start the job search after college. If you volunteer at an event arena or high profile attraction, it might earn you free admission to events and other attractions. Volunteering can help you earn class credit, find internships, and fulfill responsibilities for your extracurricular clubs. So while you are technically providing free work, you won’t walk away empty handed.