THE BLOG
10/11/2013 11:10 am ET | Updated Dec 11, 2013

17 Affordable Date Ideas for College Students

Everybody wants to go out on elaborate and exciting dates in college. College is a time for trying new things and for expanding your comfort zone. So why shouldn't we be going on dates that involve casinos, skydiving, fancy dinners downtown, hot air balloon rides or going to see a traveling Broadway play? I'll give you the one and only reason why these are not the typical college dates-- money.

In college, having some extra money to spend is an extreme luxury, and normally this luxury is spent on things like splurging at the grocery store for the brand name potato chips. It is NOT spent on taking the girl you like on a hot air balloon ride for your first date. Mostly because a hot air balloon ride, while being unbelievably romantic and exciting and is sure to book you that second date, costs about $200 per person. Yikes.

Do not fear. If you are looking for something fun to do with that special someone while not being out a months worth of rent, I have got just the suggestions for you. Read on for some unique (and cheap) date ideas for college students.

1. Make a themed dinner

Going out to dinner is obviously much more expensive than cooking at home. However, simply cooking dinner for your date can be kind of boring. To spice it up and make it a special experience, have a themed dinner date. Pick a romantic place, such as Italy, and together cook an Italian dinner complete with an Italian set table (candles and Italian hors d'oeuvres). Play some classic Italian music in the background and create an atmosphere that will make you and your date feel as if you just landed in Rome. After dinner if the mood is feeling right, you could watch a romantic Italian movie together, my personal suggestion would be Letters to Juliet, the perfect Italian romance. After the movie, surprise your date with a classic Italian dessert, such as Gelato.

2. Go stargazing

This date is awesome because it is absolutely free. Stargazing is about romantic as it gets so you can not go wrong. Just grab a blanket and head out to a grassy spot on campus and lay down and enjoy the phenomenon that is the starry sky. You can impress your date by preparing ahead of time and learning to identify the big dipper and other constellations.

Franklin Part Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

3. Go to a city park

Most parks are free of charge and are a great activity to do on a date. Look up where the nearest metro parks are to your college town and take a visit! Metro parks give you the opportunity to take a nice scenic walk with your date.

My sister and her boyfriend went on a date to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens here in Columbus Ohio. They said it was one of their best dates ever. They took romantic strolls through the garden and got to have lunch overlooking a gorgeous fountain.

Another time, they went to Fortier Park Olmsted Falls, which is also in Ohio. It is another metro park that has a beautiful waterfall and great hiking trails.

You will be surprised at the great metro parks in your city. Visiting them makes for a great free adventurous date!

Olmsted Falls

4. Go to the movies with your campus ID

Normally, most movie theaters located near a college campus offer discounted movie tickets with proof of your student ID. Here at Ohio State, the movie theater Gateway, which is located right across from campus, offers student movie tickets for $3. If a movie theater near your campus offers this same deal, it would make a cheap and fun date.

5. Carve pumpkins

Get inspired by the wonderful season which is upon us and carve some pumpkins with your special someone. Your only expense will be buying some pumpkins from a grocery store, which is not costly whatsoever, and purchasing some carving knifes. This is a fantastic fall activity which will make for a great date.

6. Go to a school sporting event

Attending most sporting events in college is 100% free to students. Take your date to a swimming meet or a lacrosse game. This is a great way to take advantage of being a student. However, if you wanted to take your date to a football game, which usually does costs money, student tickets are relatively cheap so this still could be a fun idea if it is in your budget. But if not, there are plenty of other sporting events going on weekly at your college and they are free.

Go Bucks!

7. Study together

We all have to do it, so why not make a date out of it! Studying doesn't have to mean spending hours at the quiet library all by yourself. Get creative and invite your date over for a study session complete with some junk food from the vending machine and popcorn.

8. Have a movie marathon

A great way to get to know someone is to watch movies with them. After you watch a movie the best thing to do is to discuss it. Renting movies is relatively cheap, so rent a whole stack of movies and invite that special someone over for a movie marathon. This time of year, you could think about renting scary movies. Or, you could rent classic movies, your favorite movies, their favorite movies, silly movies, or bad movies so that way you can talk through them about how dumb they are. Any type of movie you decide to rent, you are sure to have a good time with good conversation.

9. Go to the zoo

Almost every city has a zoo, so find the one nearest you and take your date there for the day. The zoo is an inexpensive activity, especially if you are a college student because most zoos offer discounted tickets with your student ID. Going to the zoo is secretly an activity that everybody loves, so why not enjoy it with the person you like?

Also, if you want to plan this date for sometime in the winter, most zoos have Christmas light exhibits at night that are always awesome and worth seeing.

10. Plan a picnic

Going on a picnic is extremely romantic. All you need is to prepare a lunch, probably something easy like sandwiches, and grab a blanket and head on over to a grassy spot on campus. Find a nice tree to sit under and enjoy a lovely lunch with your date. This is a really cheap date but it requires a little effort because you need to prepare a nice lunch beforehand. But do not be discouraged. Making a couple sandwiches and pouring some apple cider into a canteen is not as difficult as you may have been led to believe. If you really want to impress your date, you could even prepare a dessert to enjoy on your picnic, something like cookies will always be appreciated.

11. Make a scavenger hunt

This date could be completely free if you plan it right. While this idea is the most labor intensive of them all, it is the most fun and most impressive date you could conjure. There are endless possibilities to how one could go about creating a scavenger hunt date. You could lead your date around campus finding clues based off of things that you know they like. For instance, you could give them a clue that says, "this is where your favorite band played last year," and that will lead them to the bar where another clue will be waiting that says, "go to the place where your favorite study spot is at and look for the book with your name on it." This will lead them to the room at the library that they love the most, and in that room you could put a book in there that has their name on it and the next clue could be taped to that book. Eventually, lead your date to meet you at a special place for dinner or dessert or something fun like that. This date could get really creative and could make memories that you will be telling your grandchildren, if all goes well...

12. Go to your campus gym

This is not as simple as it seems. While just going to the gym together may appeal to some couples out there, I have something more interesting in mind. All college gyms have free activities offered to students that normally cost money. So take advantage of these activities and plan a date around one of them. Most college gyms offer rock climbing, shooting ranges, and swimming pools. So bring your date to the gym and go rock climbing, for free! This would be a fun activity to do together and would be something different to do.

13. Volunteer together

This is definitely a free activity, and it shows your date what a caring and compassionate person you are. Take your date to the local animal shelter and walk the dogs for an afternoon, or take your date to a soup kitchen and feed people who are less fortunate than you. This will be a great bonding experience for the two of you and will give you the opportunity to really impress him or her.

14. Go to a cheap concert

Most concerts are not exactly cheap, especially when you are paying for two tickets. However, there are concerts of lesser known bands whose tickets can be under or around $10. Even if they are a band you have never heard of, going to see live music is always fun and entertaining. Plus, discovering a new band together will give you something to talk about and have in common.

15. Go to an apple orchard

Another fantastic way to take advantage of this beautiful season is to visit a nearby apple orchard or cider mill. Both of these activities are free and only cost money if you chose to buy something, which you do not have to do (but I would recommend splurging on a couple of apples or two cups of cider). This is a great date because it is taking advantage of the wonderful season of fall and your date is sure to love something so festive.

16. Visit an art museum

Art museums are free of cost for walk in public tours at certain times during the week. Pick one of these times and take that special someone to the museum for a few hours to spend time together walking around and enjoying the beautiful art.

I recently went to the Columbus Art Museum on a date and had a great time. I got to see wonderful works of art and it felt like a real grown up and mature date.

17. Go ice skating

Ice skating is another fun activity to do with your special someone. Unfortunately, this activity is seasonal, but it is worth the wait! Take your date to a local park which has ice skating and you will be surprised at how cheap it is to rent skates and be on the ice for an hour or so. Ice skating is a romantic activity to do with someone you like, especially during the holiday season.

By Joely Friedman, Ohio State University