Tips for college students living in Chicago
Once you’ve made your college decision, the hard part is done.
But that doesn’t mean you can slack off.
You’re coming to the third-largest city in the country, a place where the people are loud but friendly, the food is plentiful but pricey and the weather is … well, we’ll get to that. Before you talk to your roommate and decide who’s bringing the TV and who’s bringing the microfridge (and definitely before you send your teary-eyed mother on her way), read this list to prepare for the adventure of your life.
This isn’t a test. It’s just planning to make the fun part even more fun.
Eat out once a week.
Chicago has this little thing called Grubhub.com, where you can order just about any food at just about any time of day for a reasonable fee. Check this out at 2 a.m. after a hard night of studying (or “studying”) and you’re bound to find hundreds of joints willing to deliver you a “hangover burrito” (this exists and is amazing) or the greasiest not-Chicago-style pizza (because sometimes you just want it like they make it at home). Furthermore, each campus in this city has its share of little coffee shops, brewpubs and sandwich makers where the in-the-know students hang out. You’ve got to eat, so why not eat well? That said, your meal plan is a much better deal (especially if it’s on Mom and Dad’s tab), and the Freshman 15 is not an urban myth, so make sure you do your splurging in moderation.
Dress for the weather.
Chicago has a unique style: Weather appropriate. The people who live here know how to let their winter-musts make the fashion statement for them. David Murphy, a graduate of Northwestern University who has since moved to the warmer climate of San Francisco, says it comes down to two words: “Thick coats.” Chicagoans learned this the hard way during a record-breaking blizzard in February. A zero-rated parka (check out these coats from L.L. Bean) might make you look like little Randy lumbering around in his snowsuit in “A Christmas Story,” but when you have a mile to walk between the dorm and class, you won’t be sorry.
Chicagoans will tell you that there are only two seasons here: winter and summer. That was true this year, but usually there is that period in March and April where the average high temperatures are in the 40s and 50s (and NOAA knows better than anyone). Spring here is rainy, and nowhere in the world will you see a better assortment of galoshes. Check out the selection of rain boots on Zappos.com for a style that suits you.
Then there’s the hot weather, a three-month anomaly that just this week led Chicago Police to shut down North Avenue Beach when four people suffered from heat exhaustion. That’s when it helps to get some sweat-wicking clothing (Moosejaw in Lincoln Park has a great selection) and constant hydration.
Learn the CTA.
This was our top tip from Chicagoans themselves. Annie Koval, who did her undergrad at the University of Illinois before moving to the big city to pursue her graduate studies at Northwestern, says it best: “Figure out the L, and figure it out fast.”
Many universities give students a U-Pass, which let’s you ride as much as you want. Your student fees pay for it, so use it. Within the city, a CTA bus or train can get you anywhere you need to go, and if you’re a future Wildcat headed to Northwestern’s Evanston campus, you can use the Pace bus, which directly connects to the CTA.
Remember the buddy system.
As soon as you told people you were moving to Chicago, you probably heard lots about being safe. In the end, your safety is largely a result of your common sense and intuition. According to the Chicago Police’s Personal Safety Tips Checklist, you should be alert and be prepared, carrying your money in places that aren’t easy for pick-pockets to get to and walking on well-lit streets. Women are always recommended to leave the clutch (which can just as easily become an un-clutch) at home and carry all that stuff in a sling bag or cross body purse.
Most importantly, travel in pairs or in groups at night and, if you must go out alone, tell a roommate or resident assistant where you’re going and when you should be back.
Leave campus whenever possible. (Be a tourist!)
This city has so much to offer, from parks to museums, theaters and clubs. If you stay in your dorm and never venture past the cafeteria or classroom, the world that is at your fingertips might as well be a world away. Instead, check out the list of events at Metromix and plan a hall night out on the town. Or choose one of the many plays or shows in Chicago – this summer, we have the Broadway touring casts of West Side Story and Beauty and the Beast. After a quick read of Chicago’s official tourism site, you will find something for everyone.
Buy a map. (But leave the car at home.)
The cost to park here is astronomical, and public transit is reliable and cheap. So catch a ride to Chicago with your parents (they’ll feel better if they see you settled into your new home anyway) and leave your car at home.
That doesn’t mean you won’t need a map, though. The last thing you want is to get turned around in a neighborhood you don’t know well and not know how to get back from whence you came. Yes, there’s an app for that, but what if you don’t have 3G/4G? What if you’ve dropped your phone? A good carry-around pocket-sized map is the Randy McNally Chicago Pop-up Map. Bonus: It has the Blues Brothers on the cover for maximum hipness.
As Christopher Rios, a student at Dominican University, explained on Ask Metafilter: “Learn the grid system of Chicago. You’ll never get lost if you know it.”
Become a fan (or at least give it the ol’ college try).
Chicago lives and dies by its teams, especially the Bears and the Blackhawks, which have a regional following and rabid fans who want to talk shop year-round. It helps that these teams are good – though not the best this season, sadly – so even if you aren’t a walking sports encyclopedia, you can check the headlines every now and again just to have the talking points. To get you started: Cutler’s knee. Canucks’ hair-pulling.
Talk to strangers.
This isn’t advice you’re going to get from the grandparents, but if you want to know Chicago like Chicagoans do, you need to talk to Chicagoans. As we journalists like to say, go to the source. This city has all the charm the Midwest is known for, just in a larger package. As long as you’re not chasing the strangers into dark alleyways, striking up a friendly conversation with the person you’re skin-to-skin with on a packed train or sitting next to at the bar, it’s a great way to become acquainted with the city fast.