7 Ways to Turn Chicago Into Your College Campus

Right off the bat, I’m biased. I went to DePaul, which basically means Chicago was my college campus. Also, I was an RA, which means that besides making you watch as I poured your “good times” down the toilet, it was actually my job to meet people and become involved all over campus.

It got to the point that I’d walk from the Student Center to University Hall, a whopping 1.5 blocks and have to say “hi!” so many times my friends would roll their eyes. This isn’t to say that I knew all these people, but we were at least “face-friends”, which was nice.

College celebrity status? Slightly.

Loathed by 50% or more of those waving cause I was their RA? Probably.

Loving every minute of it? You bet.

Even after I graduated, I always knew that if I would walk anywhere near the Dominick’s on Fullerton, I’d probably run into at least one person I knew. It made Chicago feel small and my college experience absolutely worth it. But, something happened last year. My last lingering connections to DePaul University graduated.

No longer could I reach out to a former-resident and see what was happening on campus. No longer could I get the inside scoop on the new buildings, organizations, etc. My contacts spread across the country, across the globe. My students had grown up. I had grown old. And Chicago got big again.

Standing on the Merchandise Mart platform, I thought back to the days of across-the-quad waves. And reminisced about running into people and sharing stories and laughs. And as I looked up, I saw a new connection across the platform looking back at me…arm slowly raising to say, hi. And I realized – I could have this life again.

Chicago is only as big or as little as you let it be. Since graduation, I’ve been involved in a ton of things that have made new connections all around the city. If I could maximize these experiences the same way I did in college, I could turn the entire city into a college campus. So that is what I’ve set out to do. Here are the 7 ways to make Chicago the biggest little city you know.

1. Join a Pick-Up Game

Starting the list with something that I need to work on. I was always more of a “sit-in-the-quad-and-drink-coffee” guy. Maybe Frisbee on the off chance someone had one. Which in college, I guess, is always.

But there is no end to all the crazy things going on in Chicago every season. My roommate just threw his arm out playing dodgeball. There is rock-climbing within 20 minutes of my apartment. My brother was a consistent beach volley-baller. And my friends are some of the most active people I’ve ever met, from dancing to yoga to those crazies that have the guts to try cross-fit.

Even if your “sport” is smoking cigars on rooftops. Find those folks and join their club.

If no club exists, start your own. Check out meetup.com for ideas.

2. Join a Frat

My Freshman year, I refused to join any organizations. They were lame. I was too cool. But then I realized that party-friends and long-term friends are very different breeds of people.

Sophomore year I realized the importance of pursuing what you love outside of your classes, or your 9to5. I joined the American Marketing Association and met Rajiv. Here we are years later, Idea Lemon co-founders and loving every minute of it.

The people you meet in these organizations will help you during your hard-times and celebrate your highs. They will connect you when you are unemployed and be co-founders when you find that big idea.

Join organizations, get involved, volunteer and take on a leadership role. If you stay in the shadows, you will be overlooked.

Identify the marketing, architecture, art, science and engineering societies that you want to meet the leaders of – then go become that leader.

3. Choose Your Major

We all long for that “college experience”. We write buzzfeed articles on it. Lament about being Millennials. And generally complain about not being able to take naps throughout the day.

But, before you just go drop another crap-load of money on your Master’s Degree, take a second to think about WHY you want to go back to school and what you plan to do with your degree. This isn’t College 2.0 – this is life and it gets pricey.

4. Sit in on a Class

This is my favorite. Something I wish I did during my undergrad. Have a friend taking a major you are interested in, just go to class with them. With how much we spend per hour, it is stupid not to take advantage.

Might not be so practical now – I’ve seen college students recently and they look like pre-schoolers. My grey hairs might stand out.

But that is what sites like Dabble.co, Coursera, and Khan Academy are for.

5. Wander Campus

Turn off Netflix and take a walk. Seriously. I don’t even care if it is snowing – go find that place that has the best hot cocoa.

My favorite days are the ones that I just adventure. Right now, I’m loving these antique stores that line the streets around Division. Go explore. Find a PechaKucha. Visit Technori Pitch. Check out the Christkindlemarket. And everything else. If you wander, you will find it.

Also, check out cultures that are not your own…you’ll love the change of pace.

6. Be Artistic

The most amazing part of the year at DePaul, unless you were an RA, was FEST. Where bands came together in the Quad and everyone got all Girl Talk’ed. (yes, I used that as a euphemism).

There are so many shows, (music, photography, art, museums, galleries, comic conventions, etc.), going on in Chicago I can’t even begin to list them. Google it. Do it. Enjoy.

…and if you want to see an original “Green Eggs and Ham” drawing, or other amazing Dr. Suess, check out Atlas Galleries on Michigan Ave. Then, if you have a couple thousand dollars lying around, buy it.

7. Give Back

DePaul is the country’s largest Catholic University, even if we don’t necessarily believe it. But, one thing we really do well is service. Vincentian Service days are amazing, and there are no shortage of people to help in Chicago.

Check out One Brick – seriously, these people are awesome and you only have to give the time you have to give.