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University of Maryland Baltimore County

Best free wi-fi off-campus Atwater's offers free wi-fi, student discounts and really good chai tea. Downstairs they make fresh bread and other locally sourced, organic foods, but upstairs things are a little less bustling; there are some cozy spots by the window on the second floor to catch up on schoolwork or do some reading over coffee. Best hidden gem near school Patapsco Valley State Park is a great spot for weekend or day trips for those who love to hike, and it actually borders UMBC's campus. The park also has disc golf courses and places to cycle and kayak. Additionally, Main Street in Ellicott City is a beautiful historic district lined with little boutiques, antique stores and cafes, and the town has a pretty active little nightlife. Best place for studying on campus When I want to do some reading, the top floors of the Albin O. Kuhn Library are always well-lit and quiet, and the cafe downstairs has the best hot chocolate on campus. Weather permitting, the grassy banks and tables outside of the Commons building are a good place for studying, too. What surprised me most about Baltimore How much there is to do once you scratch the surface. I grew up closer to D.C., so I really had no idea there was so much to do until I moved here. On any given day, you can go hiking, boating, visit museums and catch a show -- all without traveling more than 10 miles. Best school event One of UMBC's biggest events is QuadMania (pictured), the annual spring festival put on by the Student Events Board. Last year's three-day celebration included an entourage of food trucks, zip lines, inflatable obstacle courses and a concert by Gym Class Heroes. Best non-school event In the fall, tons of UMBC students head to Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion for Virgin Mobile FreeFest. Last year, TV on the Radio and The Black Keys played, but since the artists traverse such a broad variety of genres, there's always something for everyone. Tickets are an ideal price for college students: free. Best public transportation UMBC has buses that go to Arbutus, Halethorpe, Catonsville and many of the surrounding suburbs where students live, making it easy to get on campus. What I wish someone had told me when I was a freshman Develop a good dialogue with your adviser. Read all of their e-mails, and make sure not to be a stranger to their offices. Use the on-campus resources. The Shriver Center actually posts employment opportunities for students, and can help you find a rewarding internship if you send in your resume. Must-take classes at UMBC I've found that many of the Communications, Gender Studies and American Studies classes tend to have a lot of personal relevance. These classes discuss everything from Facebook and Instagram to discrimination and cultural stereotyping, and the class discussions are almost always high-energy. --By Kate Godwin, senior, media and communications studies major
Drew Anthony Smith / handout
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