Free summer fun? Check your local college.

Colleges and universities offer concerts and lectures throughout the year, and you don't always have to be a student to partake. Just check your local college or university's calendar.

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    A Stanford University student walks though the halls of the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif., in this February 2012 file photo. Checking your local university's events calendar is a good way to spot free concerts, lectures, and festivals.
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One of my favorite things about college was the public lectures and presentations by interesting people. During my years, I heard fascinating talks from scientists and politicians and entrepreneurs.

The university would hold these on a central building on campus and just throw open the doors for everyone. You didn’t have to be a student or faculty member to attend these lectures. You just had to show up at the door.

One of my wife’s favorite things about college were the free open-air classical concerts that the university held several times a year. We were dating then, and the two of us would often pack a picnic meal, spread out a blanket on the grass, and lay flat on our backs listening to the music.

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Again, these concerts were completely free. All you had to do was show up; no affiliation with the university required.

At these events – and many others – I couldn’t help but notice the wide variety of people there. There were college students, of course, and plenty of faculty, but there were also families with children, elderly folks, and blue-collar workers. It was a university event, but it was also a community event.

Even now, Sarah and I enjoy taking our family to offerings at local colleges and universities. There are free concerts, presentations, parades, children’s exhibits, and other things going on all the time throughout the year.

So, how can you find out what’s offered at your local college or university?

You can start by checking out their event calendar. The nearest sizeable university to me is Iowa State University, which offers a wonderful online event calendar. Many other universities offer very similar online functions. These make it incredibly easy to identify events on campus.

For example, on the calendar I linked to, there’s a free concert, a bookbinding workshop, and a children’s story time, and in the next couple of days there’s a floral workshop, a lecture on plant breeding, and several art workshops. Some of the events have a cost, but many others are free. Plus, this list just comes from the summer months, when activities are relatively slow.

You might also want to check out the school’s visitor’s guide, which can clue you in to interesting exhibits and other permanent things worth seeing and visiting at the school. Many major colleges and universities offer an online visitor’s guide, like this one.

Many universities have museums, art exhibits, walking tours, and countless other interesting things going on all the time.

Most universities and colleges also have special events and festivals where you’ll find an enormous variety of free and interesting things to do.

Again, in the case of Iowa State, there’s an annual festival called VEISHEA each April that includes a parade, tons of exhibits and demonstrations, a free food festival, and countless other things. We often spend an entire Saturday there without spending a dime while thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

If you live anywhere near a college or university, keep an eye on the campus. There’s an abundance of free and fun things to do there, even if you’re not involved with the school.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere

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