7 Ways to Celebrate Fall (on a College Student Budget)

Last updated: Oct 15, 2019

You’re a fan of everything fall: pumpkins and hot chocolate, crunchy leaves and scary movies, post-Halloween candy sales and bouquets of newly sharpened pencils. If someone offered you a pumpkin-spice-anything right now, you’d explode with ecstasy. And if you could hit every fall festival on this list, you totally would.

The trouble is, you’re living away from home for the first time — maybe even out of state or in a new climate, where the leaves may not even change color. It’s normal to be homesick for those familiar signs of fall. But college is a great opportunity to create your own traditions, make new friends, and reinvent your love for the season. And we’re here to help.

Get pumped for autumn — which arrived on Sept. 23 — with our 7 ways to celebrate fall on a college student’s budget.

Hot chocolate, pumpkins, leaves, and other fall decorations

7. Decorate

Set an autumnal mood by decorating your residence hall with everything spooky-and-spice.

  • Purchase a cinnamon broom. With any luck, the scent will be so powerful, it’ll conjure up some kind of Pumpkin-Spice-Latte Genie. Cost for a broom from Trader Joe’s: about $4.
  • Carve a pumpkin with friends or — if that sounds too daunting — try these tips to spruce up your gourds, no carving tools required. Cost for a pumpkin: about $5. Your total cost will vary depending on what you use decorate it.
  • Enlist your residence hallmates in a wreath-making day. Choose your theme based on the supplies you find on sale at your local craft store or Amazon.
  • As Halloween approaches, dial up the scary factor. Creep-out your residence mates with these gory Halloween room numbers ($7 for the red glue sticks, hot glue gun not included) and throw some spider webbing ($6) over your entryway.

6. Listen

You probably already have a favorite fall playlist. If not, take inspiration from ours:

  • Autumn in New York by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Open your windows and play this classic. The trees will be inspired to change color from the first notes.
  • Leaves That Are Green by Simon and Garfunkel. A melancholy choice for when you have to study, but you’d rather be apple-picking in the country.
  • Going to the Country by Bruce Cockburn. Play this when you actually are going apple-picking in the country.
  • Dreams by the Cranberries. It may not technically be about the change of season, but this upbeat ‘90s song is guaranteed to put you in a more festive mood.
  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Billie Eilish. Described as “haunting and oddly inviting,” Eilish’s music is the perfect October fare. If you have arachnophobia, don’t watch the music video alone.

5. Eat + Drink

Don’t let anyone fool you: All you really need to celebrate fall is a cup of steaming hot chocolate and an autumnal treat. You’ll have to invest in the ingredients, but in the long run, baking at home is still cheaper than splurging on a fancy fall brunch.

A college student wearing a yellow sweater and studying outside in the fall weather

4. Read

Settle in with your favorite quilt and that mug of chocolate. Once you start these books, you won’t want to put them down. (Read these recommendations for free through your campus library, Hoopla, or Overdrive.)

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

What it’s about: A modern take on fairytales, The Hazel Wood begins in an autumnal New York City shivering on the edge of magic. Seventeen-year-old Alice has grown up hearing whispers of her grandmother’s famous collection of folklore, but she is forbidden to read any of it, especially the chilling story that bears her name, “Alice-Three-Times.” (It begins, “When Alice was born, her eyes were black from end to end, and the midwife didn’t stay long enough to wash her.” It gets darker from there.) When her mother is kidnapped by otherworldly creatures, Alice embarks on a quest that leads her deeper into the supernatural — and closer to the truth of her childhood.

Why you’ll love it: Albert brings this fantasy to life through concrete, descriptive prose that enchants you to read just one more page. Interspersed with gruesome tales that would make the Grimm brothers proud (especially “The Door That Wasn’t There”), this book is just scary enough to count as an October read.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

What it’s about: Dreamlike prose plunges you into a world that’s born of dark magic and half-remembered nightmares. Chloe lives with her older sister Ruby near a vast, black reservoir that flooded a town in 1914. Sometimes, the sisters imagine diving into the deep and selecting a souvenir from that submerged world. Sometimes, Ruby says she thinks Chloe could actually do it. But Ruby, a charismatic force in their New York town, is fond of tall tales — and Chloe is no longer sure what’s real. Two years ago, she found her classmate, London, dead in the reservoir. Now London is back, and only Chloe remembers that terrible night in the water. Did London really die at all? Can Chloe even trust her own memories? And what secrets does her magnetic older sister keep?

Why you’ll love it: Suma’s twisty, atmospheric fantasy is the ideal choice for a chilly fall night. Its eerie setting and compelling characters will make you stay up way past your bedtime — and when you do fall asleep, you’ll dream of the sunken town of Olive, pushing up through the silent surface of the reservoir.

Night Road by A.M. Jenkins

What it’s about: Suspended in eternal youth, Cole is a “heme” who must feed on blood to stay alive. He’s learned to keep his vampiric thirst in check — and with it, his emotions. Haunted by a mistake he made long ago, Cole is an expert at pushing others away. Love, as Cole puts it, is a luxury he can no longer afford. But when he’s tasked to train a new heme, Cole must reconnect with his tragic past and chart a path to redemption.

Why you’ll love it: You don’t have to be a vampire fan to enjoy Night Road. Jenkins offers a heartbreaking, sophisticated take on the genre, exchanging bloodsucking thrills for finely drawn characters and a powerful theme of self-forgiveness.

Five college students watching a scary movie together

3. Watch

Get your friends together for a Halloween movie night in your residence hall with three spooky films free from your library or for about $4 from Amazon Prime. We’ve listed the flicks in order of scariness (least to most), so you can choose just how little sleep you want to lose tonight.

You’ll Sleep Like the Dead: Ghostbusters

Chock-full of spirits, possessions, and gross green goo, Ghostbusters (2016) qualifies as Halloween fare without being actually scary. Watch it for Kate McKinnon’s hilarious performance as the mad inventor Holtzmann.

You’ll Sleep With a Night Light: Practical Magic

From 1998, this cult classic manages to be both cozy and creepy. Evil spirits and dark enchantments make an appearance, but then again, so do sisterly bonds, witchy desserts, and magical mansions. You’ll be pumped for Halloween as soon as the credits roll.

You’ll Never Sleep Again: Get Out

Dread permeates Jordan Peele’s brilliantly constructed Get Out (2017), which delivers smart social commentary and plenty of thrills. Be prepared to never look at a teacup the same way again. (Why didn’t Peele’s most recent horror film, Us, make this list? We were too terrified to watch it after having seen Get Out. Add it to your movie night at your own peril).

2. Explore

Autumnal activities don’t have to be costly. You’ll find plenty of seasonal entertainment in your own backyard, if you know where to look. Follow the safety tips in this blog post before you embark on any adventures.

Check Out Free Campus Events            

Campus events offer a cost-effective way to meet new people at college and get into the fall spirit. (USF’s homecoming week takes place Oct. 6–12 and includes everything from a comedy show to a parade).

Go Ghost Hunting

Wherever you live, there’s bound to be at least one ghost story, and fall is the season to seek the spirits in your hometown. If you live near the Bulls’ stomping grounds, try the following haunts:

  • The USF library. The ghost of a former student supposedly flits through the bookshelves, putting USF in a lineup of haunted campuses. The library is open to the public during the day, but as long as you possess a library card, you’re welcome to explore the ghostly fourth floor after hours.
  • Egmont Key. This island is an eerie paradise, offering up sunken ships, a ghost town, and a 19th-century lighthouse. Keep your eyes open for the spirits of Civil War soldiers who are said to haunt this strip of scrubby land. To access the island, you’ll need to take a ferry, which costs $25 per adult (in addition to the $5 entrance fee to Fort Desoto Park and any tolls incurred on the route there).
  • The Don CeSar Hotel in St. Petersburg. You don’t have to be a guest to enjoy sweets at the hotel’s ice cream parlor, where you can get a single scoop for $5.08. And let’s be real: Florida fall is still warm enough to warrant an ice cream excursion. While you’re on the grounds of this historic pink hotel, see if you can spot the spirits of the owner and his lost love.
  • Haslam’s Book Store in St. Pete. You might just catch a glimpse of Jack Kerouac’s mischievous ghost, which paranormal investigator Brandy Stark believes haunts this 86-year-old used bookstore. There’s no cost to peruse the shelves, but if Kerouac’s ghost shoves one of his books onto the floor (as he’s been known to do), you should probably buy it.
  • Key West’s Fort East Martello Museum. Okay, so this isn’t exactly part of Bulls’ territory (it’s about a 7-hour trek from USF Tampa), but if you’re up for a road trip, you can visit a “haunted” doll housed in the museum’s permanent collection. (Just don’t snap a photo, or the doll may curse you.) Be prepared to budget for the cost of food, gas, and any hotel stays along your route. The museum entrance fee is $12 for adults and $5 for college students with ID.

1. Volunteer

Why not spend this fall making the world a better place for others? When you volunteer, you’re not only benefiting others, you’re also helping yourself. Studies have linked volunteering “to health benefits like lower blood pressure and decreased mortality rates,” according to an article in The New York Times. Here are some ways to spread autumn cheer:

  • Offer your time to a local pumpkin patch.
  • Act as an extra in a haunted house.
  • Run in a turkey trot to benefit a community cause.
  • Volunteer in a food kitchen (ideally on a different day than Thanksgiving, when there’s usually an overload of extra help).
  • Ask your campus activities center how you can assist with upcoming events.

Curious how USF students celebrate fall? Contact the Center for Student Involvement to learn about upcoming events and find out how you can get involved. If you have questions about USF’s admissions process, you can reach the USF Office of Admissions online or by phone at 813-974-3350. We’re always happy to chat.