Dating in college is pretty much inevitable, unless you’ve pledged to be single for the tenure of your college career.
But coming up with date ideas can be hard when you're on a college budget, and likely your brain is fried from studying.
In the land of millennials and technology, face time is harder to come by than ever.
Once upon a time, people got to know each other by going on a first date. Now, you probably know a hefty amount about a person just by perusing their social media and texting back and forth on various dating apps.
Since the world is different these days, you have to adapt and be open to trying new things when looking for a person to spend your time with that you actually like.
Dating apps are a great place to meet someone, especially on big campuses where there’s an overwhelming amount of people and you need a way to keep from being overwhelmed.
Dating is actually an incredible skill to have, because it can be time-consuming and draining if you don’t go about it the right way.
Odds are, for every good date you’re bound to go on three that aren’t so good.
While this can be entertaining and dreadful at the same time, you have to have some things you can do on these dates of yours so you:
a) don’t get bored
b) look like you have your life together enough to have all these incredible ideas, and
c) don’t waste all your money trying to find your perfect match
Our list of date ideas that fit a college budget includes everything from free dates to indoor and outdoor dates.
Whatever you like best, roll with it. Maybe you'll meet someone who wants to do them all with you!
Free date ideas in college
- Watch the sunset or sunrise together: The perfect first date, or 3rd or 10th. Watching the sunset or sunrise is romantic, sweet, intimate, and passes so quickly you don’t have to worry about getting too awkward (typically applicable to first dates only). But truly, if you’re looking for a free and romantic date idea, a sunrise or a sunset checks all the boxes. Just don’t forget a blanket!
- Go for a drive and listen to a playlist you make together or your favorite artist you both like: If you’ve been dating for a bit of time, this one’s perfect. You can pre-plan the playlist together with all of your favorites, or you can surprise him or her with songs that remind you of each other. It’s a fun way to make new memories and build a deeper connection. And sometimes, not talking and enjoying the moment is a really good indicator that this person is right for you.
- Have a picnic on the floor in your dorm or apartment: You can make this as fancy or un-fancy as you wish. The best part about having an indoor picnic is you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. And you can make it romantic by playing some music and lighting some candles. Just chatting together without worrying about an expensive bill from a restaurant or the people around you who might be eavesdropping will help you relax and really open up.
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Check out: How to decorate your dorm to make it the coziest place ever
- Go to a school sporting event together: Why not show a little school pride and hit up your college’s sporting event together. Tickets are usually free and it’s another way to share something in common. Or hey, maybe you’re not into sporting events - that’s okay too, get a few extra bonus points from your guy as he explains the game to you and you show interest! It might be the other way around, too.
- Have a movie marathon: Feeling a lazy date idea? Pick your top three movies each and see how many you can get through in a day. Don’t forget to take breaks to make some snacks together. What better way to spend the day than cozied up on the couch sharing a blanket and sharing your favorite films with each other?
- Make a scavenger hunt just for fun: One of the best date ideas in college! Talk about fun and adventurous, a scavenger hunt is a good way to show you’ve been listening and can show off all the places and things the person you like is into. They’ll be blown away by your effort to sweep them off their feet. Make sure you switch off who does it each time, you can even make a tradition out of this!
- Go to your campus gym and do a free activity together: Going to the gym together doesn’t have to mean you necessarily ‘work out’ together. You can go play a game of tennis, hit up the racquetball courts, or even go rock climbing, depending on what your gym offers. It’s a great way to get physically active and have fun together at the same time. You can break a sweat, laugh a lot (yes, with and at each other), and maybe learn something new! If you'd rather exercise in private, here's a roundup of workouts you can do at home.
- Play a board game: This one’s easy and a really great first date idea in college at that. Grab a board game; if you don’t have one, check the lobby of your dorm or ask your neighbor. Grab some drinks and snacks, and start placing bets on who will win.
- Binge watch a TV series together: Most people have a laundry list of TV series they want to watch but haven’t gotten to yet. So start by picking one you both haven’t seen and start bingeing. You can make this a ritual, or you can choose to only watch that particular series together. Either way, it’s a great topic of conversation to bond over, and they say if you’re into the same type of TV shows, it could be a match made in heaven. Well, okay, that’s not a saying but it should be. Here's a list of bingeworthy Netflix shows to get you started.
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- Make a time capsule: If things are going well, you'll never want to forget this part of your life. Make a time capsule together! You can write letters to your future selves. Include items that remind you of each other, and any other thing you want to include. Plan on opening it the day you graduate (or later if that doesn’t really make sense for your timeline). Just remember that even if things don’t work out with that person, it still could be fun to remember all the good times you had. Assuming no hard feelings, of course.
- Make bucket lists and steal each other’s ideas: Sit down together and start making a personal bucket list. You can include each other or solo things you want to accomplish in the next five or 10 years. Once you’re done with your own, share them and maybe you can steal some ideas from the other to add to yours. This is a really fun and easy way to get to know what someone’s future plans look like without have a boring conversation about it.
- Study together: Okay, this obviously sounds incredibly boring, and I'm sure you're thinking "C'mon, studying is not a date idea in college," but it can be kind of fun to study with the person you like. However, you must make a promise you won’t distract each other too much; only when you’re taking breaks! If you’re studying different topics, explaining what it is you're studying to the other person can actually help you understand it at a deeper level. So actually, it’s a major win for both of you and your GPAs. Plus it’s nice to have someone you can goof around with so studying isn’t SO miserable.
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- Watch a movie you’ve seen a bunch of times, try to make memes from it, then post them to Reddit: Sorry for getting oddly specific on you…. but how do you think memes come about? People like you posting things to Reddit that just stick! Make sure you both know the movie pretty well and get creative. It can be a good exercise to laugh at each other and also appreciate each other’s sense of humor!
- Go people-watching at a crowded location: Grab a seat somewhere inconspicuous and slyly do some people-watching together. Make sure it’s mostly from afar, or wait to talk about it till that person is out of range... sorry, people-watcher rules tend to be unwritten but I didn’t want you to get yourself in trouble! It can be super entertaining and also a good way to have a steady conversation. You surely won’t run out of anything to say with this one!
- Interview each other for fun and record it: This one is only relevant if you’ve had several dates under your belt and it's starting to get serious. Or maybe you’re actually in a relationship. But either way, doing an interview and asking each other a mix of serious and not so serious questions can be a really fun and really telling date idea in college. The best part about recording it is if things get more serious you will have that memory forever to reminisce on.
Indoor date ideas in college
- Cook something new together: Include each other in every step of the process, from finding the recipe, buying the ingredients and actually making it together. It’s the perfect way to bond, try something new, and actually work together to make something happen. You’d be surprised at how much fun it can be and how much you can learn along the way.
- Walk around a bookstore and pick out books you think the other would like: This is a good test of how well you know the person you’re dating. If you can pick out a book you think they’d like successfully, it means you probably listen and you know them pretty well. Get creative and go for something that’s not a best-seller. You can buy each other the books or just write them down to read next if you ever get some downtime.
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- Do a DIY project together: Pinterest has you covered on this one. Find something that looks equally challenging and do-able, has relatively cheap materials, and that you can actually utilize. Like mason jars or something to use as an organizer or maybe even something to plant in, then get to it! You can make this even more fun by playing some music, enjoying some drinks, and poking fun at each other. Take pictures with your creation so you can remember how much fun you had!
- Do an escape room: This is probably one of the most popular date ideas in college these days, and you can find them everywhere. They’re not too expensive either. What better way to put your trust in each other than working at escaping the room together?
- Take a new fitness class together: Sweating together trying something new can be rewarding individually and as a couple. You can check out a local studio near you and signup for their new customer special and see if you like what they have to offer. And then keep trying new studios until you find something new you both like.
- Go bowling: Cliche? Maybe. Fun? Always. Never underestimate the power of a competitive game of bowling to bring you closer together. Follow it up with some pizza and beers and you have the most casual date idea in college there ever was.
- Go to a museum and pretend to be an art expert: This is great if you’ve been dating for a bit so you can be comfortable role-playing. This can also be a witty way to flirt and show the person you’re dating that you have a playful side to you. You will probably laugh hysterically when you’re supposed to be quiet... whoops. But that’s all par for the course of this fun date idea.
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- Learn how to play an instrument: If you or the person you're dating plays an instrument, you can teach them or learn from them, depending on where you’re at. This is a cute and intimate way to get close to the one you love (or really like) and acquire a valuable skill. Plus, you will test each other’s patience in this type of setting, since teaching someone a skill and learning a new skill can be mentally and physically challenging - but also so rewarding.
- Coffee shop crawl: Like a pub crawl, but with coffee. What a great way to get to know each other better than over a cup of coffee... or five. You can even make this more legit by rating each coffee you get on a scale of 1-10. Be as critical as you want. Maybe you’ll find your favorite place doing this together, and have a go-to spot for all your dates to come.
- See a local band: Check out your local bars or coffee shops. Local bands play at these venues all the time and they usually have free admission! You can grab a drink and watch a band and you don’t have to worry about any awkward silence. Afterwards, you can talk about if you actually enjoyed them or not and plan your next live show together.
- Build a puzzle together: A long-term and rewarding date idea in college is to do a puzzle. You can get crazy and get 1,000 pieces or keep it simpler (under 500 pieces). Make sure you set it up in a place that it can stay undisturbed for a few days, since you might not finish it all at once. When you finish, get some spray glue to keep it together; bonus points if you frame it and give it to the other as a gift (without them knowing of course!)
- See an improv show together: You’ll laugh, you’ll feel awkward, you’ll probably aggressively relate, and you can do it with your significant other by your side. Improv shows are a riot, and even if they suck you'll have lots to talk about.
- Trivia night: A trivia night is a great date night. You can really impress the person you like, or you can crack a few jokes about yourself if you know you suck at trivia. It can be a lot of fun to come up with a ridiculous team name.
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- Go dancing: Have a fun night out on the town and go dancing as a fun date idea in college! Head to a bar that’s off-campus (make sure you get a safe ride) and dance the night away. You can show off your dance moves, enjoy some drinks, and dance close to each other all night if that’s what your heart desires.
- Go to a trampoline park: Trampoline parks are such a blast! It’s a form of exercise and shenanigans at the same time. Make sure you go during the week so that you can pay at a discounted rate, or check if your student ID can get you a percentage off the ticket value. Have fun flipping into ball pits and trying to double bounce each other as high as you can.
Outdoor date ideas in college
- Have a picnic outside: Grab some cheap takeout or make your own food and grab a blanket and don’t forget the drinks (alcoholic or not). A picnic is a romantic and chill date idea in college. Just make sure you have enough to talk about so if there’s an awkward silence you can chime in to break it.
- Go for a run together: If you’re both into health and fitness, a run could be a great date idea. You can keep pace with each other and take a little tour around your campus or the surrounding town. Sweating releases endorphins, so you’ll both feel really good and be extremely happy post-run.
- Take a hike together: If you’re surrounded by any mountains or trails, take advantage of these and go for a hike! Whether there’s a viewpoint or not, being in nature can be really relaxing and help you open up.
- Go to a public garden: In the springtime, this can be an extra fun day date idea. First, grab some coffee and then walk around the gardens admiring the flowers and the dogs and people excited for the bloom of spring. You can get to know each other even more just by enjoying a daily stroll.
- Go ice skating: The best wintertime date activity by a landslide is to go ice skating! Odds are neither of you are super seasoned in ice skating, so that makes it a lot more fun. You can learn together, be clumsy, and enjoy helping each other up off the ice every time you fall. Follow up with some hot chocolate and you have yourself a classic winter date.
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- Go to the zoo: A local zoo can be a perfect date idea in college. You can surely find something to connect on whether it’s an animal or laughing at kids who try to feed the goats and get scared. Depending on the zoo, admission can be pretty affordable - and usually you can score a student discount just by showing your student ID.
- Stargazing: Pack a bag, don’t forget the blanket, and head out for some stargazing on a warm night. Make sure you find a place that has minimal light pollution and lay down as you look up at the stars and wonder what’s out there. You can have really deep conversations doing this, and hopefully, it will make you feel a lot closer to your significant other.
- Skip rocks: If you’ve never tried this, you’re in for a treat. There’s something oddly satisfying about skipping rocks on calm water. You can perfect your technique and help each other throw the perfect rock-skipping rock across the surface of the water. Have a contest to see who can get the most skips. Loser has to buy ice cream after. Date ideas on a budget don't have to be complicated.
- Grab a ball, head to the park, and go play something together: Maybe this is a learning opportunity for you and your significant other. Whether it's football, soccer, baseball, or Wiffle ball, you can surely find something to play on the field. You can make this a super flirty game (it's the perfect opportunity to get close).
- Have a water gun or balloon fight: The best way to cool off on a hot summer day is to have a water gun or water balloon fight. You can grab some water balloons from the grocery store, and find a place to fill them up - usually just your sink will do. And then have fun pegging each other until you’re soaking wet.
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- Go longboarding or skateboarding: If one of you has a longboard or a skateboard this can be easy; otherwise, you’ll have to either buy one or rent one (I suggest the latter). Either way, grab a board and go for a joy ride. You might need to hold the other’s hand if they’ve never done it before... just to be safe of course!
- Ditch your phones and get lost together: Maybe not literally! But at least avoid using your maps app to find your way home. Start driving and see where you end up. You can find some places that you can make your spot that you’d never find if you were using your maps.
- Grab your bikes, or rent some and go for a bike ride: An easy bike ride can be pretty relaxing and a fun way to chat and explore your city/town together. You can find a place to park and enjoy a nice view that you couldn’t have accessed by car.
- Plant something together and nurture it to life: Planting is a pretty cheap, yet incredibly fun and nurturing way to decide if the person you’re spending time with is good at taking care of a living thing (without too much risk - it’s not an animal after all). So go grab some dirt, buy a plant at your grocery store or a local home improvement store/nursery and get to planting. Make sure you buy a plant that doesn’t require a lot of attention and minimal sunlight, since it will most likely live inside!
- Hit your local park and go on the equipment: Swings, slides, monkey bars.... all fair game with this fun date idea in college! You can hold hands on the swings together, so romantic. Or just sit on a park bench and sip on some fresh air in a different environment. Parks are nostalgic; maybe you'll learn how your significant other broke their arm as a kid or where they had their first childhood kiss! All great conversations to be had.
How to choose the perfect college date
When coming up with date ideas in college, you can be as cliche or as unique as you want. Likely, if you plan a date for the person you like they won't care what it is, they'll just be happy to spend time with you as they get to know you even more.
Related: How to ask out your crush on Valentine's Day
Sometimes the strangest dates can turn into the sweetest traditions you have as a couple.
But you might be wondering how to plan a date if you have a long list and no clue where to begin.
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So here's our advice on how to plan a date:
- Make sure the person you asked on a date is up for an adventure before you plan something adventurous. It would be a pretty big bummer if you planned a sweet date and then it turns out they don't like to be outside or they don't like exploring.
- Give the person you're asking out on a date some ideas of what you'll be doing to make sure they like them. Then surprise them with one. At least you'll know that they like whatever you pick out of the options you present them with.... which leads us to our next tip.
- It's important to get to know someone face to face, so maybe a first date idea is something where you can talk, and it doesn't put someone too far out of their comfort zone. Save some of the more adventurous stuff when you have a better handle on what that person likes and doesn't like.
- When in doubt, sometimes the simplest dates turn out to be the most fun.
- Last but not least, do whatever you're most comfortable with if you are feeling apprehensive. Nothing is worse than being incredibly stressed doing something with someone you like. Your first impression means a lot to them, so don't blow it, and don't get too crazy if that's not your style!
And here's our advice on how to budget for college dates:
- Don't overcommit yourself. If you know you can't afford to do something, don't commit just because you feel guilty. The best relationships start by being upfront and honest; don't start on the wrong foot.
- Avoid going out to a fancy dinner at all costs. This is by far the most expensive date you can go on, and if you're on a college budget, you're better off just skipping this part entirely. Do something else that's more fun than dinner, and you won't even miss this luxury....
- Stick to mid-level restaurant options. You know, like not-fast-fast-food. Think: Chipotle, Five Guys, Sweetgreen. These places are much more affordable, and usually also pretty damn good at that. Sure there's no romantic candlelight, but that's not the point of dating anyhow!
- If you're planning on doing an activity like going to a movie, a trampoline park, or bowling, check what days they offer super discounted rates and plan your date for that day. You can save a pretty significant amount of money doing this and it's totally worth it. Here's a tip... the busiest times are usually the most expensive. Typically a movie costs ~$17 during peak times like weekend nights, but only a fraction of that during the day or on a Tuesday night for example.
- Always look at your bank account and be aware of how much money you have, and don't make the mistake of overdrawing your bank account on a date. It's obviously embarrassing, and doesn't come off as a good look to the person you're on a date with.
Dating is always a little difficult, and dating on a college budget is even harder.
But with all these ideas, tips, and loopholes, you can definitely get the most out of your money and still feel like you are giving the dating scene your best effort!