The college experience is a time to study and prepare for a career, but also to discover new talents, explore new places and mature. Students make friends from all over the world and, as they do, they learn about life and about themselves.

Living in a dormitory, competing in a sport or academic contest, socializing through organized clubs and volunteering in the community are often parts of a U.S. college experience. Many graduates look back on their college days as the best days of their lives.

Marhonda Echols cheers for her brother, Timothy Holley, as he graduates from Bridgewater College.

Anderson University student Federico Boscaini (left) talks with visitors to a business school classroom that simulates a stock exchange trading floor.

A student helps herself at the salad bar at Kenyon College. Cafeterias such as this one offer healthy and locally grown fare.

Florida State’s Ivey Slaughter guards Boston College’s Karima Gabriel in a basketball game. Some international student-athletes can receive financial aid.

Student demonstrators join university employees to protest proposed changes to employee benefits at the University of Tennessee.

Rutgers University students join townspeople in a vigil following the suicide of a bullied LGBT student. U.S. colleges provide opportunities for civic participation.

Having painted her face with her school’s colors, a pep band trombonist from Stony Brook University performs at a basketball championship game.

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All photos © AP Images