After surviving my first year of college, I've come to realize that you can sometimes learn just as much by exploring parts of the Washington area as you can sitting in a 101 class.

For example, you can either read "The Great Gatsby" in freshman literature, or you can visit F. Scott Fitzgerald's grave just a few feet off Rockville Pike. The course lets you read the whole book. But Fitzgerald's tombstone gives you the novel's philosophical last line: "So we beat on, boats against a current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It's almost as though Fitzgerald foresaw that his eternal view would be of a Marlow furniture store and that his mortal remains would "beat on endlessly" against the current of traffic on Rockville Pike.

To fulfill your freshman science requirement, you can take Physics 101. Moments after the final exam, though, you probably will recall exactly one thing you learned -- "An object in motion will remain in motion." You could learn exactly the same thing by watching "The Exorcist" and then going to see the Exorcist stairs in Georgetown. Take note, though: No demonstration is necessary to prove this theory.

Poli-Sci 101 may explain the separation of powers, but if you want to see what the separation of powers is really about, visit two key locations on either side of Capitol Hill. At the Tune Inn, you'll find lower-echelon House staffers drinking cheap beer under moth-eaten moose heads. If your pocketbook permits, you can spy more affluent Senate staffers, lobbyists and even senators and representatives doing the people's business on the other side of the Hill, at the tony Capitol Grille. The menu prices are a few hundred percent higher than at the Tune Inn, but the moose heads don't appear to have been intimate with urban moths.

If politics isn't your cup of tea, and you find yourself agreeing with the following statement -- "politics is for the present, but an equation . . . is . . . for eternity" -- stop by Albert Einstein's statute at the National Academy of Sciences on Constitution Avenue. In a secluded garden there, you can take a multidisciplinary crash course in science, philosophy and history as you learn about Einstein's achievements.

Last, but certainly not least, is the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" version of American History since 1972. While more traditional students might say the most important block in the United States is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, adventurous students in the D.C. 101 course will answer that it is the 2700 block of Virginia Avenue. On one side of that block is Room 723 of the Howard Johnson's, where the Watergate scandal began. On the other side are the former Watergate apartments of Bob Dole and Monica Lewinsky.

These sights are just a few of the educational opportunities in Washington. While you may still be subject to the standard 101 courses, these real-life "Cliff Notes" are available in a much more vivid rendition than the trademark black-and-yellow booklet.

-- Erin Crahan Nagle