You do not need a telescope. Some astronomy is best done with the naked eye or binoculars (7X or 10X are fine). Here are some examples: variable star observing, meteor counting, large celestial objects (i.e. planets, Moon, and Beehive Cluster), and last, but definitely not least, comets.
So the best way to start out, is to get a star chart. A star chart can be found in the latest issues of Sky & Telescope and Astronomy. Since you're just starting, you might want to pick up Astronomy first. Then go out and learn the constellations and stars.
Go to a star party! This is a good way to learn about the hobby. At star parties, you will find knowledgeable astronomers who know the difference between a star and a planet. Not only will they give you tips, but they may also let you look through their telescopes or binoculars. Sometimes there are even refreshments, and if you are a college student like me, almost anything is a good excuse for free food and drink.
Once you've learned some constellations, watched some meteors, and looked through a telescope or two at a star party, then you're ready to decide if you want to invest in a telescope. Below is a list of articles that might be helpful:
Originally contributed by former AOAS member Jodin Dunbar