It comes as no surprise that transitioning to college can have a big impact on your social life. The first year brings with it countless new people to meet, an unfamiliar social culture, and for some of you, an adjustment to life away from home for the first time. Most schools know how big the transition can be, and do a great job helping new students get acclimated and feel at home in their new environment. That being said, every campus is different and you should think about what kind of culture and social scene will fit your needs before choosing a school. Click through to read about factors to consider, questions to ask and how to get information about some of these details.
You may have heard school counselors and current students talk about a college’s community - how it’s diverse, relaxed, intense, or any number things. But what exactly is a college community? While it’s a little hard to pin down, here are some key questions you can ask to get an idea. How big is the school? What clubs/organizations are offered? Is the campus part of a city, or set back on its own? What health and mental health resources are offered by the school and in the greater community? Are sports a big deal on campus? Are there places of worship near or on campus? It’s a lot to consider, but all of these (and other similar questions) can affect how intimate, energetic, and open a college community might be. You might also try talking to current students to get a feel for a school’s vibe – this can be someone you know who attends, an admissions officer who can put you in touch with a current student, or a student you meet during a campus visit. And finally, consider how the answers to all of these questions fit with your personal, cultural, religious, emotional, and health needs/preferences. Finding a community that suits your needs and personality will help you thrive and feel comfortable on campus.
The Party Scene
Featured widely in movies, stories, and countless urban myths, parties play a major social role at the vast majority of colleges across the country, and it’s important to consider how the presence of a party scene might affect your college decision. Contrary to popular belief, not all party cultures are created equal. First, some campuses are dry, meaning that alcohol is completely banned on campus, while others do allow alcohol in various settings or circumstances for students who are of legal age. These policies are usually posted on a school’s website, and they can dramatically affect the ways that students socialize with one another. There are both advantages and disadvantages to attending a party school, and you should carefully consider whether a party culture - in any form - is something that you want in your college experience. If you want to get a better idea of a school’s party scene, consider checking out online lists of “top party schools,” talking with current students, or going for an overnight visit.
The Greek Scene
While it might not all be toga parties and drinking games, Greek systems (fraternities and sororities) are unique social forces on college campuses. You’ll usually see established Greek systems in medium-sized and large schools, and they are particularly popular in schools without many alternative options for a nightlife, like those in rural settings. The prospect of having Greek culture at your fingertips can be an exciting option for many students when thinking about potential colleges, while many others might not see Greek life as a priority, or prefer that it does not have a presence on the campuses they are considering. Be assured that all of these opinions are normal, common, and pose no danger to the way you’ll fit in at school. However, the presence of a Greek system is nonetheless an important social factor to consider when selecting a school. If you like the idea of going Greek, look up a school’s recruitment policies (often listed on their website), and talk with current Greek members at that school to get a first-person account of the Greek experience.
It may not immediately come to mind when thinking about sociability in college, but safety is critical in defining a school’s social atmosphere. Adequate security is important in allowing students to feel comfortable on campus, especially for those who’ve experienced past trauma. If you want to get an idea of how a school is working to protect its student body, try looking at its public safety and campus police websites. And pro tip: thanks to the Clery Act, all schools have to disclose information about major crime on or near their campuses - check out this online tool for easy access to all that data. You can also look at the College Choice list of the 50 Safest Large Colleges and Universities in America.