College Life 101: Discovering the Social Scene of a School and What This Means for You


A group of girls gather in their dorm playing video games and enjoying a break between classes.

There are factors to discover when preparing for the transition to college life.  Should you attend a big 10 school because you’ve always wanted to get dressed head to toe in your university gear, huddled together with friends, while cheering on your college football team?  Or should you attend a small, liberal arts school where you can count the number of students in your class with one hand and walk down your campus quad saying hello to your peers by name? From campus community to the diversity of the student body, discovering the social composition of a school is crucial to knowing if a particular college may be the right fit for you.

You may have heard it from family and friends how important it is to go to a school that is diverse and safe.  You may have even gotten the “subtle” pressure from family members to continue the family legacy by becoming involved in greek life?  All of this means nothing if you don’t know what it means to pledge a sorority or fraternity or what a safe campus entails and what it means for you.

Let’s take a look at some factors that make up the social scene of a school.

Social factors of college life

Race/Ethnicity 

A school can be very, somewhat, or not at all diverse when it comes to race/ethnicity. Studies show that being exposed to a diverse community in college can greatly benefit you in the future. Not only can exposure to people from different backgrounds increase your cultural awareness, but it can also instill in you a commitment to racial understanding, which is very important in today’s world where it has become increasingly common for many different groups to interact and live among each other in society. 

Sexual/Gender Identity 

If you identify as LGBTQ+, you’ll want to make sure to choose a college where you will feel comfortable, safe and supported. Campus Pride is a great resource to find LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities.

Socioeconomic Status (SES) 

Do the majority of students at a school come from high-SES families, low- SES families, or somewhere in the middle – or is there a mixture of different backgrounds? It might be hard to find this information out online, so your best bet is to visit a school and/or talk to current students to get an idea of the students’ family and economic backgrounds.

Age 

Older man on the phone with a friend

Perhaps you’re just out of high school and looking to attend a college where all of the undergraduates are around your age, give or take a few years. Or, you might be a veteran of military service or an older adult who has made the decision to go back to college.  You may prefer to be around other people your age who have made the same decision. Whatever your situation and preference, make sure your school of choice aligns with them.

Religiosity 

A school can be a mixed bag when it comes to the religious backgrounds of the student body, or it can be a very homogenous environment where most students are of the same religion. Think about your own background and if it’s important to your college life for you to attend a school with many who share the same religious beliefs.

The Community 

A group of students gather outside of their dorm to take a selfie before attending a campus-sponsored event.

Some schools have a close, supportive campus community, where it can feel like the student body as well as your professors are an extension of your family. At other schools, independence and self-reliance rule. What suits your style?

If you know you want to live on campus in order to get the “true college experience,” make sure you choose a school that can provide this. Look into the residential status of the student body – do the majority live on-campus or off? Is it a largely commuter school? A good way to find out about the residential status of a campus is to contact the admissions office, or better yet, get in touch with current students or alumni.  You can also learn information on most campus websites.

The Party Scene 

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 life and your application decision . Remember, not all party cultures are created equal. 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 

Greek systems (fraternities and sororities) are unique social forces on college campuses. 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. 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.

Safety 

A feeling of security is extremely important, especially if you’re living away from home and on your own for the first time. What procedures and precautions does a school have in place to ensure student safety? How are the campus and surrounding area monitored? 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. You may also take a look at the campus newspaper to see reports of campus crime and safety.

Creating the social life you want at college

As you continue to consider which school is the right fit for you and how the college social scene can contribute to your growth and success, please take a look at more information and resources on our website.

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