When you go to school in New York City, you have a lot of options if you have the money. If you don't have a lot of money, it's a good idea to get involved around campus. I don't think there's one big thing everyone gets involved in. Athletics are important, but our teams never do well (except for our fencing team, which regularly produces Olympic competitors). The theater groups are a little insular, and actors and writers generally float between groups. We have two improv comedy groups, as well as a sketch comedy group. Sometimes the humor is a little esoteric, but they manage to keep it fresh. There are a lot of parties, but people often have trouble deciding when to host them, and as a result, there can be three parties going on the same night. Fraternities and sororities aren't really important. And only one has good parties. Incidentally, the one with good parties is one of the few co-ed Greek organizations in the country (Alpha Delta Phi). Very social campus, very kind, lots of drinking, some other things, lots of fun. If you're not into any of that, you can easily leave and explore New York City. Chinatown is a personal favorite.
If there's a holiday of any kind - for any major religion or ethnic group and most minor ones too - likely some group on campus will be holding an event for it. There are organizations for practically everything. It's not that easy to start a recognized student group but it's quite easy to find your place in one that interests you. There is always something going on - you can never claim to be bored! Plenty of non-drinking fun is available. Around campus there are no end of restaurants and cultural centers, plus we live in New York where you could find practically anything that suits your interest. Definitely go to the Bhakti Club events - they have something for everyone and tons of the best delicious (and suitable and/or modifiable for practically any restrictive diet) FREE food!
The best thing about being located in New York is the number of resources it provides to ensure a fabulous social life. If the bar scene doesn't thrill you, there's always a concert, or bowling, or jazz clubs, or theater, or the movies, and at any hour of the night, any day of the week that you're looking for it. Most recently I went to a venue that has pool tables, foosball, ping pong, and other games in addition to a live jazz band through most of the night, and actually amused myself with some friends simply playing Scrabble. You never know what's in store for you when you go out in NYC and that is exactly what makes Columbia so fabulous.
If I had to pick a certain type of group that's most popular, it would be the cultural groups. From dance to martial arts to choirs and more, there is the opportunity to get involved in any sort of social or cultural activity from any part of the world. I'm a white student from Maryland, but I'm a proud member of Columbia Raas, a traditional Indian dance team. We perform garba/raas dance in cultural showcases around NYC, as well as competing in dance competitions all over the country. It's just one example of how you can totally step out of your comfort zone and experience something you never thought you would.
The amazing part of Columbia's social life is the range of activities that are permissible on any given night. If a person didn't want to drink on a Saturday night, he or she could go to a Broadway show, a concert in Brooklyn, a Zagat-Rated restaurant in The Village, or just experience the nightlife in the Meatpacking District. If a person did want to stay on campus, he or she could definitely meet up with people at one of the local Columbia bars, go to one of the frat parties around here, or rent a movie at our indie video store Kim's and stay in with friends.
It depends on what dorm room you live in. The LLC is much more quiet in comparison to others. I met my closest friends through my sorority and also, my floormates from freshman year. People party fairly frequently by going to local bars, etc. Fraternities and sororities aren't all that important, mostly because many greek organizations do not have housing that can accommodate more than 6 people. Last weekend I went to a bar in the '80s, did some leisurely studying, laundry, and biked down to the Chelsea Piers.
Columbia social life is what you make of it. At a glance it is incredibly lame, but if you meet the right people and can make your own fun it is a great time. The Greek life seems to be run but neonazi's as there is basically no such thing as a frat party anymore. There seems to be a war on fun at our school and I hear people complaining all the time. There are ways around it and as I said if you know the right people and put yourself out there, a good time can be had.
Greek life isn't that big on campus; only 13% of students choose to participate. However, I like how it created a smaller community for me within Columbia. Aside from that, on campus there are always guest speakers and free concerts (last week John Legend performed!). On weekends clubs throw parties or have study breaks with free food. I tend to go down town quite a bit to restaurants and clubs. Its nice to be able to get away from campus every once and a while.
Since I am involved in Greek Life, for me it is a large part of my life. I really enjoy being part of such an intimate group of young women who I easily get along with and can call on when I need anything. Its a great feeling to have such a great support group or people to go out and just have fun with. There is always something going on at Columbia, whether it is free theatre tickets, speakers, or class semi-formals, etc.
Greek life is not overwhelmingly important, but it is getting more and more involved in the social scene. It is pretty laid-back in a good way. Off campus, it's fun to go see shows, museums, eat out at restaurants, go see a movie, take a walk in the park....etc. People tend to party every weekend, popular nights are Thursdays/Fridays/Saturdays, and Wednesdays for the seniors too.