Stanford has a wide array of student groups - some of the most popular are Green oriented (e.g. SSS - Students for a Sustainable Stanford) and range from advocacy oriented (e.g. MAAN: Men Against Abuse Now) to debate centric (e.g. AHA: Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics) to more artistic groups (e.g., acting, juggling, and dance groups). It's easy enough to start your own group and get funding - I know from personal experience as co-president of a food justice group on campus for two years. The difficulty lies in garnering enough help from members to make the group successful. It's a common complaint from student group presidents (me included) that unless Stanford students have an official high ranking title in the group, things won't get done. This goes for the more advocacy oriented groups than the artistic ones. Speaking of artistic groups - Stanford has an AWESOME tight-nit dance community. As a member of a salsa group on campus, and as someone who takes part in alot of the dance events at Stanford, I can say that if you love dance (or want to learn!) Stanford's a great place to be. In terms of the social scene - there's definitely a place for everybody, but Stanford isn't known to be that "happening" if you're into clubs and bar hopping (which I am, so that was a bit of a disappointment for me :)). When people refer to Stanford as a bubble it's in large part because students tend to stay on campus for their social needs. And most students are happy with what Stanford has to offer. Every week there's at least one or two campus wide parties in dorms or on "the row" (the upperclassman houses considered to be the best place to live) by co-ops, fraternities, and sororities. Those who are feeling motivated will head to the city (SF) about 40 minutes away by car, or downtown Palo Alto (10 minutes), though the latter has fewer options. For those who don't drink, you'll be happy to know that around 1/5th of Stanford students don't drink, and there's very little peer pressure to do so (I know from personal experience). If you want to have fun on the weekends without drinking and hard core partying it's very easy! As mentioned before there's a great dance community which throws socials on the weekends. Additionally, many Stanford students can enjoy relatively tame nights with their friends in their dorm rooms. All in all, Stanford's social scene is pretty good. I should repeat, though, that if you enjoy more exciting and eclectic nights out, Stanford isn't exactly the right place - largely due to the "bubble" phenomenon and its distance from SF.
Student groups are definitely a younger student dominated thing. Every freshmen joins every single group, but by senior year you realize that student groups are actually relatively inefficient and not worth your time, and you would rather focus more on your academics and save your free time to be with the people you care about. At least that is true for me and my friends. Students in dorms, at least freshmen dorms, definitely leave their doors open, and the same can be said for the coop communities. It is a very open place, and lots of people like to hang out in common areas and socialize. Events and speakers are definitely popular, but amongst certain groups of people. You will see the same crowd at the athletic events every time, and the same crowd at the Ethics in Society events every time. Dating is pretty non-existent, but I think that is a more general trend true of our generation (I could be wrong about that). People date seriously, but there is not a whole lot of casual, let's go out to dinner on friday or maybe a movie kind of dating. People party as much as they want to. There are always things happening on Wed-Sat nights, and Sun, Mon and Tues tend to be more studying nights, but people are more or less involved in the party scene depending on their preferences. Off campus I love to go into San Fransisco or Berkeley and study in a coffee shop or go to a museum, or go out for dinner and a few drinks. We also go camping/hiking a lot, go to the beach, go to concerts, etc. There is no end to the awesome things that can be done off campus in this area, although it definitely helps if one person in the group has a car because public transportation is not ideal. There is plenty to do on a Saturday night that doesn't involve drinking, including watching movies, seeing theatre performances either on campus (tons of great theatre stuff on campus) or off, hanging out with friends, going hot-tubbing, etc. I don't feel like there is any unnecessary pressure to drink in order to be social or have fun, and I feel like there are lots of creative people who do fun spontaneous things that don't involve any alcohol. There is a social scene for whatever you like, and if there isn't, you just create it. People are always down to go along with some plans you make that sound fun and interesting.
Saturday-night fun without drinking is hard to come by; there are parties in frats and co-ops, and people throw room parties in dorms and houses pretty frequently. The dating scene isn't anything to write home about, and though gays and lesbians can be very open about their sexuality, the LGBQ scene isn't very much fun. Also, there are an extraordinary number of closeted gay men- I don't know why they don't come out, but probably at least half the gays on campus are in the closet (not many people will mention this because they simply aren't aware of it, but believe me, I know). Meeting people is pretty easy, but close friends tend to be made in freshmen dorms because that's where people have time to spend with each other. Depending on who you're friends with, weekends can start Wednesday night, Friday or Saturday (or never, if your friends don't like to party). There are a fair number of traditions- Band Run, fountain hopping- but participation is voluntary. Extracurriculars are numerous, loads of fun and totally worth getting involved with, but it can be really hard to balance them with academics. It's all about choosing carefully and investing time well- with parties, friends and extracurriculars.
One thing that Stanford students have to lean, is that there is always something going on and one cannot attended every event. Around the year there are speeches of famous people held in auditoriums on campus and as a student with limited spare time one had to decide very carefully which events to attend. So no worried, there is enough going on. Freshman students usually live in dorms with sizes between 80 to 150 students. By the end of the first quarter one got to know all there people and many more outside of the residence. This is a very good way to get to know a lot of people in very short time and allows for a vivid social life in ones vicinity. Parties are usually held at by fraternities, ranging from pure drinking parties to dancing parties. Additionally every imaginable interest has a student group on campus (and when there isn't, just create it!) So whatever your interests are, you will find people with just the same interest right on campus and get to pursue your activity further. Or you might decide to dive into something completely new by taking up an activity you might have never dreamed of before.
There are things for everyone! I wish there was more of a social space for people to hang out on campus besides dorms at night. We have a new Student Union but it is very dry so far. It seems that most things on campus are structured so that you can work in them, not just hang out. That is a bit of a downer. People who party usually go out Friday or Saturday. If you party harder, you go out Friday and Saturday. Some will start partying on Thursday, and the big drinkers start Wednesday. I would say you get off campus once every two-four weeks during your first two years. It also really depends on if you have a car. There is a ton of stuff to do within an hour from campus, but very little five minutes away. If you have a car- go explore! Athletic events are very popular, but I have friends on almost every athletic team so it makes it hard to go to everything because every team is so good. Many who date date seriously for a long time. Then you have the casual daters/people who like to hook up. Then there is a big majority who don't date. It is tough to date because everyone is just so busy.
Popular groups: the Stanford band, frats/sororities, intramural sports. I was involved in the co-op community where we grew our own veggies and lived organically. I was minorly involved in the film society, but largely as a supporter of their projects, and not as a participant. Students in dorms sometimes leave their doors open - it depends on the dorm. Athletics are very popular. Guest speakers/theatre are a bit less popular. The dating scene is confusing and odd, but that's probably because students are young and unsure of their needs and wants. I met my closest friends in my dorms and in classes. If I'm awake at 2AM on a Tuesday, I'm watching Saved By The Bell with roomies. Traditions: Full Moon on the Quad, the Band Run, (others I'm forgetting). People party to different degrees: it could be 5 nights a week, or not a single one. Frats/Sororities seem to be important, but I wasn't in one. On a Saturday night, you could study. Off-campus, you can visit San Francisco and take a breather from the bubble. And then return.
Freshman Year Social Life: Trying to get beer at frat parties, playing beer pong. Very liberal policy at Stanford where RA's are more hands off in enforcing no underage drinking, although because of a consistent stream of hospital visits for alcohol poisoning, this may change in future years. Sophomore Year: Some frat parties, hanging out with the close group of friends you made freshman year, exploring off campus more frequently. If you're into co-ops, co-op parties (way better than frat parties). Junior Year: Mostly hanging out with close group of friends + off-campus activities. Hosting room parties. Senior Year: Often more focused on academics, honors thesis, graduate school, find a job, etc. But also a lot of fun senior events to attend (formals, Pub Night). Summary: Stanford is really social, you won't lack for opportunities to party here.
Students do really leave their doors open in the dorms, although we are discouraged from doing so. Theft does happen, and people do lose Ipods and laptops here and there. There is always some event to go to so it's impossible to be truly bored at Stanford; if you're bored, it's probably cuz you're procrastinating and too lazy to get up and do anything else. People are up at all hours of the night, and they can be doing anything, from studying, to partying randomly, to playing video games, to just talking. Weekend/weekday schedules are much less rigid in college than they are in high school or later in life. Some people study on Saturdays, some party on Wednesdays. If students leave campus, they usually have a purpose, like shopping at Walmart or Target. There isn't much to do in the town of Palo Alto. So people go to San Francisco, which is a cool city.
Stanford is a competitive Division I school, so there are a lot of athletes. There are so many random clubs and organizations on campus, though, that most people seem to be involved in something or other, even if there’s not an athletic bone in their body. There are a lot of concerts and shows, from major productions at Frost Amphitheatre to little music gigs at the CoHo. It’s nice to have activities to break up your studies at night, and Stanford was good about that. The frat scene was also pretty big, but they are certainly not the only places to party. The Row, a main social spot, is made up of co-ops and theme houses as well. There are often dinners and theme parties that have nothing to do with the frat scene, but will happen alongside them.
There are always enthusiasts for every event, from football games to guest speakers to dorm cookie decorating. Dorms are great for social life; there have been many instances when I'm staying up through the night just chilling with people and getting to know them. Stanford traditions are also a great way to bond with people. Big Game (Stanford vs. Cal football game) is a huge rallying force within the entire Stanford community. There is a huge range of social activity at Stanford. Even though there aren't nearby clubs to a large extent, people always find fun, non-drinking things to do on weekends, like get a band together and jam, or watch a movie on a big screen in the history corner, or play capture the flag in the middle of the night.