Yale is definitely a party school, though perhaps not in the traditional sense. There are several frats and a couple sororities, and they do throw parties, but they aren't necessarily the place to be on a Saturday night. The cultural associations tend to host good dance parties, as does student government, and individuals or groups of students throwing parties in their rooms make up a big portion of the weekend scene. There's at least one major dance/party every weekend (usually a couple), and there are always smaller parties, often on Thursday nights as well. A lot of people drink; not everyone does. There is drug use (ranging from pot to more serious substances, such as cocaine), but it doesn't define the culture, or even a single aspect of it, really. We have a lot of major events and traditions each year at Yale, including the Safety Dance (an 80s themed dance hosted by Silliman), the Yale Symphony Orchestra Halloween concert (people go crazy for Halloween around here), Sex Week, the Harvard/Yale football game, and a hundred others. People like to dress up, get drunk, and dance, and we seize every opportunity to do so. There is a scene in New Haven also, ranging from the popular and somewhat sketchy Toads (a nearby bar that often hosts good bands/musicians) to gay night clubs on Chapel Street. There is definitely enough going on on campus to keep people entertained, though. Dating can be difficult. Yale students are very busy people, and it's hard to find time to develop a relationship. It seems as though people often end up dating their friends, since they hang out with them a lot anyway. There is also the drunken-hook-up option, which is fairly popular. As I mentioned, politics and general activism are big on campus. Theater and a capella are also huge. The "rush" process for a capella is more intense than that of sororities or fraternities. Yale has very strong art and music programs, so there are always student art showings, orchestral concerts, and exhibits up at the University Art Gallery and the Center for British Art. In addition to all this, there is a constant stream of guest speakers, Masters' Teas (famous/cool people come to chat), and debates. I actually can hardly begin to talk about activities at Yale without exhausting myself... Oh, and on a Tuesday night, a student up at 2 am is probably doing homework. But she might be doing it with a group of friends, and they might have consumed a beer or two to loosen up before settling down to that p-set.
There are so many drama shows going on each weekend (and it's always fun knowing, for example, 10 people in the spring mainstage show or something like that.) A capella is really big here too, and the members of a capella groups are really close (it's like having an entirely separate group of friends to hang out with). Also, a capella jams go on several times a month, and some of them are free, so you don't have to worry about spending too much on going to all of your friends' shows. Also, the organizations on campus and even Yale itself host many dances and shows - in fact, Saybrook college got Gunther to have a concert here, and BEN FOLD AND LUDACRIS IS COMING TO OUR SPRING FLING, which is an annual spring concert Yale hosts. Drinking/drugs/debauchery is actually not that big of a deal at Yale as is rumored. You can have a perfectly normal and fun life not drinking/doing drugs/debauching - you could go to shows, eat out at really great restaurants, see movies, etc. You could probably even go through your entire college experience having not seen any sort of drugs. However, if do want drinking/drugs/debauchery to be part of your social life at an academically-excellent university, then Yale is definitely a fun place to go. We have our fair share of partiers, even though our partying scene isn't “in-your-face.” Tailgaiting (especially for The Game) is really fun and everyone should go to that. Mostly, students go out and party on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, so, during the week, campus is fairly quiet with most everyone studying or just hanging out in rooms. There are a couple of clubs around campus, like Toad's or Gotham, that a lot of students go to, but I usually try to not go to that. A lot of upperclassmen (mostly juniors) live off campus, so there are several off campus parties during the weekends.
Cultural Houses: I spend a lot of my time at the Asian-American Cultural Center, one of Yale's four (soon to be five) cultural houses on campus. The cultural groups here are great - you don't have to be of a certain racial background to participate in any events hosted by the student groups of each house. For example, I've listened to spoken word at the Af-Am (African-American) House and eaten tamales with my friends at La Casa (Latino House). The Game: The annual Yale vs. Harvard football game is probably one of the biggest traditions among the undergrads. It's the one event that brings absolutely everyone together in the biggest display of school pride, ever. The bands and half-time shows are great, and the atmosphere is absolutely fun and crazy in the best of ways. Stay Up Late: Doing homework (lab reports, finishing papers) and just talking to people. Our residential college system is a great way to explore other parts of campus and talk to different groups of people. Student groups and residential colleges also provide study breaks, where you can relax from work and mingle with other people over yummy snacks. Sometimes the best friendships are made when you walk into a common room and just sit down for a two-hour conversation with a then-stranger. The unique stories and experiences of every person on campus are incredible...you just have to take the time to sit down and talk.
Everyone seems to be involved in 1-3 extracurriculars, which they love. Each of these extracurriculars either does not affect the rest of their life at all (most publications, community service) or it completely dominates their life (a capella, YPU parties, the YDN). Theatre and a capella are very active, well supported and visible; athletics are less so, but there's a sizeable contingent who's into them. Some people are really into their residential college, but they are usually very boring people. Parties are a big deal; they are very varied and are always happening, at the very least, Thursday-Saturday. Wednesday and Saturday a lot of people go to Toad's, which is this dance club on York St. It's pretty cheesy but a good way to find someone drunk to hook up with. One thing that's nice about New Haven is that the rent is low enough that a lot of people can move off campus and host great parties in off campus apartment; this provides an alternative to the generally subpar frat scene. Luckily though, it's not hard even to throw parties in freshman dorms: alcohol is essential legal on campus for all ages.
Yale's social life takes place entirely on campus or in a few select bars right off campus. New Haven (though vastly improved since I lived there) is not a great city, or even a mediocre city. Most of what you do while at Yale actually happens AT Yale. Since everyone is so involved in so many things, there's always four plays going up at any given time, plus dance recitals, music performances, film screenings and so much goddamn acapella that you can't NOT see it at some point while you're a student. So, what I'm saying is a typical weekend night is going to see your friend in something they're doing, and then going and getting drunk at dorm parties. That's fine ... it's cheaper and more reliable than trying to drink with a fake ID at Rudy's. There's no Greek system to speak of. I mean, there are a couple frats and sororities, but they aren't recognized by Yale, so there's none of that Greek system running the social scene thing that you see in all the college movies.
I hang out with my friends pretty much every night of the week. Drinking (and getting drunk) on weeknights probably won't raise eyebrows. There are lots of ways to party- the boring, typical Toads style, where you dress slutty, dance drunkenly, and hook up randomly; the more personal suite party, where much of the same happens, but it's less dirty; the intellectual gatherings where you sit with friends and a bottle of vodka and wax philosophical until the sun comes up; and then all sorts of parties thrown by this group or that... it's not hard to find your scene. 2am on a Tuesday I'm probably reading or doing homework after getting back from Yorksides after a Yale Political Union debate. (After each YPU debate it's traditional to go to Yorksides afterwards for pizza- often the guest speaker will come along.)
Extracurriculars are socially mandated at Yale. Everyone is involved in something. Most people will get involved in something political and also something that may be related to their possible future career. Going out on weekends to party is much less ubiquitous - probably 50% or possibly less of the student body does so. This is the largest social divide on campus. Students who go out to frats or Toads will rarely interact with students who don't. Joining a frat definitely isn't a requirement, but it's much bigger than the sorority scene, and they throw lots of parties. In terms of dating, it's true that at Yale, people are either married or hooking up with random people. Either is a respectable option and both are relatively easy to do.
There are hundreds of student groups at Yale, from a capella to sports, politics to religious groups, cultural houses to frats and sororities. It's really hard to say what the most popular groups are, since there are a lot of varying interests at Yale. Socially, though, every weekend there are plenty of things to do--from suite parties to frat parties, dances to student shows and performances. Frats and sororities are not that big here--they're there if you want it, but I know I'm not in a frat and don't feel inhibited at all in terms of my social life. I'm involved in the Yale College Council [Yale's student government], Yale College Democrats, the Office of Sustainability, and various activities within my residential college, Davenport.
New Haven can sometimes be dangerous (no worse than other cities), so people try to be careful about security. But most of the crimes are just armed robberies. Athletics are pretty popular among the athletes, but that is a very separate world form the rest of Yale. I never hear about sports events. I tend to hear about naked parties and performances, etc. Or philosophy lectures. There is really a mind-blowing amount of activities going on every night, for any type of person. There are a lot of fraternities and a few sororities, but they tend to have their own social scene. Sometimes they throw parties. As a girl, at least, there is no pressure to join a sorority.
ISO!! ISO!!! ISO!!! Dorms open? Depends on the lock (present or absent.) Athletic events? Assez. Guest speakers? Meryl Streep! Theater? Huge. Dating scene: ALL RELATIONSHIPS COME TO YALE TO DIE. Closest friends? Imported together. 2am on a Tuesday? Masturbating. Traditions/events? Casino Night, the Game, COMA, Screws, Safety Dance etc. etc. (look it up) People party? Wed through Sun. Frats? Non-essential, fun times. Last weekend? Got drunk thurs to sun night, got behind in homework, cried. Non-drinking fun? Come to my dorm, baby, FB22E, you'll love it. Off campus? New Haven glory town. Koffee, Toad's.