What it’s like to attend a school with a small, moderate, or intense party scene

Party Schools

By Nikki Martinez

Right up there with academics and athletics, students have strong opinions about how their school is viewed in terms of its party scene. Some take pride in a prevalent rowdy, boozy culture, while others like partying at their campus to be kept to a more discreet minimum. But what is it really like to attend a campus with an intense, moderate, or small party scene, according to students? More specifically, how would a prospective student assess what scene is the right fit, and moreover how should an incoming student adjust accordingly in order to make the most out of the college experience? In order to answer these questions, we must first define the varying degrees of party-dom.

Let’s call a party any gathering of people whose sole purpose is to have fun while drinking alcohol. Whether it is sponsored by the school, at a house, at a fraternity, put on by a club, what have you, it counts. Factors that traditionally contribute to, but don’t determine, the frequency of parties include weather, location, and perhaps concentration of students. For instance, the University of Florida and University of Colorado at Boulder are both considered to be pretty intense party schools, but the former is on the beach and the latter is in the Rockies. But I digress. Let’s take an objective look at three points along the partying spectrum (small, moderate, and intense), try to understand what the real difference is between them, and what you can expect from each.

Small Party Schools

Campuses where the number one complaint is that there’s “nothing to do” fit in this category. The schools with which this reputation is most commonly associated are academically rigorous schools with highly competitive students. The two go hand-in-hand because not only are the classes tough, but students seem to not want to take a break for fear of falling behind, contributing to the apparent lack of social scene.

While not a hard and fast rule, smaller schools also tend to have smaller party scenes. Students tend to know most people they go to school with and choose to entertain other options. “You can go to parties and be sober, you can hang out with friends, you can see a movie or a performance, and do what you would do on any night out without alcohol,” says Rachel, a Swarthmore College student. At these schools, students certainly socialize and spend time together; they just don’t concentrate much on getting drunk. If you’re planning on attending a school with a small party scene, be open to discovering other ways to unwind, whether it’s exploring the town, attending shows and concerts, playing games, or hanging out with friends. And if you’re still in need of some old-fashioned partying, find the closest college where there is a party scene and get your fix.

Moderate Party Schools

The separation between moderate and intense party scenes really comes down to the culture and reputation of the school. A moderate party school has a thriving social scene with options for going out every weekend. Celeste, a sophomore from the University of California, Santa Barbara weighs in on her school. “I think that UCSB is somewhere between a moderate and an extreme party school. Because of Isla Vista's location and dense population of students, you can find a party every day between Thursday and Saturday. The party scene is always available, but you can have a great night with friends without going out to a party.”

Students like to have fun and make time for it. But partying isn’t what defines the experience there. There isn’t a general, school-wide pride in the fact that you can rage every night, for no reason at all. Parties at these schools are usually just among friends and close acquaintances. It’s rare for someone to walk into a fraternity house or a stranger’s house, uninvited, just because you see a party going on. The good thing about going to a moderate party school is you won’t have to feel you’re sacrificing study time for going out, or vice versa. There’s room for both! 

Intense Party Schools

“Mostly everyone goes out, at least three times a week [excluding weekends], for there's always something going on. Whether a frat is holding an open party, or friends just hang out together before heading downtown, students find any excuse to go out.” Eileen, a student at Colgate University, describes her university’s party culture to a tee. A campus with an intense party scene means students often (sometimes daily) make the choice between partying and doing something else.

What’s somewhat surprising is that academic rigor usually doesn’t have much to do with this category. Ivy League and other top tier schools are often considered to be heavy partiers. This is partly because its students tend to be more affluent, so they can afford to buy alcohol and drugs, and also because of a “work hard, play harder” mentality. In other words, students at these schools blow off steam and cope with stress in different ways than their small party scene counterpart. They must use their time wisely and get their studying in because they know there’s a party going on somewhere.  As Jane, a student from Princeton puts it, “There isn't that much to do here [scene-wise] that doesn't involve drinking.”

Incoming students will definitely be able to jump right into the social scenes, without any problem. The hard part will be making the right decisions and learning when to pass on the party. Whether or not partying with alcohol is your cup of tea, it is worth exploring your social options, outside of what you’re used to. And remember--if your school doesn’t seem to fit your particular party profile, chances are there are others like you who feel the same way. Find them and go have a great time!