Discovering If the Social Scene of a College Is for You

By Joanna Nesbit and Jessica Hicks

For many students, going to college means trading high school friends and the routines of your childhood home and community for a brand-new group of people, social vibe, and culture. That’s a big adjustment. 

You can make that adjustment a bit easier for yourself long before you get to campus. As you begin considering different colleges and universities, think about what aspects of your social life are most important to you.

Here are some factors to think about and questions you can ask yourself or others as you research schools to get a better idea of their social life.

Your Personal Preferences

Think about your values and what you’re looking to get out of your college experience. Some basic things to consider are:

  • Location. Am I happiest walking the streets of a big city or when I’m in a small town?
  • Party scene. Do I want a school where parties are a focus of social life, or am I looking for a more low-key experience or place where other activities are more popular?
  • Sports. Do I want a college with a football team and a big sports culture or one with a really active performing arts scene? Or both?
  • Options for off-campus students. If I’m living at home, do I want a college that offers a lot of opportunities for me to socialize on campus?

The Student Body and Culture

You may have heard school counselors talk about a college’s culture. They may describe it as diverse, relaxed, intense, competitive, or any number of other adjectives. But that can feel a little abstract without knowing more details. 

Try talking to current students to get a feel for a school’s vibe. This can be someone you know or a student you meet during a campus visit. Or an admissions officer could put you in touch with a current student. 

Here are some key questions you can research online or ask an undergrad to get an idea about the student body and culture on campus:

  • How big is the school? 
  • What is the makeup of the student body? 
    • Is it a single-gender school?
    • Is the student population diverse in terms of race and ethnicity? 
    • Do students come from different financial backgrounds?
    • Are there a lot of first-generation students?
    • Is there an international student population?
    • Do students come from a variety of religious backgrounds? Does the school itself have a religious affiliation?
    • What is the geographic distribution of students?
    • What is the age range on campus? Is it just undergraduate students, or are there postgraduate students as well?
  • Are athletics a big part of the social scene, and are games considered big social events?
  • Is the campus culture welcoming to all kinds of students, including those with disabilities and those who identify as LGTBQIA+?


On top of understanding the student body, it’s equally important to get familiar with the location of a school you’re considering. A school’s location might affect the activities you can get involved with and the overall culture. Consider the following:

  • Is the campus part of or near a city, or is it in a more rural location or a “college town”?
  • Are there opportunities to get involved off campus in the local community that speak to your interests? 
  • Does the location of the school provide students with unique opportunities or things to do? For example, if you like to spend time outside, you might consider a school near a national park, or if you like snow sports, you might consider a school in a colder climate.

Extracurricular Activities

Getting involved in extracurricular activities is a great way to meet new people and feel connected. To get a better sense of what’s available, you might ask:

  • What clubs or kinds of organizations are offered on campus?
  • Are there clubs, organizations, or volunteer groups that get involved with the local community?
  • Are there peer support groups that speak to specific identities or backgrounds, like  Latiné, LGBTQIA+, or first-generation college students?
  • Does the school offer Division I, II, or III sports or just club or intramural teams?

The Party Scene

Some campuses have a strong party culture that’s highly visible, while on others, the parties are side events that you might not even hear about. Some schools are dry, meaning that alcohol is completely banned; others allow alcohol in certain campus settings or circumstances for students who are of legal age. 

Whether you like the idea of attending a “party school” or want to attend a college with a limited party scene, it’s worth researching the reputation of a school to get a better understanding of whether you would fit in and feel comfortable.

Greek Life

Greek systems (fraternities and sororities) are unique social forces on college campuses. Some students want to join a fraternity or sorority when they go to college to build friendships, connect with other students of a similar background, or have a ready-to-go social life. Other students might not see Greek life as a priority, or prefer that it’s not part of their college experience. 

If you like the idea of joining a sorority or fraternity, look up a school’s recruitment policies (often listed on their website) and talk with current members at that school to get a first-person account of the experience. If you’re not into Greek life, explore how much it affects the culture on campus. If fraternities and sororities have a big impact on the school’s social scene, you might decide to apply to other universities.

Affinity Housing

Some schools offer affinity housing, which is housing based on shared interests, values, or overall lifestyles. For example, students who have a common interest in fitness, practice the same religion, or choose to be sober may have the opportunity to live together in a dorm, apartment building, or a different type of housing. Check out each school’s residential life information online to see whether affinity housing is an option and, if so, whether there is a good fit for you.


Safety can have a big influence on a school’s social atmosphere. Adequate security allows students to feel comfortable on campus, especially those who’ve experienced past trauma. If you want to get an idea of how a school is working to protect its student body, take a look at its public safety and campus police websites. 

Thanks to the Clery Act, all schools have to disclose information about major crime on or near their campuses. Check out this online tool for easy access to all that data. You can also look at the College Choice list of the 50 safest large colleges and universities in the United States.

Campus safety is more than just low crime stats. It also includes how well a campus looks after its students’ wellness and how inclusive it is of all kinds of students. Students who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to have a positive college experience. 

Explore campus supports and safe spaces for different populations, like first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students, LGBTQIA+ students, students of color, and students with disabilities. The level of support available tells you something about how welcome a particular group is. Talking to current students will also give you insight. 

And finally, consider how the answers to all these questions fit with your personal, cultural, religious, emotional, and health needs and preferences. Finding a community that suits your needs and personality will help you thrive and feel comfortable on campus.

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