If you weren’t the type of person to go to parties in high school, you probably thought that the kids who did were, in some form or fashion, bad news. That assumption kind of gets flipped on its head once you enter college, where the vast majority of students attend parties on a regular basis even if they choose not to drink, or choose to drink very little. Parties in college have the potential to define your social life.
And even if you did go to parties in high school, college gatherings can be an entirely different animal. Here’s what to expect, look out for and guard against when you step out of the residence hall and into the world of collegiate recreation.
1. There will be lots and lots of booze
Never expect to go to party and not have access to as much booze as you could possibly want. You could take 25 shots if you wanted to (don’t), or you could take zero. Make sure to draw the line where you feel most comfortable. There is a lot of peer pressure to drink, and it can be hard to resist in a college culture that makes alcohol so readily available, even if you’re not 21. If you choose to take part, that’s cool. If you are choosing not to drink, try to find other people who have made the same choice so you can support each other. Or find friends who don’t mind (or even prefer) to have a Sober Sally around. W hatever choices you make, be sure that you are comfortable with them and don’t let other people pressure you to do things you don’t want to.
2. You’re going to see everyone you know
It’s always nice to run into friends, especially in social situations like college parties where the more friends you have, the better. Other types of on-campus-run-ins can be great (hello sexy TA with the Scottish accent); other times they can be quite awkward (good evening, Professor). Just don’t be shocked or thrown off by who you find at parties. And remember this: if the person happens to be someone you don’t like or get along with for whatever reason, don’t bring down the rest of the party with your drama. Just be polite and enjoy the night with whoever is there.
Other people you might run into: The Girl From High School You Never Thought Would Drink, The Guy You Thought Had No Friends, actual adults who probably had to find baby sitters, and your RA.
3. People are going to be very, very messed up
Partygoers are going to be consuming large quantities of alcohol and—surprise!—their behavior will be affected because of it. If you never drank or were around drunk people before college, you may not realize just how…how do I put this…bizarrely alcohol can make people behave. There is no set number for how many drinks it takes to get someone over that line; it’s different for every person. So don’t be shocked to see people behaving in very unclassy ways, including but not limited to: dancing on tables, dancing on bars, dancing with no shirt on, dancing with nothing on, making out with a stranger in a crowd, making out with two strangers in a crowd, doing more than making out in a crowd…point being that even the most straight-edged college kids can get a little weird when they get a couple shots of cheap vodka in them. Have fun and enjoy the show, but never allow anyone to make you feel uncomfortable and stick close to your friends.
4. Some people may have ulterior motives
I’m not here to judge people’s motives for going out, drinking and meeting people. College is the time for exploration and experimentation. As my mother told me one night on the phone during my freshman year, “Now is the time to sow your wild oats.” (I love you, Mom) But always, always, ALWAYS employ a healthy dose of skepticism when you go out. Does that guy really think you’re funny, or does he have other plans? Why does he jump up to refill you’re drink every time it’s empty? And if there is one rule that everyone, guy or girl, should never forget when they go out is to never let anyone open or pour your drink for you. Roofies are a real thing, they’re serious, and I’ve known both men and women who have had entire nights wiped out because certain people have a lower moral code than the rest of us.
To end on a lighter note…
5. Everyone is going to be dressed to impress
If you are thinking of wearing your high school senior field-day shirt anywhere but your dorm, think again. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t go out wearing the same clothes you throw on for your 8 a.m. biology lecture. It’s my experience that college women generally know how to dress for the social scene; guys, however, are a different story. Ditch the basketball shorts, sneakers and that shirt you got from your vacation to Destin. Consider button-downs, nice jeans or snappy-casual t-shirts. Most of the women I know work hard to look nice, so it’s high time for men to return the favor! And dress for the occasion. If you know that the party is going to be pretty casual, there’s no need to look like you’re going to eat at a 5 star restaurant. But if you think it’s going to be a more formal affair, make sure you’re wardrobe has plenty of options. And never forget that it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, even in college.
The most important thing to remember when going out is to have fun. Look at parties as ways to meet people and blow off steam. Don’t immediately approach them as a means to get obliterated. Remember that alcohol can be fun when enjoyed maturely, but also things can get sketchy any time drinking is involved. Just know how to rise above it.