Students disregard penalties for a social experience
Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.
He lived in student housing, ate at the school cafeteria and entered a dorm beer pong tournament. But Cory, a Blair senior, never had to write a single paper or attend a single class.
This past fall, Cory spent a week at University of Maryland College Park (UMCP), experiencing dorm life with a friend. Unlike those who organize their visit through the college's prospective students program, Cory says his overnight trip was far more improvised. His friend needed a partner to enter a week-long beer pong tournament that is an annual tradition at one of the college's dorms, and Cory volunteered. Before long, he was giving away his number to older college women between drinks.
Cory is one of many Blazers who choose not to wait until after graduation to explore campus life. Interested in the party scene, these students often skip campus tours and information sessions to socialize and drink with friends and siblings. Sarah Brooks, a UMCP campus tour guide and senior, believes that while gauging a school's student atmosphere is important for a prospective student, illegal partying can be risky. "It is an extremely important thing for students to understand the social aspects of college," she says. "But partying is questionable because it's treading a fine line." Despite the possible academic, parental and legal consequences, some Blazers temporarily overlook that college visits serve to provide information on both academic and social life. Instead, they feel that college partying offers a heightened level of freedom and fun - at what they consider to be no cost.
Strictly prohibited behavior
When it comes to college partying, Cory is now a pro. He says he has visited friends - and partied - at schools in Maryland, Washington, D.C., North Carolina and West Virginia. Cory's typical stays range from one to two nights, but he admits that his excursion to UMCP lasted a week.
While he was off winning third place in the beer pong tournament, his parents had no idea what was going on. Cory says he is usually able to visit old high school friends because his parents have met them before and believe the visits are helping move along the college search process. What he doesn't tell them is that he is not visiting in hopes of one day attending. "I've never told my mom that I drink," he says, "but if they know who I'm going with, they let me go." In the midst of a college party, Cory joins the thousands of youth under 21 years of age who, according to a 2002 Harvard study, drink almost half of the alcohol consumed on college campuses.
Matt, a junior, who visited his brother at college in New Orleans in spring of 2008, also knows that his parents would not approve of his actions. Because he and his brother are close and had been apart for four months - longer than they had ever been separated - their parents agreed to the weekend visit. But Matt says he was not interested in attending his brother's college, and his unofficial tour of the school - guided by his brother and brother's friends - did little to change his mind. "We rode a trolley car and went down Bourbon Street, but I didn't really go on a tour or visit any classes," he says.
His parents may have approved of New Orleans sightseeing, but Matt thinks that his presence at a dorm party that included alcohol and illegal drugs was probably less acceptable. Because he was with his brother, however, he faced no repercussions.
Once Cory returned to Blair, the reality of high school offered him a rude awakening. He found himself falling behind in his assignments and says his grades suffered - a taste of what can happen to college students who party too hard. According to the 2002 National Institute of Health publication, "A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at US College," binge drinking is linked to lower grades among students. Among the study's conclusions is that college students who drink more than five drinks per occasion are likely to see their GPA lowered by half a grade.
Brooks, who emphasizes the importance of learning about all aspects of a college, agrees that focusing on partying has its costs. "If a student is only interested in a social aspect of school, they're probably not going to do very well [academically]," she says.
Louis, a senior, has not only used college visiting as an excuse to party. He visited Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania and partied with his friends at each. But unlike Cory and Matt, Louis's overnight stays also included research as a prospective student. He went on campus tours of each, and while he says he understands the importance of academia at college, he also thinks it is equally valuable to know how students behave outside the classroom. "The feeling you get from the people [at a school] and if you see yourself enjoying it there - not necessarily partying - is going to be a big part of the college experience," he says.
After staying overnight at both schools, Louis ultimately decided that Guilford suited him better; Haverford, he felt, simply didn't have the active social scene that he is seeking. "I get that college is about academics," Louis says, "but it doesn't seem like most people [at Haverford] do anything but study."
From what he's learned from his brother, Matt reports that the school he visited is great. He already knows, however, that he is not going to apply there. He is interested in schools located in large, sky scraper populated cities. Living in New York City - more than 1,000 miles from New Orleans - is his dream.
Still, Matt believes there is value in visiting his brother, because he says he can learn more about the college environment in general.
When he travels to Tulane again this spring break, he plans to sit in on a class. And while Brooks says that staying with a friend and not taking an official tour is a good way of not seeing all that a college has to offer, Matt disagrees. He says that his brother and his brother's friends are suitable tour guides, and it helps that he already knows them. At Tulane, Matt says, "I don't need to worry about finding my way around because there's a whole safety net for me there."
For Cory, college visiting is a practice in independence. After graduating this June, he plans to take a year off, traveling with his father to visit family in Colombia and Brazil. But when he returns and chooses a college, he hopes not to be joining his friends at UMCP, Columbia Union College or American University. His goal is to land in California or Florida, as far away - and as much on his own - as possible.
Far away, Cory thinks, he will be able to learn day-to-day responsibilities on his own, and being on a college campus reminds him of this approaching change. "It makes me want to graduate - and not just to party," he says, "but also because I want to start to live on my own and take care of myself."
As a college student, Cory will make crucial choices: which courses to take, which roommates to live with and which extracurriculars in which he'll participate. He'll also have to make a decision about his partying.
On one hand, Cory doesn't plan on squashing his social habits anytime soon. He has never received major punishments for his illegal behavior on campuses and says, excitedly, that college partying is on a level far above what he had experienced in high school. But Cory also plans to study law enforcement and become a police officer. At some point, he says, he will need to learn to balance his penchant for partying and his life-long goals.
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