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First Semester College Students’ Perceptions of and Expectations for Involvement in College Drinking Culture

Within the first few weeks on a college campus, students are likely to be exposed to college drinking culture. A recent study surveyed first-year college students on their perceptions and expectations of involvement in this drinking culture.

This study included 242 students and asked them open-ended questions related to college and alcohol use. Qualitative analysis was used to examine the responses. Quantitative measures included students’ responses on binge drinking.

The results of this data showed that four distinct groups existed: Non-Endorsers, Autonomous Drinkers, Have Bought In, and Law Abiders. Non-Endorsers included 32.2% of the students who had no intentions to become involved with alcohol. Autonomous Drinkers were the 31.8% of the sample that appeared to drink alcohol on their own terms and were not influenced by the college culture. The third group, those who Have Bought In, included 24% of the students who reported intentions to consume alcohol during college, and differed from the Autonomous Drinkers because their responses were based on their perceptions of college drinking. The last group, Law Abiders included the 8.3% of students who focused their responses on not being of legal drinking age and therefore not participating in college drinking.

These results highlight the stark differences in perceptions of first year students regarding college alcohol use, and show that prevention efforts can be designed to reach multiple types of students instead of a single approach.

Take Away: The transition to college usually is a high-risk time for students to become involved with alcohol. This study shows four main categories that first year students fit into with regards to perception of college drinking culture and can be helpful in targeting students with prevention efforts during this transition. 

Olmstead, S.B., Anders, K.M., Clemmons, D.M., Davis, K.N. (2019). First-Semester College Students’ Perceptions of and Expectations for Involvement in the College Drinking Culture. Journal of The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition. (31:1) Pages 51-67.

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