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Articles / Campus Life / Outstanding College Traditions

Outstanding College Traditions

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Jan. 14, 2014
College spirit is something that's almost immediately apparent after stepping onto a college campus and spending some time among the student body. Much of that spirit comes by way of traditions. Recently, I was talking to a Princeton undergrad about student life on that Ivy League campus and I asked her what was happening there. She said, “Nothing much, just the birth of new traditions." I had to wonder about “new traditions," so I did a little research and found an interesting roundup article about just that: college traditions.

I have referred to to Campus Grotto before here, whenever I wanted to report on the pulse of college life. Their articles have a way of bringing together many disparate elements into a cogent amalgamation of helpful and interestingly written survey articles. Their recent The 100 Greatest College Traditions is a fascinating look at the kinds of campus-spirit-inspired activities that persist from year to year at colleges across the nation. I recall some of the traditions from my college days and some of those memories are painful for funny reasons.

For example, during the first week of my freshman year, my roommate and I were rousted from our wee-hours deep sleep by loud shouts and banging outside our dorm room door. Peeking out to see what was going on, I saw a gang of about 10 upperclassmen, mostly seniors, heading toward me. The leader of the group was carrying a fire extinguisher. My roommate thought that there was a fire in the building and started to throw his valuables into a small gym bag. Before he could finish his panicked inventory, the mob burst into our room and the head “fire fighter" began spraying loud bursts of extinguisher gas at our feet, sending my roommate and me into a kind of hilarious, screaming dance, similar to Yosemite Sam shooting and yelling, “Dance, Varmint!"

Well, it turned out that the “mob" was merely acting out our school's honored “Freshman Fun Night," tradition of rounding up first-year men and herding them over to the women's dorms for a 3 a.m. session of calisthenics and serenades. The women came to their windows and laughed at us as we did pushups in mid-song. The “painful" part that I mentioned came after my new bedroom slippers (provided by my overly concerned Mom) created nasty blisters on my heals, as we were double-timed across and around the large quad (many of us clothed in bathrobes) on our way to our jumping-jack choral performance. Anyway, so much for “remember when."

To give you a taste of Campus Grotto's survey, here are a few excerpts from their 1oo-tradition list. I'm wondering what traditions you first-year collegians out there have encountered this year. Did you participate in any of these?

The Grotto prefaces its list with a quick explanation:

One of the greatest aspects of the college experience is being a part of a great college tradition. Traditions can provide a great sense of community, school spirit and overall well-being at a college with many students.

Here we present our ranking of the 100 Greatest College Traditions based on the history, amount of student participation, and overall uniqueness of the tradition. Many of these are long-standing traditions that students and alumni hold dearly … As administrations around the country attempt to clamp down on some of these sacred traditions, it's up to students to keep these traditions alive. These traditions are yours; it's important to keep them going strong so they can be passed down to future generations …

1. Little 500 at Indiana University

The Little 500 is the largest collegiate bike race in the United States. Modeled after the Indianapolis 500, riders compete in four-person teams racing relay-style for 200 laps around a quarter-mile track at Bill Armstrong Stadium … The event is highlighted in the movie, “Breaking Away."

7. Dartmouth Winter Carnival

Once referred to as “the Mardi Gras of the North," this famous winter festival that dates back to 1910 is held every February and includes skiing competitions, a polar bear swim, a cappella and jazz concerts, a human dogsled race, a chili cook off, and a drag ball … The Psi Upsilon fraternity was forced by the administration to ban its annual Keg Jump event, marking the end of a 19-year tradition in which students attempted to jump over a line of kegs on ice skates.

14. Breakfast Club at Purdue

Breakfast Club is a tradition where students (and alumni) wake up at 5am on Saturday morning and hit the bars dressed in costume … The roots of this tradition can be traced back to the 80s, when students would wake up so early to go to the bars that they would still be wearing pajamas, bath robes, and other sleepwear.

24. Fallfest at West Virginia University

FallFest welcomes WVU students in the fall with an evening of entertainment and musical performances after the first day of classes … A WVU tradition since 1995, the free event also features a dance party, film festival and comedy show.

33. Great Midwest Trivia Contest at Lawrence University

Lawrence University hosts the nation's longest-running trivia contest, with 50 straight hours of trivia questions from Friday until Sunday. The trivia contest is broadcast live over the Internet so teams both on and off campus can participate … At midnight on Sunday, the teams with the highest scores in the on-campus and off-campus categories are declared the winners, receiving off-the-wall prizes like pink plastic flamingos and stainless-steel bedpans.

45. THON at Penn State

THON is a two-day dance marathon that takes place every February at Penn State with the purpose of raising money to fight pediatric cancer … They raised $12 Million during the 2013 THON. Other schools with notable dance marathons include Indiana and Northwestern.

60. Crawfest at Tulane

Crawfest is an annual music, food and arts festival located on Tulane University's uptown campus. Started in 2007, each year 10,000-12,000 students and others in the community enjoy 12 bands and 19,000+ pounds of crawfish.

77. Orgo Night at Columbia

The day before the Organic Chemistry exam at Columbia University, the Columbia University Marching Band takes over the reading room at Butler Library to play and distract students from studying for finals … The tradition provides a short break from studying with an hour-long scripted series of jokes.

89. Knox College Flunk Day

A campus-wide surprise party, Flunk Day is a tradition that students eagerly anticipate, often guessing or making predictions of when it will be. The date of Flunk Day changes every year and is held a secret until the student body is woken up at 5am the day of and classes are canceled … The first Flunk Day of record was May 11, 1922.

99. Hampshire Keg Hunt

Every Easter morning, students at Hampshire College grab a mug and head out into the woods surrounding the college for an Easter Keg Hunt to search for kegs that have been hidden the day before.


So there you have just 10 of the 100 interestingly described, great college traditions. Take some time to read the entire hundred. It may influence your college enrollment choice, or at least give you some excellent candidate schools to put on your “I should apply there" list.


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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