Navigating social life

One of the challenges that new students face is how to navigate social life. That includes everything from finding friends, to what to do on a Friday or Saturday night, to making decisions about alcohol and other substances.

Even though the legal drinking age is 21, there will be new students who choose to drink alcohol. And among students, there is a perception that “everybody drinks” or “everybody drinks to excess” or even “I am the only one who does not want to drink.” And that perception is quite different from reality.

We have an excellent Alcohol and Other Drugs team within our Office of Wellbeing, and they have some great, research-based data about Wake Forest student behavior. Based on the Spring 2020 National Collegiate Health Assessment (NCHA) of 884 Wake Forest students, this is what we know:

21.6% of Deacs don’t drink alcohol. (And this number is even higher among first-year students. According to the 2020 Everfi data, 52% of first-year students at Wake identified as non-drinkers).

75% of Deacs don’t drink to the point of doing something they later regretted

82.6% of Deacs don’t drink to the point of blacking out

93% of Deacs don’t drink to the point of physically injuring themselves

99% of Deacs don’t drink to the point of needing medical help

99% of Deacs don’t drink to the point of getting in trouble with the police

73.5% of Deacs don’t smoke weed (use cannabis) and more than half (51.5%) never have

96% of Deacs know that taking study drugs not prescribed to them is dangerous and doesn’t work, so they don’t do it.

84% of Deacs don’t vape

70 Deacs identify as being in recovery from alcohol or drug use. (If your student wants information about recovery, they can reach out to the WFU Collegiate Recovery Community at or @wakeforestcrc.)

So there are plenty of students who do not drink, or if they do, they do not do it to problematic excess. The issue for a new student who does not want to drink can sometimes be ‘how do I find like minded friends to spend time with on the weekends?’

Like everything else, finding the people you are most comfortable with takes time and effort on a student’s part. New students should take some time to get to know the people in their hall or suite, even their building. A student can ask in casual conversation ‘what are you doing Friday or Saturday night?’ and if the other person does not have any plans, or indicates they are not into drinking, that can help them find potential connections.

New students can and should take advantage of activities on campus – everything from movies showing in the Benson Center or outdoors, to sporting events, to lectures or arts performances, to service projects or faith-based activities, to clubs/student organizations and intramurals, to programming done by the Faculty Fellows in their residence hall. Find an activity and grab some people from your hall or suite to go, or go on your own. At those events, stick your hand out and introduce yourself, or make conversation (and then later trade numbers). 

When students consistently put themselves out there and participate in activities, they might start to see some familiar faces at those activities that might point to common interests (and potential friendships).

Feeling comfortable socially takes time. It is important to know, though, that even if your new student sees some raucous party behavior from people on their hall, it does not mean every student is doing that. While some students may feel like “everyone has a friend group” so “partying is the way [for me] to make friends” – or they have the related fear of “I don’t want to be left behind socially” – help them understand that real connections aren’t formed at parties anyway. Those come from having a meal with someone in the Pit, or engaging in a great class discussion, or by meeting people in clubs and other student organizations.

There is a wide range of student behavior – and your student will find their niche in time. The more they put themselves out there to try, the faster that might happen.


— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)


To contact the Office of Family Engagement, please visit our contact page.

If Your Student Has a Problem

One of the best ways parents/families can help their students is to let them handle their business as independently as possible. Use the Stop, Drop, and Roll method when your student contacts you with a problem, a decision to make, etc.

Orientation 2021 presentations