Pelham dormitory at Mount Vernon College is the kind of place where you wouldn't mind spending the evening curled up with Mary McCarthy or Sylvia Plath, although Colleen McCullough and Judith Kranz occupy the bookshelves here. Perched atop one of Washington's prime pieces of real estate on Foxhall Road NW, Pelham overlooks rolling lawns bounded by stately trees.

The dorm rooms are standard 1950 boxes, but each has its own balcony. Senior Kelly O'Dell has invited her boyfriend to a cookout on hers. They sip white wine and tend the grill; other students drop by for a glass of wine and to discuss the evening's plans. Is this lush spot, so green, so suburban, a college dorm or is it a setting for a John Cheever short story?

Dinner in the cafeteria ends at 6 p.m. so almost no one eats there. Instead, it's off to Sutton Place Gourmet and the Tombs at the 1789.

Plans for the evening firm up about 9:30. Only two students stay in: Andy Leithoff, a student government officer, is committed to studying African Lit; Emily Helzberg to a box of Tide and spray starch. Others head off to the Third Edition, the Chevy Chase Club, the Sign of the Whale, Dominique's, a midnight sail, and Cagney's, a New Wave bar where one student admits she was "prepped out the week before."

By 10, perfume is competing for body space with Rolex watches and shirts bearing polo players. The dorm is almost empty by 11. Some residents will return this Saturday night; others will not. The resident assistant Joan O'Neill says the school doesn't have to keep tabs on the girls because they look out for one another."There has never been any trouble here."