This story has been updated.

College freshmen nowadays recall spending much less time partying and drinking alcohol in their last year of high school than their predecessors, according to a new national survey.

They are also very focused on the economic value of a college diploma, and large numbers say they might transfer before earning a bachelor’s degree.

The annual report from the University of California at Los Angeles, released Thursday, offers the most authoritative portrait of the nation’s freshmen. This one, based on a survey of 153,015 first-time, full-time students at a wide variety of four-year colleges and universities, reflects the beliefs and experiences of those who started college in the fall.

The report is likely to be scrutinized for its implications for how colleges deal with student alcohol use and other cultural issues, as well as its implications for college recruiting and national policymaking.


A few of the top-line findings from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA:

  • Freshmen entering four-year colleges have the lowest self-reported rate of alcohol use in high school than at any point in recent decades. In 1981, 74 percent said they had frequently or occasionally drank beer in the past year. By 2014, the share declined to 34 percent. In 1987, 68 percent said they had drunk wine or hard liquor at least occasionally in their senior year of high school. By 2014, 39 percent said they had done so.

  • The share of freshmen who said they had partied less than an hour a week in their senior year of high school rose from 24 percent in 1987 to to 61 percent in 2014. About 41 percent report now that they did not party at all. And during the same 27-year span, students who report partying six hours or more per week in high school fell from 35 percent to 9 percent.
  • Asked why they were going to college, 86 percent said the ability to get a better job was a very important reason. Seventy-two percent said the ability to make more money was very important. Becoming a more cultured person was very important to 47 percent.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, in a report on the survey, wrote that freshmen “increasingly see their undergraduate education as the first step in a long journey.” Forty-three percent said they plan to seek a master’s degree, about twice the share who plan only for a bachelor’s degree. Twenty-three percent said there was at least some chance they would transfer to another school.

The survey also shed light on the frenzy to get into selective colleges. Twenty percent said they had applied to seven to 10 colleges other than the one they chose, and 7 percent said they had applied to 11 or more. Many were swayed by early admissions programs.