Halloween at College: Ten Awesome Campus Traditions
Halloween at college is wild, weird, and more than welcome as you approach the halfway point of fall semester. It’s already been a heady year. You’ve earned the right to blow off some steam. But how should you celebrate Halloween in college? An elaborate costume? A horror flick marathon? Pretending to be a 9-year-old with a pituitary disorder so you can go trick-or-treating in the neighborhoods surrounding your campus?
Whatever you do, make the most of it. Midterms lurk just around the corner.
If you’re not totally sure how to embrace the spirit of the season, why not take suggestions from a few colleges that have Halloween down to a spooky science? Every college campus celebrates the Halloween tradition in its own way, whether it’s a fright night, a Blocktober Fest, or a good old-fashioned stroll through a forest haunted by the victims of a serial killer. From costume parades and frat-crawls to horror flick screenings and even mass pumpkin smashings, Halloween is your chance to commune with your campus-mates while indulging your imagination, your sweet tooth, and your nightmares.
And if your biggest nightmare is showing up for midterms unprepared (see what I did there?), check out our monstrous collection of tips, tricks, study guides and more.
Otherwise, read on for a look at How 10 Colleges Celebrate Halloween or take a look at our ranking of the best college Christmas traditions. You might also be interested in our ranking of the most beautiful college campuses.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The Pumpkin Drop
For most of the year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge is known for its state-of-the-art facilities, brilliant professors, and elite student body. But come Halloween, it is perhaps best known for facilitating the mass obliteration of seasonal gourds. This foreboding time of year happens to coincide with MIT’s fall semester Drop Day. This is the final day that students are permitted to drop classes. Wait any longer, and you’re on the hook for your grade, pass or fail.
The students of MIT’s First West residence hall mark the occasion with a cathartic pumpkin drop. Climbing to the roof of the tallest structure on campus—The Cecil and Ida Green Building—students collectively hurl dozens of freeze-dried pumpkins to their violent death some 21 stories below. In a display that would fill Billy Corgan with pride, smashing pumpkins rain down on McDermott Court before many equally smashed onlookers. If you plan to be one of them this year, make sure you stand clear of the kill zone. Pumpkin shrapnel would be a dumb way to die.
Learn more about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Georgetown University: The Healy Howl
Georgetown’s Washington DC campus is already pretty creepy regardless of the season, what with its gothic structures, nearby cemetery, and its colorful history of hauntings. So colorful is that history, in fact, that one-time student and future author of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty , was inspired to write his famous book, and subsequent screenplay, by the history of horrors and hauntings that actually transpired at Georgetown.
It is also thus that a now famous flight of stairs at the corner of Prospect St and 36th St NW became the site of filming for several indelible scenes in the classic 1973 scare-flick. The Hoyas have actively embraced their place in legend with an annual Halloween screening of the William Friedkin-directed film, which is immediately followed by a march to the university’s notoriously haunted Healy Hall.
Upon arrival, the assembled let out a collective howl at the moon. For the students, this is an opportunity to unleash the pent up energy, tension, frustration and joy of a semester halfway completed. But as the sound echoes across campus, it must certainly chill the blood of the unsuspecting passersby.
Learn more about Georgetown University.
Raritan Valley Community College: Spooky Skies
RVCC puts a cool, interstellar spin on Halloween, with an annual celestial gazing inside of its own planetarium. The display of lights and lasers offers a history of the pagan holiday while exploring the connection between various celestial bodies and the weird ways we celebrate Halloween today. All in the community are welcome to attend, and the event is popularly frequented by members of the student body.
The optic performance points to the close relationship between famous horror monsters and the objects in space. But of course, the real premise is simply that space is super scary. From potentially hostile life forms to gaping black holes to planet-sized meteors whizzing alarmingly close to Earth, there are few subjects that feel more apropos to Halloween. RVCC’s Spooky Skies is the next best thing to Laser Floyd. If you don’t get the reference, I’m sorry that you missed the ’90s. They were super cool.
Learn more about Raritan Valley Community College.
Wells College: True Ghost Stories
The students of Wells College in the Finger Lakes region of New York celebrate Halloween by gathering together to tell ghost stories. Big deal, right? Everybody tells ghost stories on Halloween. But there’s a catch with Wells Colleges. The hauntings are real…and they’re spectacular.
Wells College is a small private liberal arts school with a student body of no more than 450, but they’ve got a ton of school spirit—or, school spirits, I should say. Few campuses boast more based-on-a-true-story frights than this one. Most of their most well-circulated ghost stories have been codified into the official university archives. Of the macabre tales which give rise to countless claims of sightings, sensations, and bone-chilling encounters, perhaps the most compelling is the legend of the Red Door.
It is said that during one particularly harsh winter, the campus suffered an influenza outbreak. Numerous students fell ill and were forced into quarantine in a makeshift hospital on the 4th Floor of the Main Building. Sadly, many of the stricken students died, requiring the campus to establish a temporary morgue in one room of the 4th Floor. To prevent accidental intrusion, the door of the room was painted red. When the outbreak ended, and the 4th Floor was rehabilitated, the door was repainted, but legend has it that the red color reappeared not just once, but after numerous attempts at restoring the doors original color.
The bleeding door phenomenon is said to have finally ceased when the building was remodeled altogether, but those students bold enough to visit the 4th Floor in search of evidence still claim sightings of ghostly nurses and long-deceased students in historically-accurate attire. Every Halloween, the students at Wells College take the opportunity to conjure the unliving among them.
Learn more about Wells College.
University of Rochester: Scare Fair
The Rush Rhees Library is a centerpiece for the University of Rochester’s River Campus. Dedicated in 1930, the stately structure houses the school’s expansive print and art collections, as well as a computer lab and a massive Carillon that stands as the single largest musical instrument in the city. And for one day a year, it is also the scene for the primary event in the university’s annual Scare Fair–the Stack Stalk.
As the most intimidating location on campus, the “stacks” where the university stores its enormous stockpile of texts are the site of a spooky scavenger hunt. Each year since 1998, organizers have selected an iconic horror theme, decked the library’s storage space in frightening decor, and invited students to compete in the search for specific book titles. Those who navigate the space successfully and locate the specified texts are rewarded with a tour of the typically off-limits Rush Rhees tower.
In addition to providing an opportunity to become better acquainted with the stacks—the Scare fair is the main event in a month-long celebration that includes a haunted hayride, a Zombie 5K run, and indoor trick-or-treating at the Susan B. Anthony residence hall.
Learn more about the University of Rochester.
Texas A&M University: Wicked Woods Trail
Legend has it that the woods behind the Kappa Sigma fraternity house are haunted by the victims of a serial killer. Or at least, that’s what legend held for several decades, in a tradition dating back to 1995. However, following a relocation of the Kappa Sigma fraternity house, a four-year hiatus, and a year spent clear-cutting new trails, the Wicked Woods have reopened in a new location. It’s not entirely clear that the aforementioned disembodied spirits have relocated along with the fraternity.
The event, however, has returned in full force. It’s said that more than 6000 visitors will descend upon the trails over the course of two weeks for 15-minute guided tours through a darkened forest beset by evil clowns, sadistic doctors, cackling mental patients, and chainsaw wielding madmen. All ticket proceeds go to charities such as the National Kappa Sigma Military Heroes Campaign, and attendees are asked to bring canned goods for donation to the Brazos Valley Food Bank.
Though the event itself is for a good cause, be prepared for some seriously dark vibes in those woods as you move through eight ghastly scenes. The good news? This scary event is extremely COVID-friendly with masks required, all actors maintaining a distance of over six feet, and sanitation stations throughout. The only contagion at this event is fear.
Learn more about Texas A&M University.
Harvey Mudd College: The Halloweiner
Is there anything better than a tailgate barbecue? Actually, there is. A costumed tailgate barbecue. In an event that has become a beloved annual tradition, the students at this small science and engineering school gather together to consume enormous quantities of grilled meat as a way to both celebrate Halloween and mark the start of football parking-lot party season.
Technically, this feast is only the first of numerous good-natured events across the Claremont, California campus including the DUCK improv student group’s annual Halloween performance, the staging of Haunted Hoch (Hoch being the campus dining hall), and countless student-group sponsored parties. Harvey Mudd has a reputation for excellence and quirkiness in equal proportion. Both are on full display during the Halloween season.
Learn more about Harvey Mudd college.
University of California Santa Barbara: Halloween at Isla Vista
This is a tradition that probably belongs in the “In Memoriam” section–at least for now. Halloween in Isla Vista has a storied, and somewhat sordid, history. In fact, the sheer enormity of this unofficial event has contributed to its demise. But at its peak in the mid-1980s, more than 30,000 costumed revelers flooded the streets of this coastal Southern California community. While the majority of its year-round residents are affiliated with the University of California Santa Barbara, Halloween weekend would see the arrival of tens of thousands of attendees from other nearby universities.
The result was generally mayhem. The 1970s marked a time of heightened tension between law enforcement and students as protests over the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Women’s Equality and more rippled across campuses throughout the U.S. UCSB proved a major flashpoint, one which was ignited during a 1978 Halloween Riot. While this wasn’t the first year that students assembled en masse at Del Playa Drive—which stands atop 30 meter bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean—it was the first year that the event made the news, largely for the outbreak of violence between partygoers and police officers.
The following year, officers preemptively stifled unruly crowds with widespread arrests, and by 1980, visitors were mostly there for the party. As the decade wore on, the event attracted more out-of-towners, and while the revolutionary protests of the prior decade were no more, the party itself was generally known to get pretty out of hand, so much so that by the 2000s, Isla Vista had imposed strict rules curtailing the arrival of out-of-towners, limiting street access, levying curfews, and threatening fines for any number of noise and crowd violations. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these rules came to forbid large gatherings of any kind. Though Isla Vista’s history bears out its reputation as the ultimate party school, Halloween is a far mellower affair these days. What the post-COVID future holds for Halloween in Isla Vista remains to be seen.
Learn more about University of California Santa Barbara.
Yale University: The YSO Halloween Show
Leave it to this vaunted Ivy League institution to celebrate Halloween in the classiest way possible. While other campuses mark the occasion with unhinged celebration or glorification of the grotesque, the Hartford, Connecticut campus takes a decidedly arthouse approach to the season. Historically, students have competed ferociously for tickets to a silent film screening at Woolsey Hall. The movie—produced entirely by Yale students—enjoys live soundtracking from the Yale Symphony Orchestra and, over the years, has featured cameos by celebrities including Hillary Clinton, Angela Bassett and host of “The Bachelorette,” Chris Harrison.
In the past, only those lucky few who score tickets before the show is sold out—typically in under five minutes—have gotten the opportunity to experience this one-of-a-kind event. However, under COVID conditions, the event was broadcast virtually for the first time in 2020. Thus, though students did not have the opportunity to attend the event in person, far more were able to experience it. Perhaps future performances will offer both live and virtual access.
Learn more about Yale University.
UNC-Chapel Hill: Franklin Street Halloween Party
Of course, tons of schools throw enormous city-wide parties on Halloween. Ohio State in Athens, Ohio earns honorable mention in this category. But in all likelihood, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill holds the title for the largest annual assembly of costumed freaks. Beginning in the 1980s as a small outdoor gathering of UNC students and locals, the event gradually grew in scale, attracting busloads of students from colleges and universities throughout the region.
By the early 2000s, the event had crescendoed with an estimated attendance of 80,000 partygoers, wandering the main thoroughfare of Franklin Street with solo cups in hand. Indeed, safety and security have become a massive undertaking for local law enforcement as the crowds bring heightened risk of alcohol poisoning and the potential for physical altercation. More recent efforts to stem the tide of out-of-town visitors have proven successful, reducing attendance by more than half in the last few years. However, unlike the fizzled festivities at UCSB, UNC-Chapel Hill remains a major frightfest on All Hallow’s Eve.
Obviously, we don’t expect you to choose your college experience based strictly on how the school celebrates Halloween. But the traditions noted above may lend just a little bit of insight into the unique personality, culture and identity of each campus community. Curious whether you might be a good match with one of these institutions?
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